If music be the food of love, rock on . . .
Nearly a week since the largest television show ever, the money continues to roll in ($70 million and counting); critics churn out artistic yays and nays; rock stars congratulate themselves for leaving egos at the door -- and the number of TV sets, viewers watching, even hot dogs sold, continue to be tallied. But behind the scenes is a story less told: how the cooperation of so many different production crews -- from MTV to ABC Television and Radio to Worldwide Sports and Entertainment -- became a family itself while telling a global village that hunger can be solved only by a brotherhood of man.
``The era of international television started last Saturday,'' says Mike Mitchell, executive director of Worldwide Sports and Entertainment (WS&E), whose organization hooked up 169 countries for 16 hours. ``We proved that through TV, you can connect nations live and actually create an experience around the world that binds it together. That's what we think it's all about, that's why we did the show.''
``The crowd was there from morning until night, but all of us had been there for days,'' says ABC Television's John Hamelin, who as director of special segments recommended that ABC bid for television rights to the show. He says the compound of media grew into a ``small city,'' with 30 giant trailers and a large tent that served food 18 hours a day. ``On most shows you are dealing with, everyone working on it is usually from the same network,'' he says, pointing out that in Philadelphia there were bands and managers and local organizers as well as MTV, ABC, WS&E.
``There were so many different groups all participating and doing different things, and yet everybody worked well -- no screaming and yelling or temperament. You almost didn't want to leave.''
He says part of the reason everyone stayed together through problems were pep talks given by Mike Mitchell. ``He said basically this is not just a television show, not just a rock concert; we are trying to change the world. When things got bad I think we all remembered why we were there.''
``We told [concert organizer] Bob Geldof he could have the entire 17-hour day, all the commercial time, the manpower, the production, the equipment, and said you can have it all,'' says Les Garland, MTV's executive vice-president for programming. His organization connected 27 million homes for the duration of the concert and gave up more than $500,000 in commercial revenue. ``From the very beginning, we've never gotten anything but the utmost in return from everyone involved.'' He compliments Philadelphia concert organizer Bill Graham for an act of logistics that seemed physically impossible. ``To move that much equipment and that many bands through to an audience of 90,000 is a feat in itself, before you ever put it on satellite and send it out to the world. It's absolutely mind boggling.''
``With this show, us guys in technology showed the politicians and leaders that we can change the world by connecting people,'' says Tony Verna, the man credited with masterminding everything from satellite hookups, to video screens being used simultaneously in Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia. ``Somehow the bureaucracies that strangle each of us separately made room for something bigger. No job was too small for anyone.''
Mr. Verna sees the door opening for many such large shows in the future. ``You can have Mick Jagger in Australia, David Bowie in France, and Madonna in Pittsburgh, and unite them with the space shuttle in orbit if you want to.''
It is true, of course, that the technicians did not hold a monopoly on togetherness, sharing, or generosity. Bands such as The Who and Black Sabbath put away old feuds to perform, unions let members work for lowest wage, satellites were donated by the Hughes Corporation -- even the City of Philadelphia donated the use of JFK Stadium. ``It cost $31/2 million to put on a show that would cost a network $20 million,'' says Mr. Mitchell. ``The difference was people's generosity.''
Although some of the rock stars are being lambasted in print for untastefulness onstage -- Sheena Easton, Patti LaBelle, and guitarists Ron Wood and Keith Richard among the heaviest hit -- most are being congratulated by critics for their promptness and decorum.
``After 14 hours of concert, everything was about to explode when [singer Phil Collins] was due in from London,'' says Mr. Hamelin. ``He was scheduled to appear at 8:02, and no one had seen him. Suddenly we heard his first chord at 8:02.01. There were cheers. It was unbelievable.''
MTV came under criticism for constantly interrupting live action for interviews with roaming ``video jocks,'' who, it seemed, took up far too much air time with vacuous, self-conscious rock jabber. MTV's Mr. Garland responds, ``We were switching from a master feed that was being given to us by others. At some times the segues required the buffer VJs in order to make it look right for television.''
Mitchell says that because pledges continue to be accepted on the ATT tollfree number, 800-LIVE AID, his WS&E has packaged the concert in a special four-hour tape. The tape -- and equipment to watch it -- is being dispatched by diplomatic courier into areas of African bush so various tribes can witness the concert. Discussions are under way to sell versions of the concert as well. But any profits will continue to go to African relief, Mitchell says.
And lest any viewer be too mind-boggled by the scope of technology that embraced the concert, ABC's Hamelin says the whole project could have gone up in smoke when the air conditioning in one of the monitoring trailers broke. ``The temperature jumped 20 degrees and all the machines were close to overheating. We got two fans and some dry ice from the caterers and got everything back to normal. The technology of the '80s, huh?''
``I've done a lot of large projects in my life,'' says Mitchell. ``This is the first time in my life that I sat on a horse that ran away. This happening wasn't me or Bob Geldof or the rock stars or anyone else. It was a time and a purpose and a message, and the world picked it up and ran with it. It's a strange feeling.''