Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at Mercury Radio Arts? Just how do all of Glenn’s crazy ideas get done? Does anyone ever get a chance to sleep? Well, over the next few months we are going to take you inside MRA, giving you the inside scoop on everything from publishing to special events, 1791 to Markdown to GBTV. We will be interviewing members of our New York, Columbus, and Dallas staff, bringing you all the info, so you can know what it’s really like to work for Glenn. Part 1 (Kevin Balfe – Publishing), Part 2 (Liz Julis – GBTV/Special Events), Part 3 (Joel Cheatwood: CCO & President of TheBlaze)
What does deli ownership and television operations have in common? A lot – at least according to Eric Pearce, Vice President of Television Operations at TheBlaze.
“When I was 21, my father and I bought a deli together, and we ended up owning it for three and a half years,” Pearce explained.
“I know you can’t compare a television show to egg sandwiches, but the theory behind it, you can,” he promised. “When someone comes into a restaurant to buy breakfast, they want to know what they are getting every day. And they come back – repeat business is what makes it work because you are delivering a quality product. It’s the same on television. If you deliver a quality product night in and night out, you are going to be successful. While it is a very tough comparison, some of the groundwork there makes sense.”
Business experience aside, one thing Pearce does not miss about owning a deli: the lifestyle. “You’re up at five in the morning, and you don’t get home until seven o’clock at night. You have just enough time to eat dinner, take a shower, and then you are exhausted because you have been on your feet all day long running around. You smell like bacon and onions every day.”
While this certainly sounds like a long day, anyone who knows Pearce knows that his life as of late hasn’t been any less hectic. Remember when GBTV broadcasted the Restoring Courage events live from Israel? Pearce was responsible for making sure that actually happened. How about when GBTV officially launched just two weeks after that? Pearce had a pretty big role in that too. And what about when Glenn decided to relocate his entire broadcast to Dallas, Texas? You guessed it, Pearce oversaw that also, which meant working straight through Christmas and New Years to get the studio up and running in time. The timeline for that particular project: 45 days.
Pearce, who first met Glenn at CNN, took his time to get to where he is now. “Right after high school I went to local college,” he said. “I thought I wanted to be a stock broker, but I ended up failing my Series 7 test. Thank God because if I ever ended up like one of those financial people I would have killed myself. Eventually when we sold the deli, I went back to school to get my degree, and then too many years after that I did get my degree. It only took eight and a half years to finish college, which is a long time, but I did it.”
Pearce graduated college and took a job as a freelancer at CNN, where he worked for five and a half years. It was his work ethic that ultimately set him apart from his peers. “I took any job. I volunteered for everything. The worst shifts – I always worked the Sunday night and then the Monday morning. I did whatever it took because I wanted to learn, and I knew I was behind,” Pearce said.
Pearce paid his dues on the news desk for a few months. “I started on the news desk, where I kind of gained my chops in the industry,” he explained. “I got there at five in the morning handing out newspapers to reporters, taking staples of paper, shuffling things, printing things, escorting guests. So I did all of the kind of grunt work there.”
He was later offered a staff position at CNN’s Showbiz Tonight, where he worked for a year, before getting a call that would ultimately prove career changing. “I don’t know exactly when, but I got a call from a producer I had worked with, and he said, ‘Hey, I think I have a producing job for you.’ And I thought that’s great, I could use a change.”
Turns out the producing job was for a brand new daily show that would be hosted by a radio personality named Glenn Beck. “So my first question was: who is Glenn Beck? I had no idea who he was,” Pearce said. “I was shown the pilot of their show, and it was like wow, this guy is funny. His approach was so much different – something you have never seen before.”
He stayed with Glenn’s show for the next two years, but when Glenn left for Fox News, Pearce, unfortunately, couldn’t follow. “I stayed behind at CNN. I was contracted, so I couldn’t leave. I stayed and launched two other shows for the network after that. But after the two years I had with Glenn, it just wasn’t the same.”
Pearce called Chris Balfe, Chief Operating Officer of Mercury Radio Arts, to see if there was a job opening. “I called Chris and said, ‘I have to leave CNN. I have to make a move. It’s just not the same. What do you have for me?’” he recalled.
Pearce joined Mercury in January 2010.The problem was, at the time, Mercury didn’t have too much of a need in the way of production, so Pearce found himself with a job, but not a whole lot to do. “When I first got here, they really had no job title or job description for me. They were just like ‘Come here and figure it out.’”
Like most people at Mercury, what he was hired to do and what he is doing now is considerably different. “Our company has grown tremendously since then, but I remember those first three days. I started on a Wednesday, and that Wednesday, Thursday, Friday I was surfing the internet, I was on Facebook, and I was doing all this stuff because there was no work for me to do,” Pearce said laughing.
“I would give anything just to have one of those days back because I remember that next week – I don’t know what it was – but somebody had an idea and that was when it just started this whole thing. I have not had a slow day in the office since those first three days. It’s amazing how things change so fast.”
It really is incredible how quickly things change because Pearce now finds himself at the helm of television operations for one of the most successful online streaming networks in the world. While it seems like the launch of GBTV went from zero to sixty virtually overnight, the groundwork was laid long before Glenn ever decided to break out on his own.
“Shortly after I started we decided we wanted to give Glenn’s Insiders, some of his closest fans, more access to Glenn so they could see what happens behind the scenes,” Pearce explained. “We set up Insider Extreme where we started broadcasting his radio show every morning, and then we went on to add the Fourth Hour with Pat and Stu.”
That addition alone upgraded Insider Extreme from a single webcam broadcast to a six camera, four hour show that began to pave the way for what is now GBTV. “Figuring all of that out was new to me, but we figured it out as we went along, and it all worked,” he said. “At some point it just became this big operation, and it just seemed natural that Insider Extreme had to switch over from four hours of streaming live video to a streaming network. Insider Extreme really did lay the groundwork for GBVT.”
When Glenn decided to leave network television and start his own network, Pearce was 100 percent on board. “We spend all of this time producing this show for someone else. Why don’t we just produce it for ourselves? And having full control over our programming cuts out the red tape,” he said. “We can control the quality. We can control the budgets. We can do whatever we want. And it just seemed to make sense. We just knew we were supposed to grow into this network.”
Transitioning from a six camera webcast to an online streaming network was no easy task. From an operations perspective, Pearce needed to find a studio to rent, equipment to use, and a staff efficient enough to deal with all of these moving pieces. And he didn’t have much time to do it. As is customary, Glenn couldn’t help but add one more piece to the puzzle – he wanted to broadcast his Restoring Courage events in Israel on GBTV, just two weeks before the official launch of the network.
For Pearce, this meant transplanting a large portion of staff to Israel for a several weeks, and putting everything he had been working toward all summer to the ultimate test. Oh, and did I mention Pearce was dealing with all this and planning a wedding at the same time?
“It is true I got married around the launch date of GBTV,” Pearce said with a laugh. “When Glenn picked the launch date and they said September 12, 9/12, that’s the day, it seemed like the right fit. What wasn’t perfect for me was I was getting married two weeks later. I am running operations for this brand new network and then week three I am going to disappear get married and then disappear on my honeymoon for two weeks.”
Between the GBTV launch and the events in Israel, Pearce didn’t spend much time at home that summer. “I had these two projects coming up and a wedding to plan the whole time. You can imagine what it was like when I had to tell my then finance, ‘Oh yeah, I have to go to Israel this summer.’ Didn’t go over that well at first, but in the end she understood. She knows that I am passionate about what I do, so she puts up with a lot. I am so grateful to Marlaina for that.”
After getting GBTV up and running, Glenn threw yet another wrench into the plans when he decided to move his broadcast to Dallas, Texas. Beyond the logistical problems involved with managing staffs in two different states, Pearce had to virtually start over and build this new studio from the ground up.
“I was more surprised when Glenn said he wanted to move to Texas than I was when he said he wanted to start a video network,” Pearce said. After finding a property and having the deal fall through, Pearce found himself with just over a month to get something built that would allow Glenn to broadcast live from Dallas on January 2, 2012.
“I remember the day, it was November 15, 2011, and Glenn said to me, ‘Well, what are we going to do?’ And I said, ‘Well, we are going to have to find a new place to build the studio, and it is going to take a little bit longer.’ I said, ‘How do you feel about staying in NY the first two weeks of next year, so we can get your broadcast on, while we are building something down in TX?’ And he turned to me slowly, looked me dead in the eyes and said, ‘I am doing television from TX on January 2.’ And at that point, he turned around and walked away,” Pearce recalled.
In New York, studios are built on every street corner, but Dallas, Texas is a very different situation. “This was a little bit of a challenge to find a place that was going to fill Glenn’s needs and desires,” Pearce said. “We found a place that could house Glenn’s vision. We found a production company that was going to help us deliver and build Glenn’s vision, which was key. And we had roughly 45 days to build it. What we pulled off in that short period of time was nothing short of a miracle.”
Pearce and his team worked through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years to get it done in time. “We needed to build an HD control room. We needed to build a studio. We needed to build a radio studio, all at once, at the end of the year, over vacation. I am proud to say we did it. I mean we had some improvements to make after that to make things more permanent, but we are very proud of what we were able to pull off in that short period of time.”
Pearce sees the upcoming merger of GBTV and TheBlaze as the perfect opportunity for both divisions to capitalize on their great resources. “I do think the re-brand is a very good idea. I think it will allow us to grow and expand our reach, but maintain the same quality and the same mission that Glenn wants to see on the network.”
Despite all of the things he has dealt with over the last couple of years, Pearce’s favorite moment came not too long after he first started at Mercury, during Restoring Honor in Washington D.C.
“It was the night before Divine Destiny at the Kennedy Center, and Glenn wanted to go meet-and-greet all the people waiting on line to get tickets,” he explained. “I showed up there with a camera, and I am filming him talking to people, meeting people. It was just this amazing moment of Glenn interacting with his fans.”
After the meet-and-greet, Glenn decided he wanted to go back to the Lincoln Memorial – for what was probably the fiftieth time that week. “We are getting in the cars to leave, and Glenn turns around and says, ‘I want to go to the Lincoln Memorial.’ Meanwhile, it is ten or eleven o’clock at night, pitch black, but he wanted to go to the Lincoln Memorial.”
At this point a crowd had gathered at the Memorial in hopes of securing a front row view of the event, and when they saw Glenn arrive, the crowd went wild. “Glenn noticed them, and they noticed Glenn, and he goes over and is talking to them. There was cheering and he thanked everyone for showing up. All of a sudden, the crowd starts to sing God Bless America.”
It was a beautiful moment, and Pearce was glad to be there getting it all on tape. At some point, Glenn got pulled away from the group. When Pearce looked down at his camera, his heart sank – the audio had not been recording.
“I guess about three quarters of the way through the crowd singing I realized that the audio wasn’t recording on the camera that I had. And I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ Glenn was here watching this happen. He sees me with the camera, and I am going to come back with a video of them singing the song without audio?! I am dead.”
It seemed like a lost cause at that point, but Pearce had a plan. “I went back to the crowd, and I said, ‘Hey guys, you know, that was so good. Could we do that again? I want to get a different angle.’ And they were all like, ‘Sure! No problem!’”
“I made sure the audio was working, and they did it again. So the crowd had no idea I had a camera problem. Glenn had no idea I had a camera problem because he would have been disappointed. So I am glad that all worked out,” Pearce said with a laugh.
Problem solving at its finest – something Pearce has proven time and time again he is very good at. It probably has something to do with why he keeps getting these mammoth projects thrown his way. At least he doesn’t smell like bacon and onions anymore.