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Spotlight On: Rick Kirkham - A life in the news

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Every so often a minor occurrence can have a lasting impression – such is the case with an update by Rick Kirkham on Facebook a couple years ago.

Personally, with more than 1,700 “friends” on Facebook and almost 17,000 followers on Twitter, I can miss a lot of updates that might have actually interested me. However, on this particular update Kirkham mentioned a memorable line about wanting to see Montana from one of my favorite films “The Hunt for Red October”.

I was intrigued – which is not easy to do.

Kirkham mentioned that with all of his world travels, he, too, had never seen Montana but would like to and within a month he was employed by a floundering news affiliate that definitely needed a Midas touch.

Every so often I would make it a point to do a search on Kirkham to see how his new adventure was progressing with the station. His excitement and joy of working with the new talent radiated through his social media updates. Even when there was a shake up with the station being acquired by another entity, he maintained his updates – up until this past December.

I messaged him privately a couple times just to check in; it’s not like we are close confidants or that I have copious amounts of free time – but like I said, I was intrigued. I wanted to know what his next adventure would be.

Kirkham graciously replied to both of my private inquiries and I asked if he would be willing to be interviewed for this column; he agreed.

Rarely, I have encountered such cohesive replies to my questions and they need no editing so, without further ado, here is Rick Kirkham in his own words…

Do you have any special projects that shine above the others? If so, explain what elements of that project made it meaningful / memorable to you.

Obviously the documentary filmTV Junkie”, created from 3000 hours of my lifelong video diaries, is a project that remains close to my heart. Having received over 100,000 emails (which continue to pour in today) from people thankful for the film’s message and honesty, I truly feel blessed to have offered hope to those dealing with addiction. “TV Junkie” Director, Michael Cain and I never received a penny from the film (now available for download on iTunes, amazon, etc.) having thrown any profits into creating the film’s interactive educational “sister” production, “TV Junkie: Faces of Addiction”. Like “TV Junkie”, “Faces” is now used worldwide in rehab centers, schools and other educational facilities. Rarely does someone put in 5 years to a project, without pay, and walk away feeling more than compensated by the results. But the numerous viewers contacting me routinely saying “TV Junkie” saved their life or the life of a loved one has made me feel rich in a way money never could.

Have you made any mistakes that have helped or hurt you in a way that you would like to share?

There again, “TV Junkie” stands out as the BEST and WORST thing I have ever been a part of. While professionally the reviews and positive aspects of the film on the public are phenomenal, the impact personally has been more than challenging. The film was created during the years when the internet was in its infancy (1999-2004) so I had no idea what impact it would have on me personally over the last several years in my career. When a prospective employer can Google your name and find 250,000 one liner search engine “hits” that read only “Rick Kirkham was a national reporter for INSIDE EDITION who lost his family and career to crack cocaine…” you tend to find it quite difficult to get a foot in the door. Fortunately, there are people who look past the one liners and see the vast experience in TV and Film I possess and realize many people have experienced “dark” times in their life and can rebound successfully.

What do you most enjoy about working with new talent in the industry?

By far, working with new talent has become my favorite focus after having worked every position in TV News and Film production over the years! As a TV News Director in a few cities I’ve been able to “pick up” where college journalism classes left off, teaching young new professionals how to apply what they have learned to the real world. Being able to teach the tricks and tips I’ve learned through hand’s on experience is very rewarding. The same applies to film production. Schools may teach how to turn a camera on and off but how to tell a story with the camera is something you can only learn through experience and time.

What hobbies do you most enjoy?

My love of the camera comes not just from a long and fantastic career but from my childhood when I made films on a soundless 8mm windup film camera. So it’s not surprising that in my free time I love creating films and videos like music videos of my college aged son’s band or neighborhood kids activities like skateboarding, bicycle trick riding or airsoft gun battles. Of course there are other recreational activities I enjoy like playing guitar or writing.

What is your idea of the ultimate destination getaway and why?

Having traveled to more than 20 countries from Russia to New Zealand in my career as well as averaging 27 airline flights a week during my 8 years as a reporter for INSIDE EDITION , I really find I’m content to spend free time close to home. A cabin in the woods or a few days on a beach is more than enough for me. Once you have visited London or Paris or Rome or Sydney, etc., you really gain a perspective on the beauty and wonder of getaways close to home.

When someone is new in the industry, what can they do to make a memorable impression upon you?

I’ve actually had the pleasure of teaching a number of new TV reporters and shooters as well as up and coming filmmakers. Those who standouts were much like I was at a younger age. Hungry. Open to any idea that helped spur their own creative juices. Willing to try anything and practice it until perfected. The most talented newcomers I’ve ever worked with are the ones who KNOW the value of a seasoned professional…not dismiss that knowledge because they might have a higher degree than most or have lucked into a job more prestigious that the average “newbie”. Wisdom comes from hands on. Trial and error. And that will always surpass any classroom or degree. The brightest of newcomers to TV and Film recognize and covet this.

What are some of your pet peeves working in the industry?

I would say the biggest “pet peeve” for me in TV and Film production is the “EP” or Executive Producer (the person basically paying for the project) who knows nothing of the industry and expects a project to be run like a corporate business. TV and Film production is, first and foremost, an art. And the people in it artists. As such you can’t expect a 9-5 type operation or environment free of friction and attitude. People in my industry tend to be creative, sometimes risk takers. And emotions can sometimes run high when a team of creative, energized and highly passionate artists take on a project. So the EP must give more than funding…they have to understand how to deal with a highly-charged and focused team of “creators”.

Describe to us what your ideal project would be in the industry.

My ideal project is no doubt one that breaks ground, one that is original in concept or production style. I’m probably a little spoiled in this concept having experienced the success of such a one of a kind film project like “TV Junkie” which was never planned and derived from simply my personal video diaries and recordings of my on-air TV news career. In the same light, creating and launching INSIDE EDITION in 1988 was a venture we only expected to last a few years at best. Yet it’s now the longest running syndicated news magazine on TV, still running 25 years later.

You recently returned from a gig in Montana – tell us some of the highs / lows of that project.

Montana and my work as News Director for the ABC/FOX station KFBB came, funny enough, as a fluke. Having been around the world more times than I could count throughout my career, I was joking with a friend one night here in Dallas following our watching the film, “Hunt for Red October”. In the final scenes, a Russian officer trying to defect is shot and in his last words utters "I would've liked to have seen Montana". I turned to my friend and said “Hell, I wish I had seen Montana”, realizing in all my worldwide travels Montana was the only US state and one of only a few places I had never been! As has been my nature throughout my career I leaped full force into securing a job in Montana just 4 weeks later. Leaving the 70 degree temps in Dallas I quickly realized Montana wasn’t just a place on the map it was an experience to behold at -30 degrees and in one of the most remote TV markets in America. However, arriving at KFBB I found the ideal situation for a seasoned TV news pro. A dual affiliate (ABC & FOX), I began turning around a station that had been a dog in the market for years. I lightened up the FOX side…making it hip and fast paced and grounded the ABC side more in line with the conservative Network Style. In just the first couple months I brought in hand-picked reporters and anchors from journalism schools across the country. While teaching this new group of talent the shortcuts to perfect their on-air skills I also routinely bolted into the field to shoot the lead story or a ratings series segment, showing the videographers how to tell a story with their video and the on-air team the most valuable tool they could apply; “write your story around the video-don’t try and fit the video to your writing.” Over the next 6 months I saw the fruits of my work, sending 3 reporters to top 40 markets (unheard of in such small market) and finally, within the first year, seeing ratings explode higher than anyone at the station could remember! Maybe a little “too high-too fast” as the station was soon bought out by a huge company in Spokane. With my goal achieved and work done I soon departed and headed back to Lone Star State. Montana had been everything I hoped for. Another “adventure” achieved.

What are you looking for in your next project?

I think I am at a point in my career now where I can be open to any project that has passion as its foundation. It’s really a cool feeling when you realize you are seasoned and sharp at producing, shooting, directing or managing any type of project whether TV or Film. I think I would like to take a project from someone relatively new to the business who is passionate but needs that one person to guide them through the process and help bring in the best of the best staff. As I learned with “TV Junkie”, nothing is as rewarding as taking an underdog project with a potentially great outcome and be a part of making it work. The project is out there…I’m just waiting for it to hit me in the face.

Anything additional you would like to share?

I think if I were to have one thing to say to young people coming into my industry it would be to be prepared. TV and Film can be a tough business if you’re looking for consistency and security. Sure there are jobs in the industry that you can work and put in your 8 hours a day. And that’s great for some people. But the real adrenaline and diversity of TV/Film comes to those so passionate and creative they are willing to risk a normal Monday-Friday position and shoot for the stars. And though you may give up a lot of personal security and “normal” life, once you have tasted that creative high no one can take the experience away and your forever part of that elite team of artists who made a difference.

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