Sunday, August 26, 2001

He calls the shots for Madonna

Tonight, HBO's top concert producer will draw on the things he learned at Channel 9

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's not often I can put Britney Spears and Bob Shreve in the same story.

        Or Aerosmith and Al Schottelkotte, or Madonna and Nick Clooney.

        But they come up in conversation with HBO concert producer and director Marty Callner, the Roselawn native who started as a prop boy at WCPO-TV's Nick Clooney Show in 1969.

        “The first thing I ever directed was the All-Night Theater starring Bob Shreve from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Nobody else wanted to do it,” Mr. Callner says.

        That's certainly not the case now for the Los Angeles-based producer-director. Mr. Callner gets the plum concert jobs that others envy, including today's live Madonna concert (9 p.m., HBO) and Britney Spears' live concert (Nov. 18, HBO).

        In 26 years with HBO, he's also called the TV shots for specials starring Robin Williams, Bette Midler, Diana Ross, Jerry Seinfeld, Gloria Estefan, Billy Crystal, Liza Minnelli, George Carlin, Whitney Houston and Garth Brooks.

        The 1964 Woodward High School graduate also has directed 210 music videos, including Cher's “If I Could Turn Back Time,” Twisted Sister's “We're Not Gonna Take It,” and Aerosmith's “Amazing” and “Cryin' ” (MTV's 1994 video of the year).

Quick rise

        Not bad for the former long-haired hippie who didn't know what he wanted to do after graduating from college in 1969. So his mother, Etheljane “Ejay” Callner, Cincinnati TV Guide office manager, got him a job at Channel 9.

        “I was a drifter and a grifter. Then I walked into this Nick Clooney Show, and heard the applause, and I suddenly knew I was where I was supposed to be,” he says.

        Mr. Callner quickly moved up the ranks, landing in the control booth for Mr. Shreve's late-night antics. During a staffing emergency, he was asked to direct the station's top-rated 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts anchored by the demanding Mr. Schottelkotte.

        “I'll never forget it: About 6:20 in the newscast, Schottelkotte picked up the phone from the (studio) floor, called the booth, and said, "All right, kid, you're doing all right. Just hang in there.'

        “To me, that was the start of my whole career. That was my first big break,” he says.

        For tonight's Madonna Live: The Drowned World Tour telecast from the Palace of Auburn Hills near Detroit, he'll follow the advice from Ben Hevel, former Channel 9 program director.

        “The first day I was a director, he called me into his office and said: "Marty, if you want to be a successful television director, give the people what they want to see, when they want to see it.'

        “That's basically the simplistic style I have in directing television. It's proved to be invaluable. I have to anticipate what the audience wants to see. That's my job.”

HBO's first Wimbledon

        In 1972, Mr. Callner quit Channel 9 in a pay dispute with General Manager Bob Gordon. He spent a year directing commercials in Cleveland before former Channel 9 colleague Ron DeMoraes suggested he come to Boston's WBZ-TV to direct Celtics' basketball telecasts.

        His sports work caught the attention of HBO, which hired him in 1975 to direct sports and specials. He produced HBO's debut Wimbledon coverage and the first On Location comedy concert (with Robert Klein) in 1975, HBO's third year of operation.

        His first live HBO music concert — Ray Charles and Gladys Knight and the Pips at Los Angeles' Greek Theater in 1978 — won an Award for Cable Excellence (ACE). It set the gold standard for HBO's live music spectaculars.

        “Because we weren't a network, we had to be better than the networks. That was always my philosophy,” he says. “HBO was very supportive, and we were able to spend so much time to get that right.”

Brainstorming with Britney

        That remains so. Mr. Callner, now a free-lancer based in Los Angeles, has been working since July on on Ms. Spears' November concert. Unlike Madonna's show — an adaptation of her tour for TV — Mr. Spears is “collaborating from the beginning” on the HBO show with the Cincinnati native.

        “We're brainstorming. I'm offering suggestions to her that I think, as an artist, she will appreciate,” he says. The November show will be telecast from the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel, where Mr. Callner directed Ms. Midler's live HBO concert.

        “I like it that way, live and dangerous. And that all comes from Ohio,” Mr. Callner says. “During those (Channel 9) newscasts, I used to be on the edge of my seat, because if you made one mistake, Al Schottelkotte would be on your butt. He was tough.”

        As he calls the shots for Madonna, he'll rely on the gut instincts developed here.

        “Growing up in Cincinnati was the biggest break I could ever have in my life. It gave me Midwestern values that I have used to this day in my choices, in the edits that I make. I just go back to that feeling that Midwesterners really know the difference between good and bad.

        “It was really magical, those first few years in Cincinnati. I never knew it would end up like this.”

        That it would end up with Madonna, Britney Spears, Bob Shreve and Nick Clooney in the same sentence.
       Contact John Kiesewetter by phone: 768-8519; fax: 768-8330; e-mail:


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