Z Channel

I just happened to catch the cable premiere of the movie Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession, a film about the life of Jerry Harvey and his pioneering work in the early days of Cable TV. While I watched, I saw colleagues of Jerry Harvey that I worked with but haven’t seen in at least 15 years, and I was reminded of a strange event.

Back in 1988 when I worked at the largest Macintosh dealership in the world, I had a deal working with some of the executives of Z Channel. The company was flush with cash, and wanted to buy a huge cutting edge Macintosh computer network, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth. I’d spent weeks in preparation with the company managers to create systems that would completely revamp the company. I was excited about the deal, not just because I’d make more commission on this one deal than I usually earned in a month, but I also subscribed to the Z Channel and loved their programming, so this was just the sort of customer I loved to work with. I worked hard to prepare every detail in advance with middle management, everything was set, the Z Channel managers had presented the deal to Jerry Harvey and had approval to proceed. All I had to do was close the deal, so we arranged an appointment for 9:30 AM at the Z Channel offices, I would meet Jerry Harvey, we’d shake hands and seal the deal.

On Monday morning, I began work as I always did, I sat down at my desk with a cup of coffee and the LA Times, and started making calls to confirm my morning appointments. I always confirmed an appointment before leaving the office (especially on a Monday morning) since people in the LA media business were notoriously flaky. I called my contact at the Z Channel to confirm the meeting was set, and the response, in a shaken voice, said “umm.. uhh.. I don’t think this is a very good time, I’ll have to call you later..” and the woman hung up on me abruptly. Hmm, I had no idea what that was all about.

So I sat back to finish my coffee and read the paper, and figure out what to do with my now-empty morning. And then I turned the LA Times over, just under the fold was the headline “Z Channel Chief Dead in Murder-Suicide.” Oh crap.

The deal fell through, and Z Channel folded up shortly afterwards. I always wondered whether the additional pressure of the Monday meeting with me, the worries over buying expensive computers, contributed to his decision to murder his wife and kill himself. After seeing the movie, it is obvious that Jerry Harvey had a lot of problems that lead to his tragic end, but I can’t help but think I might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

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