Episode 128, with guests Josh Sapan of AMC Networks, former Secretary of the Navy Gordon England and POLITICO Magazine’s Susan Glasser

Josh Sapan, Gordon England and Susan Glasser are our guests this week.
With guest co-host Steve Silverman alongside Josh King
Show produced by Katherine Caperton.
Original Air Date: November 23, 2013 on SiriusXM “POTUS” Channel 124.
PoliOptics airs on POTUS on Saturdays at 8 am, 4 pm and midnight and on Sundays at noon and midnight.
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Show also available for download on Apple iTunes by clicking here

Whenever I was assigned to produce a big site for Governor — then President — Bill Clinton, I always went first to the back of the stadium, field, big city intersection, or wherever we were to hold the event, and imagined it filled with people, with flags, with bunting. I knew, of course, that rare was the occasion when the New York Times would use “the wide shot” on Page 1, but I always thought there was something prideful for the hometown newspaper or local television station to capture “the big picture” in their backyard, a moment of American panorama that would be frozen in time.

As a kid, and even today, I love a flea market. I try to get to Brimfield once a year (if you go, wear comfortable shoes). I’m drawn particularly to the vendors with tables chock-a-block with old black and white photos, usually of large groups: the medical staff of a hospital or an troop of cadets, perhaps oilmen working a derrick. As my wife will tell you, I’m drawn to them a bit too much. We now have a basement full of framed photos over 50 years old and too little wall space that she’s willing to devote to long-faced frontiersmen and long lines of white lab-coated medical students making their mothers proud.

When I learned that our first guest, Josh Sapan, president and CEO of AMC Networks, the folks who bring you Breaking Bad, Mad Man, The Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels, among so much more, was the author of The Big Picture: America in Panorama, about the very subject of my flea market delight, I of course wanted to talk to him about his business and his shows, but I couldn’t wait to get to his book.

Josh Sapan in panorama

Rest assured, Josh and I cover a wide array of topics, from how AMC’s business is doing (it earned $58 million in net income on $368 million in revenue in Q3 2013) to where his slate of superior drama is headed after Don Draper hangs up his portfolio and Walter White cooks his last batch of Blue Sky (back to the Revolutionary War era, it seems, with a spy drama called Turn, due out in 2015).

Every viewer has their eye out for something. In AMC’s dramas I love the political ecosystems at play, from how The Governor (David Morrissey) metes out justice in Woodbury to how Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) keeps Mayor John Lindsay from getting tainted by the “brainwashing” brush that doomed George Romney’s presidential aspirations (a topic we explored with Ben Wallace-Wells last year).

Josh Sapan’s story spans that of the cable industry, from the early days to the current Golden Age of television. At AMC, the Golden Age keeps hitting a new vein. One Sapan movie venture that’s not a financial blockbuster, but a treasure nonetheless, is Greenport Theater in Greenport, New York, one of the last of the old movie houses where you can still spend a day enjoying an affordable weekend matinee. When Amy and I take the kids to see Jake Siewert and Christine Anderson in Shelter Island and the weather turns nasty, we make a quick bee-line for the North Ferry to get us to the Greenport Theater. If you’re in the neighborhood, you should drop in too!

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This has been quite a week for Polioptics. The new POLITICO Magazine published my 6,000-word History Dept. piece, “Dukakis and the Tank”, which is required reading for you all, complete with its own mini-documentary (POLITICO’s first) starring Matt Bennett, Sig Rogich and me. The documentary, produced by Matt Sobocinski, was shot partially on location at the King Museum of Presidential Arcana & Ephemera in the Woodbury-like Catskills town of Windham, New York. Huge thanks to POLITICO Magazine’s senior editor, Denise Wills, who made me sound quasi literate and had the excellent sense to cleave a 12,000 word first draft in half (the rest of the stuff, all fascinating, I assure you, will have to wait for the book — or the AMC series!).

In this episode of Polioptics, though, we dig our tank tracks a little deeper into the muddy proving ground of General Dynamics Land Systems and the (for me) endlessly fascinating story of a presidential campaign event gone very, very bad. I’m joined by my collaborator on the tank story project, Steve Silverman, a fellow advance man from 1988 and longtime colleague in the Clinton White House, as we talk to former Secretary of the Navy Gordon England, who few knew until now was the other man riding topside in the M1A1 when Governor Dukakis took his famous and fateful ride 25 years ago.

After we talk with Gordon, a special kicker: Susan Glasser, editor of POLITICO Magazine, joins us as we learn just what it takes to launch a new glossy title in the digital age. Her baby is hitting us every day with the kind of journalism you never saw on POLITICO before, a stunning debut from an all-star cast of writers, editors and multi-media producers, present company excluded. While Susan runs the shop, she also serves up great content, including an exclusive interview this week with the Secretary of State: “John Kerry vs. the ‘Babble.'”

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