Excerpt: Wendy Walker's 'The Producer'


I dove headfirst into the business of finding out who knew Michael best and who we could get on the show in just a few hours. Show number four was in full production mode, and still, I had to do my regular job when a crisis arose about something else altogether. An executive producer wears a lot of hats, and it seemed that Billy Ray Cyrus had been on the show June 12 and had concerns about his segments. It was a rare occurrence when a guest was less than satisfied—I couldn't even remember the last time—so I wrote Billy Ray an e-mail to the effect that I was a little busy with the current breaking news but I wanted to apologize. I followed that with a short explanation of what had occurred and why. In essence, I took the blame, fell on my sword, and sent the e-mail.

It's a good idea to avoid blaming the other guy. If you made a mistake, just admit it. It might feel uncomfortable at the time, but owning your mistake will make you look a far sight better than coming up with a lame excuse that nobody believes anyway. For this very intense moment in time, it worked with Billy Ray. I got an e-mail straight back from him, saying he couldn't believe that on a day that two icons had died, I was still concerned about him. He thought that was amazing and he wrote, "We'll always have this moment of sharing the tragedy of the death of Michael Jackson. He was so important to me and I am so sorry."

I exhaled. Back to the work at hand. My staff had the tough and highly delicate job of letting the Farrah people know that we were preempting her for the death of a more famous and celebrated star than the woman they loved so well. Then an e-mail arrived from Lisa Ling. One would expect her to be completely wrapped up in advocating for her sister, but she was caring enough to have moved outside of her own tragedy and thought of me:

I don't know if you know this, but Deepak was very close to Michael.

This was news to me. I shot out a thank-you e-mail to Lisa and got Deepak Chopra on the phone. I knew Deepak well, I respected him and his opinions, and he agreed to appear on the show the very next day. During that call, he stated to me in no uncertain terms, by the way, that he believed that drugs administered by licensed medical doctors had killed Michael. I scribbled down some of his comments as he told me that Michael had been taking a drug called Diprivan that was so powerful, it was only used in operating rooms. It created an effect that was about as close to dying as a person could get, and when someone was on the drug, they needed to be closely monitored in case they needed to be brought back from the throes of death. Deepak was furious at the doctors who he said he believed had administered such dangerous medications to Michael in his home without proper monitoring. He told me that Michael liked getting dangerously close to death and then brought back.

In a few minutes, Jonathan Klein, president of CNN, called me to confirm tonight's show and ask if we could run for a straight two hours with reruns at midnight and at 3 a.m. We agreed. This was a rare evening when I did not have dinner with my children. I stayed in my office and when Larry was ready to go on the air, we had booked enough star-studded guests, all stunned and upset by the death, to fill the show.

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