Susan Kubany

From Susan Kubany 5/22/2007

I came to WGBH in 1972 to save Roger Fischer’s “The Advocates” series. I was in love: Alan Dershowitz was the liberal advocate, William Rusher the conservative, and Michael Dukakis, the moderator. The debated topics were important, engaging and the drama, unique. (No liberal bias here. This was television at its finest…) I fought tenaciously for critic previews of upcoming shows, and to increase the audience.

In a meeting, station manager Michael Rice mused nonchalantly that we needed some good promos. “Get Muhammad Ali, Joe Namath and Howard Cosell to do promos. You know, like, well, “The PBS Fight of the Week.” No one believed it would happen…

Howard Cosell wouldn’t budge (do it for free), so John Havlicek was his replacement. Russ Morash produced three spots. Havlicek was a gentleman; Namath tobacco-spitting and uncooperative, and Ali wonderful. His was the best. Russ Morash wrote it:

“When I’m training for a fight I …” (cuts of Ali jogging, punching the speed bag, jumping rope, etc.)

(Face to camera) “And I also watch one hour of television a week.

“The Advocates: The PBS Fight of the Week.

“It’s good training for your mind, baby!”

Sadly, the efforts were not enough. “The Advocates“ died, more a tribute to the lack of intellectual energy of the American public than anything else, and I was assigned a new project. Launch a science series, NOVA.

I watched the first couple of productions and liked them, and I was not a scientist. But, I was troubled. Boston, Harvard, MIT, science, talking heads … boring! How could I convince television critics to see the programs, to give the series a chance, to build an audience…?

I went to Michael Ambrosino and asked him to “lighten” the series, to adopt a subhead for the series: NOVA: Science Adventures for Curious Grown-Ups. He was, shall we say, less than amused?

Convinced I was right — and not working directly for Michael —­ all my publicity material was engaging, compelling … and light: Science Adventures for Curious Grown-Ups. Young production assistant Paula Apsell was helpful, supportive …

The previews and the reviews came in. Critics were responsive. The next executive producer, John Angier, followed in Michael’s footsteps: ambivalent, liking some of it, not all. (Once he sent me a dozen roses recognizing the publicity I had garnered for one of his show was impressive, indeed.) The press releases, critic reviews, photos built audience. When I left the station in 1976, NOVA abandoned its sub-head tagline, Science Adventures for Curious Grown-Ups.

Did it make a difference, in those formative years? Who knows?

I handled publicity for “Evening at Pops” and “Evening at Symphony” as well. “Evening at Pops” was exhausting. Taping in May and June, beginning of season in early July. One year I fought desperately for a schedule from Bill Cosel. We were farther behind than usual. Nothing happened; they were deciding, cutting, focusing right up to the last minute. I could do nothing but wait for production. What if the kits didn’t arrive before the series premiere?

Finally, the schedule came. Write, assemble, organize. Off to the printer. Press releases, schedule, complete package. Doug Scott raced into my office four days later. The printer worked overtime. All the press packages were ready. He waved one in his hand, ripped it open in glee, froze, cringed: “Made possible by a grunt from Martin-Marrietta Corporation…?”

“A grunt from Martin-Marietta Corporation….?” I collapsed. Three thousand press packages, and a “grunt” had been delivered.

Doug laughed. He was kidding me. No typos that year. (I was not responsible for the press kit which, one year included a song, “What Kind of Food Am I?” …)

And the Michael Roemer masterpiece, “Dying,” was the most moving and difficult work I did at WGBH. The 97-minute documentary followed the stories of three people facing imminent death. The connections, nuances from story to story were so beautiful, subtle and nuanced it is hard to believe it was not scripted. “Dying” was a blueprint for living. I still commend it to all ‘GBH’ers. Look in the archives, it is brilliant. (The NY Times called it PBS’s finest hour, but, of course, that was decades ago. It is the most brilliant television I have ever seen.)

I refused to allow anyone to watch “Dying” alone. At last count, I had seen it 97 times, possibly more than any other person. Critics with whom I had had solely a professional relationship, sobbed in my arms at the end, close friends for having shared such an experience.

While planning a Raytheon/WGBH/Boston Symphony gala hosted by Governor Michael Dukakis, I “lifted” three pieces of embossed stationary before I had the invitations printed. Years later I used one piece to write a letter to my-soon-to-be-husband telling him what an awesome woman I was and how he’d better pay close attention to taking good care of me. The letter was signed “Mike.”

Poor Bob! He was flabbergasted, amazed that Michael Dukakis would write to him about me. I couldn’t maintain the joke longer than ten minutes: I wrote the letter.

In 1980, my husband and I co-founded Omnet, Inc. and built a pre-Internet computer communications network for the international earth science community. At its zenith in the mid-1990’s, our network served about 15,000 scientists in 70 countries around the world. Written up in two National Academy of Sciences publications, many have said that we made possible early, large scale international ocean research possible.

My brilliant Bob and I spent 24 hours a day together for almost thirty years. We were married three times in two states —­ with no intervening divorces, just new marriage licenses. “Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess.” “Marrying the same woman eliminates the learning curve.” We each wore three rings.

Bob died two years ago this April and now, always the wild one, I must look for new escutcheons to stain… watched over by the spirit of My Love.


  1. Hollis Potter on March 20, 2011 at 8:53 am

    I loved the series The Advocates, sorry it wasn’t more of a success.

    I wonder if it would have more of a market now than then. However I also wonder if you could find better matches than Rusher/Miller/Dershowitz/Bucky. I changed my opinion on several subjects because of this show.

    Are those shows offered anywhere? It would be interesting to see what has come to pass on a number of subjects and just interesting to see the mental sparring of these great debaters.

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