The demolition of the old KING Broadcasting building at 333 Dexter Avenue North in Seattle adds another chapter to the destruction of edifices that have had an influence on my life and career. The farmhouse where I spent my early years, as well as my first elementary school, East Frederick – both in the town of Frederick, Maryland – are no more, the latter replaced by some sort of convenience store.
My middle school, Williamsport Middle School, in Williamsport, Maryland – antiquated even back when I attended – is long gone and you’ll struggle to even find a picture of it online. Williamsport Middle was where I spent my 7th and 8th grade years, quite formative in many ways, as I made friendships, started figuring out what the mysterious creatures called ‘girls’ were all about, honed my basketball skills and even got into the occasionally fistfight.
Here in Melbourne, the house to which our son Sam came home from the hospital, an old rambling joint on Winmalee Road in the suburb of Balwyn, was knocked down a couple of years ago to make way for two generic townhouses. That’s become de rigeur in a city growing by leaps and bounds.
But the KING building might be the most emotional of all.
I haven’t worked in it since the mid-90’s…hell, I haven’t actually been in it since the early 2000’s. But it was where my life diverted onto a different path from the one I’d figured I’d follow. The old ‘want to make God laugh, tell him your plans in life’ adage hitting close to home.
My first job out of college was teaching 9th and 10th graders at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma. It was one of the great experiences of my life, and I could have easily settled into 20 years or so of teaching English, coaching basketball and living by the water.
But a twist of fate sent me to KING TV as part of the Almost Live! comedy show.
Starting as a freelancer, with low pay, no benefits and a ‘feed-the-meter-every-two-hours’ parking arrangement, I eventually became an employee, was gifted some stock by the benevolent owners and even got a subterranean parking spot right next to the suit-wearing sales guys.
And why not, with a show that dominated ratings for years and made plenty of money for the company. In fact, they still air re-runs to this day. We were on at 11:30 pm every Saturday night, with NBC’s mainstay Saturday Night Live pushed back to midnight because they knew we’d deliver them bigger ratings.
Almost Live! was an outlier, a once-in-a-lifetime, Paris in the 1920’s scenario.
In that building at 333 Dexter Avenue North, we created jokes, sketches and videos, some funny, some not. We came up with the notorious ‘Space Needle Has Fallen’ April Fool’s joke that backfired big time.
We created well-loved comedy pieces like ‘Speedwalker,’ ‘The Hi-Fivn White Guys,’ and ‘Billy Kwan.’ Bob Nelson, a comic genius who went on to write the movie Nebraska, came up with masterpiece after masterpiece, some probably concocted while we played games of ‘HORSE’ in the makeshift basketball court down by the loading dock.
We won more than a hundred Emmy awards and we walked around the building like the cool kids in school – not the jocks mind you – but the quirky cool kids who knew they could do almost anything (other than say the Space Needle had fallen) and get away with it.
We ambushed celebs who came into the building and made them say silly things. I recall Henry Winkler (‘The Fonz’) and supermodel Paulina Porizkova among others. At the height of the show’s popularity, Dave Grohl came on and did a couple of live sketches and Michael Jordan (we were told he was a fan) did a mock testimonial.
Eventually, it was time to move on. I mean, how many redneck South King County jokes can a man make? That’s my less poetic version of how many yachts can you water ski behind…
I moved to Portland, then LA and eventually to Melbourne. I’ve done plenty of live television, including hosting the Super Bowl broadcast here in Australia for seven years.
But I made my first-ever live television appearance in the KING building on the set of Almost Live! I was quite nervous as you’d expect and in the Green Room beforehand, I mentioned that to one of the night’s guests. He said, “Ah, don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”
It was Jerry Seinfeld. That’s a pretty good memory.
RIP 333 Dexter Avenue North, I will always think of you fondly. Especially the hookers out back on Aurora Avenue.