That little Friday thing we do, the “Gang of Four” panel segment, will mark 20 years on “The Jack Riccardi Show” and yet it almost didn’t make it to four.
When I slid over to KTSA from WOAI in 1999, the then-program director met with me to say that I should continue the show as it was. Except for “Gang”.
Already, I knew we had a good thing going, so I was surprised. Can’t remember the exact objection, but it was along the lines of “too much interrupting” or something.
Being of the belief that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission, I quietly pushed on with it, and nothing more was said.
In the early years, people would ask why four, as opposed to three or five? Wish I could say there was a sophisticated reason or formula.
Truth be told, there were a maximum of four microphones in the old WOAI studios, where we started. Three of them, including mine, were on swingarms. The fourth, seldom needed, was a table-mounted oldie. So the fourth panelist always looked like he was dispatching cabs or reading the school announcements. And when the late, legendary news anchor Bob Guthrie came in to read the news, he would borrow the mic of the guest closest to me,swinging it out and up, since Bob stood (by choice) right next to me and boomed out the newscast while we sat in rapt silence.
Four was the most we could handle, so four it was.
Some favorite moments:
During the Lewinsky scandal, former mayor Nelson Wolff was on the Gang, and turned out to be a passionate defender of President Clinton. Before I knew it, he and I were in a shouting argument, and had stood up and were leaning across the table at each other. Awwwwwkward for the other two panelists. I felt bad about it, because I like Nelson Wolff, and I probably went a little overboard.
Another incident involved a panelist dropping a big fat s-bomb on the air, thinking we were still in the commercial break, and it was just amongst us. Funny because this gentleman is the last person you can imagine swearing, and he is still mortified, which is why I’ll not name names.
The only “gang” member fired on the air was former city councilwoman and mayoral candidate Diane Cibrian. She was, you may remember, very opinionated. But not reliable. We got stiffed one too many times, and I’d had it.
Experimenting with oddball guests, we had a sex therapist one time, and an exotic dancer another time. I did fine, but both of them had the effect of…subduing…the other panelists. Not the desired effect.
When things go wrong, it’s always because people are too quiet, not because they’re too vocal or opinionated.
As the ringleader every Friday, one of the trickiest things to do is make sure the in-studio conversation during the breaks doesn’t rob the on-air segments of their material. Typically, the group keeps right on rolling while ads or news are on, and sometimes it picks up more momentum. Yet, no one hears it but us. I have to try and either distract them, make small talk, or just kind of shut them up until we crack open the microphones again. It’s a virtue that they are so comfortable that they can’t tell when they’re “on” and when they’re “off,” but I want the listener to hear as much of them as possible. Kind of like “continuity” in the movies.
Finally, I have to say thank you to the many people who’ve been on “Gang” over the years, once, or many times. Our pal Cathey Meyer is the sole remaining panelist from the first show. Special thanks to Chris Duel, a former colleague, who was a kind of permanent panelist for a while, and to Steve Shepard, who graciously went along with the “Gang” format for the six months that our shows were combined into the 10 A.M. to 3 P.M. block on WOAI in 1999.
And thanks for ending your week, or starting your weekend, with me and a few of our most interesting friends.