When John Mark Karr got lonely during long nights in federal custody—when his thoughts turned to the media, to film and to book deals (and, it turns out, to Diane Sawyer)—the man he called was Larry Garrison, an independent television producer.
“And he called collect,” Mr. Garrison said.
Mr. Garrison said that his cell-phone bill from that month was more than $2,000. That included not just Mr. Karr’s jailhouse calls, but the cost of fielding calls from every major broadcast outlet, and a lot of the minor ones, too. All were looking to land the first television interview with Mr. Karr, the lissome, spooky-eyed man who had falsely confessed to killing JonBenét Ramsey.
Mr. Garrison, who is based in Ventura County, Calif., specializes in packaging high-profile cases. In TV parlance, he is a “story broker.” When something bad happens, story brokers are the people who help criminals and victims monetize their villainy or grief. They place themselves as middlemen between the supply of human drama and the demand for it—so news organizations have to do business with them.
And Mr. Garrison is the “king” of that business, according to multiple sources at ABC, the network that reached an initial agreement about interviewing Mr. Karr.
“He finds a way for ordinary people to profit from extraordinary circumstances,” one ABC source said.
Some brokers—the disreputable ones, in Mr. Garrison’s account—provide a means for news outlets to bid on big-get interviews without the ethically messy expedient of paying the subject. Instead, the winning network or tabloid will arrange to interview the subject for free, while paying a hefty “licensing fee” for home videos or personal photographs to accompany the story. (Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin’s widow chose this month to go with ABC and Barbara Walters; NBC offered $500,000 in licensing fees, according to a source with knowledge of the deal, but CBS and ABC offered between $750,000 and $1 million each.)
The pejorative term for those brokers is “fixers.” Mr. Garrison views himself not as an auctioneer but as a consultant and advisor—and a professional journalist in his own right. What he sells to the networks is production assistance on the stories he helps set up.
Mr. Garrison is also an author—his latest book, describing his work, is called The Newsbreaker—and he and the networks sometimes work out a promotional appearance for him as a quid pro quo.
Mr. Garrison has handled media deals for two Michael Jackson jurors, the relatives of Robert Blake’s dead wife, the family of vanished-in-Aruba teen Natalee Holloway and Joran van der Sloot, the chief suspect in Ms. Holloway’s disappearance. He relies, he says, on a collection of “over 80 people out in the field that just bring me stories.”
So when a celebrity trial is convened or a cheerleader vanishes, Mr. Garrison is often the first person at the principals’ side, offering comfort and media coaching. He shops their book proposals and produces their movies.
Brokering remains, for some, an uncomfortable arrangement. “There’s a strong belief among people who work around and at [ Good Morning America] that this is paying for interviews,” said one ABC source. “It goes back to what Lawrence Schiller did with Gary Gilmore during Executioner’s Song.”
But thanks to Mr. Garrison and other brokers, it’s an arrangement that has to be made. “Larry, he’s certainly one of the most aggressive,” said another ABC source who has worked with him multiple times. “You can’t use the word ‘best.’ So, you know, we journalists sometimes look at it as interference. We’d rather get there, but he will get there, and you find out he has somebody’s story rights.”
“Right now, I’m dealing with the woman who ingratiated herself with the B.T.K. killer,” Mr. Garrison said. He’s also dealing with Pamela Rogers, a schoolteacher convicted of sexual battery on one of her 13-year-old male students. For Ms. Rogers, Mr. Garrison is arranging a sweeps interview.
“People don’t know the truth about her,” he said. “When I bring out the truth about her, it’ll make a difference. Do I condone being a pedophile? No way. But I think she needs help more than anything else.”
Mr. Garrison said that some networks had offered hundreds of thousands of dollars for the chance to speak with John Mark Karr. But ABC won without offering a cent, he said. The network agreed with Mr. Karr that it would do an interview to air during the November sweeps period. By the beginning of October, only a few details remained to negotiate: what topics would be discussed, and who would conduct the interview.
“I pushed for Chris Cuomo,” Mr. Garrison said, “because Chris is an incredible interviewer.”
Mr. Karr, however, wanted either Diane Sawyer or Barbara Walters. “He wanted a woman interviewing him,” Mr. Garrison said.
Two ABC sources said that neither Ms. Sawyer nor Ms. Walters wanted any part of the Karr interview.
On Oct. 6, Mr. Karr was taking two ABC producers on a tour of the San Francisco neighborhood where he used to live. Along the way, he asked them to stop the limo outside an elementary school where he used to teach. When he got out and peered in the schoolhouse windows, police were called, and the interview was called off.
Still, Mr. Garrison held out hope. “There probably will be an interview,” he said, “unless John sabotages it himself. I’ve had Larry King come asking. I’ve had NBC, CBS. We know where ABC stands right now. I just got off the phone with Greta [Van Susteren, of Fox News]. When you deal with a demanding person, and there’s delusions of grandeur, it’s difficult.”
Too difficult, it seems, for ABC. “There is a zero percent chance that interview will happen,” an ABC source said. “He is completely shut down. His behavior at that school was so disturbing to our producers that that was game, set, match.”
Mr. Garrison became Mr. Karr’s broker by first developing a relationship with Mr. Karr’s half-brother, Nate, and arranging interviews for Nate Karr at most of the major networks. Nate Karr impressed him, Mr. Garrison said, by choosing to do interviews for which he was not paid.
“To me, interviews like that should not be about money,” Mr. Garrison said. “It’s about getting the truth out. I’m not a holy roller. I’m Jewish. My kids are Catholic. I believe there’s one God for everybody. I believe in karma. I believe in doing right by people. That’s how I get the big stories. That’s how I beat people out. Because I’m there. I’m there for other news shows. I’m there if there’s a movie or a book. You can pick up the phone 10 years from now, and I’ll still be there.”
Mr. Garrison was on both the Today show and Good Morning America this month, promoting his book. Opening the segment, Mr. Cuomo said, “Even the title makes me feel like I wanna be the newsbreaker. Why are you?”
In reply, Mr. Garrison gave thanks to his sister R. Stephanie Good, who hunts pedophiles for the F.B.I., and explained that all he does is “stop the spin.” Mr. Cuomo described The Newsbreaker as a “very fascinating book.”
What tickled Mr. Garrison was what happened afterward. He had asked Mr. Cuomo to give him a little time at the end of the segment to say hello to his granddaughter. But Mr. Cuomo forgot and launched straight into a commercial break (“When we come back, we’re gonna take a look at who that mastermind was behind hot Cheetos and ice cream …. ”)
So at the very end of the morning news show—in what Mr. Garrison said was an unprecedented gesture—Mr. Cuomo paused and said, “I have a very special message for Dylan: Grandpa La La loves you.”
Now Mr. Cuomo and company are out of the running for Mr. Karr. But there are still enough suitors for Mr. Garrison to be choosy. He will not work with one of the major networks, he said (he declined to specify which), because he did two interviews with them about Mr. Karr and they stiffed him on a reciprocal interview about his book. He has standards: He will not work with serial killers, or with tabloid shows willing to pay outrageous sums for their home movies. He will not work with Nancy Grace.
He said he is not, as now, pursuing film or book deals for Mr. Karr. But he is eager to dangle tidbits—or hints of tidbits—about Mr. Karr for network bookers. What would Mr. Karr say, if someone got him on camera?
“All I can tell you,” Mr. Garrison said, “is I am the only journalist—and I like to believe that I’m a journalist—who had private access to the jail.
“I wish,” he said, “I could say more.”
IN OTHER CRIMINAL-JUSTICE-TELEVISION NEWS, Henry Schleiff, who as president of Court TV gave America two live hours of Nancy Grace every day for eight years, has become the head of the Hallmark Channel.
Has he put the flame-spewing prosecutor and her epic nostrils behind him? “I have a feeling she’s not going to be hosting any Mother’s Day specials,” Mr. Schleiff said.
Mr. Schleiff took over the Hallmark Channel on Oct. 4. At Court TV, he built a sleepy, C-SPAN-minded outfit into a crime-entertainment phenomenon—adding syndicated cop shows, an original programming division and the vigilante talk-show stylings of Ms. Grace.
He lost his job as president in May, when Time Warner bought up Liberty Media Corp.’s 50 percent stake in Court TV and told Mr. Schleiff his services were no longer needed.
Now he takes over a channel known in the industry as the “ alter kocker network,” featuring reruns of MASH, Matlock and Walker, Texas Ranger, along with original movies. Mr. Schleiff was not a regular viewer.
“The little that I have watched on the network—because I think, like most people, especially in New York City, in urban areas, what have you, I haven’t watched that much Hallmark, because it’s on digital and, frankly, it’s not one of the first places I go to—but when I finally make the effort to,” Mr. Schleiff said, “what I have watched is the movies.”
In 2005, Hallmark Hall of Fame, a production company associated with the Hallmark Channel, made Riding the Bus with My Sister, a film for CBS that starred Rosie O’Donnell, wearing mismatched sneakers, as a mentally retarded woman named Beth Simon.
“I haven’t seen the Rosie one,” Mr. Schleiff said.
He has seen others, though, including Wild Hearts, and a third whose title he couldn’t immediately recall. “Quite honestly, especially in the last couple of days, I’ve been watching the series,” he said.
“I don’t know how much of the menu is for you or anyone else,” Mr. Schleiff said. “Hallmark provides predictable quality, and I think part of its calling card—no pun intended—is family-friendly programming.”
Wordplay! Is that why Hallmark was Thinking Of You, Mr. S.?
“I think everyone’s trying to be very edgy,” Mr. Schleiff said. “The opportunity to counter edginess with something that’s a little more comfortable but still entertaining is a huge opportunity.”