“I want to start my own network.”
Melvin Parker reckons it was these words that won him a scholarship to study broadcasting. But that turned out to be just the beginning of a two-decade struggle to bust into commercial television production. Now, at last, he might be on the cusp of doing just that.
I come across him outside Bay Books on Coronado’s Orange Avenue, with his full panoply of television camera gear deployed on the sidewalk. His assistant Saul Jordan holds a light diffuser, aiming the reflected light at a glamorous gal standing in the doorway. Nicole Montgomery is about to front a segment of The Block, their TV show which seeks out people trying to make something of themselves in America’s Finest City. This segment’s an interview with Katherine Nichols, the author of Deep Water, a factual book about international drug-smuggling Coronado teens. I stop and watch Nicole do her piece to cam. She does it flawlessly, first take. Except, a couple of bikes burp past.
“Okay, take two, when you’re ready ,” she says.
“Who are you making this for?” I ask Parker.
“That’s the point, man. Ourselves. The Block. We are an independent production.”
“The Block covers the BEATS,” Saul Jordan tells me. “That’s Business, Entertainment, Art, Technology, and Sport.”
Their first ten-show season features stories on everything from a DJ who overcame a speech impediment (Jam’n 95.7’s Frankie V), to the lady who won a car in a raffle and sold it to buy the restaurant of her dreams (Mary Pappas of the Athens Market Taverna), to Ashley Nell Tipton, whose plus size and dyslexia looked likely to shut her out of the fashion world, till she won episode 14 of Project Runway, and went on to design for JC Penny.
“I want to inspire people with these stories,” Parker says. In many ways he knows what they’ve all been through. “I had had 20 years working for the government. Spawars, meteorology, oceanography. Then one day at work, I looked at myself. ‘Do I want to die living my whole life this way?’”
His answer to himself: “An emphatic no!”
He decided to drop his job and create his own show. “You’re going to put us in the poor house!” his wife Ericka said. So as part of his deal with her, he went to work at NBC “to learn the industry.” “Part-time job, earning half what I made before. I tried to create my show at the same time. I failed miserably. I’d build a team and have to dissolve. I built a second team, and it dissolved. I ended up in a fit of depression.”
And yet now, third try, he has a full ten-episode season under his belt, and a second, even more slickly produced, half-completed.
Series One broadcasts on CW-6, and they are “in talks” with NBC and Fox, as well as showing on YouTube.
And Parker’s sticking to San Diego. “We’ve had people reaching out to us to bring the show to Orange County and L.A. But we’re staying. The beauty for me is San Diego is wide open! We’ve got a million stories not being told. We’ll never run out of inspiring material.”