AS PITCHES GO, it’s the kind of high-concept premise that would get a producer laughed out of most offices: “So, the guy’s a TV executive by day… and a cop by night!”
Yet that really is the life of Charles Segars, senior veepee of programming and production at the Fine Living network, who doubles as a reserve Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy, serving an average of 50 to 60 hours a month in nine-hour patrol shifts.
Like a lot of people, Segars drew inspiration from the events of Sept. 11 (he lost friends in the twin towers and says that his father and brother are airline pilots), which prompted him to get involved. That ultimately led him into the reserves program.
“It sounds Pollyanna-ish, but I truly wanted to do something to give back to the community,” Segars said. “There is no greater satisfaction than when you take a bad guy off the street…. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Despite the considerable time commitment — including more than 1,000 hours of training spread over 26 grueling weeks — Segars contends that his police work actually makes him more focused in his day job. In fact, Segars is juggling several tasks these days. The former DreamWorks and CBS exec also receives a producer credit on the action film “National Treasure,” which premieres this month.
Nor is he the only Hollywood denizen to moonlight in this fashion. Jeremy Littman, a producer on the Lifetime series “Strong Medicine,” is also a sheriff’s deputy on the Malibu Mountain Search & Rescue team — a unit that puts him on 24-hour call. And CAA’s Rob Kenneally, who introduced Littman to the program, spent 17 years as a reservist before retiring in 2002.
VOLUNTEERS COME from all different backgrounds, said Deputy Greg Johnson, who notes that one recent trainee was an honest-to-God rocket scientist. And while a portion eventually transition to become full-time law-enforcement officers, the majority do so while maintaining a separate career.
While many talk about giving back to the community, it’s mind-boggling to me that anyone can grapple with the demands of a full-time media gig and then tack on that much additional work in a squad car every month. Personally, the most dangerous thing I do is review reality makeover and dating shows, which, I’m convinced, kill brain cells faster than I can grow them.
Reservists’ day jobs don’t mean much to superiors so long as those responsibilities don’t interfere with fulfilling their duties. “I don’t think most of the people in the class have any idea what (Segars) does,” said Johnson, who oversaw his training.
Although Littman admits his emergency medical training has proved useful at times on his current show, he stresses that he didn’t enter the program with any thought of translating the experience into his writing. “People always ask, and that never entered my mind — that it might come to play in my work,” he said.
LITTMAN RECENTLY had a 1 a.m. emergency call that kept him out for several hours, then had to work the next day. Segars points out that the time he devotes to policing isn’t that much worse than playing 18 holes of golf or running triathlons on the weekend, though it’s certainly more perilous — particularly during the boot camp-like training, when he lost 25 pounds and learned how to handle a gun.
This is just a guess, but I have a sense that behavior during development meetings might be somewhat more amicable if all TV execs had ready access to firearms. Or maybe I’ve watched too many movies.
Hollywood, of course, has a noble history of philanthropic endeavors, but wrestling with a rubber chicken dinner isn’t quite the same as patrolling Compton and Marina Del Rey into the wee hours of the morning, as Segars does, or Littman schlepping through the mountains for a lost hiker.
Segars did advise the brass at the Scripps Networks about his plans and said they have been extremely supportive. As for professional sacrifices, he said, “It cuts into my networking time, but I’ve been doing OK.”
Littman, too, wouldn’t trade the feeling of helping out even to recoup a few precious hours of sleep. “You’re tired,” he said, “but it’s an OK kind of tired to be.”