The year is 1995. You’re working on a story in London and eventually traveling to Libya to interview Muammar Gaddafi. You miss out on receiving your first Emmy Award.
Flash forward to 2020. You win your second Emmy, yet a worldwide pandemic stops you from receiving it in person.
If this happened to you, then you have a lot in common with Montclair State University School of Communications and Media professor, Steve McCarthy.
On Sunday, Sept. 20, McCarthy and coproducers, John Block and Jonathan Alter won the Outstanding Historical Documentary Emmy for their HBO film, “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists.”
The documentary grieves a time of true reporting and early journalism, led by some of New York’s most notorious print columnists, Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill.
Growing up in Brooklyn, McCarthy prides the film on being his second New York documentary to win an Emmy.
“You don’t win all the time,” McCarthy said. “Sometimes you never win. That doesn’t mean [you] are any less of a producer. I’m just fortunate that two of the projects I did kind of cut through.”
The idea of “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists” was born following McCarthy and Alter’s separate run-ins with Breslin’s stepdaughter, Emily Eldridge. She explained that if they wished to interview Breslin, they should do it right away as his health was deteriorating.
“We thought, well, he’s not doing well, maybe we should pair him with somebody else and we realized he was friends with Pete Hamill so this is the angle we did this story on,” McCarthy said. “These two great columnists and something that doesn’t exist anymore.”
Interviewing two men in their late 80s required a lot of patience and a lot of going back for more interviews. Despite Breslin’s tough exterior, McCarthy describes both him and Hamill as sweethearts who were excited about the documentary.
“I think that they [Breslin and Hamill] realized that the end of their life was coming so they wanted something to record of it,” he said. “They were really positive and very helpful about it.”
McCarthy did not expect the amount of success the film would have. With his colleague’s connection to HBO, a partnership emerged. The network provided Geof Bartz, one of the world’s top editors, to work on the documentary, which McCarthy describes as a wonderful partnership.
The film, which took 3 1/2 years to complete, is especially rewarding for McCarthy as all four of his children helped it come to life.
“My oldest son, Ryan, did camera and media management, which is very important in a big film like this,” McCarthy said. “My next son and my daughter were the camera people, who did a lot of the shooting with me in the field and ran the cameras while I directed the photography. And then my youngest daughter helped as a [production assistant].”
The ability to use this documentary as a teaching tool for many years to come is an incredibly engaging way to educate journalism students on the history of their passion.
“There are so many lessons in that film about journalism,” McCarthy said. “About going out and finding things, going out away from the computer [and] out of the house. About how important writing is, about how important reporting is, about how important it is to look the other way sometimes.”
While old fashioned reporting may very well be a thing of the past, McCarthy says that a similar style is emerging within podcasts, which he explains are similar to long form writing and reporting.
“The message will change, but there will still be at the heart of it: real reporting about real people, real things and good writing,” McCarthy said. “And I think those are eternal. Those will be with us forever. It’s going to change but it will be okay.”
Fans of “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists” will be pleased to know that McCarthy is currently working on another documentary about journalism. While he cannot give much more detail than that, he says there is a great lineup of big names getting involved.
For aspiring journalists and old souls alike, “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists” will keep you captivated from the moment it begins until the closing credits. Despite the coronavirus pandemic taking away the in-person awards show, McCarthy and everyone involved in the making of the film were rightfully deserving of their Emmy award achievement.