All Tom Seidman wanted was to get his independently produced documentary about the homeless on local television. Now that KHJ-TV Channel 9 has granted his wish and aired the program, Seidman says he and his program have been exploited.
For months, Seidman could not find an outlet for his documentary, "Lost Angeles." Finally, after The Times published an article chronicling his plight, KHJ offered to air the program last Sunday at 9 p.m. Seidman said the station told him it could not pay any money for it. He agreed because he wanted it to be seen.
Then, without telling Seidman, the station sold the hour following his documentary for $35,000 to the Los Angeles Mission, which used the time to solicit money from the public to support its efforts to feed and shelter the homeless.
Seidman said that he is upset because KHJ made money from the commercials it aired during his program and from its sale of the subsequent hour to the Mission. The Mission, helped along by Seidman's documentary, also made money, while Seidman, who says he made the documentary with more than $12,000 of his own money, did not make a cent.
KHJ sees the situation differently. In a telephone interview Wednesday, Charles Velona, the station's general manager, called Seidman's complaints "the most ludicrous thing I've heard in over 30 years in television," and termed Seidman "one of the most ungrateful people I've ever met."
Velona said the station originally had offered to sell Seidman an hour in which to air his program, but Seidman told them he couldn't afford to buy the time. Then, after reading the article in The Times, Velona said he decided to give Seidman an hour in prime time free of charge.
KHJ does not pay money to producers for programming unless the station can sell advertising time for it, he said. The commercials that aired during "Lost Angeles" had been sold previously for that time period, he said.
"We did not sell his show," Velona insisted. "We could not sell his show. We cannot even sell our own public affairs shows. No advertisers want to buy them.
"I felt sorry for him and gave him an hour of free time because I believe in the (homeless) cause. All he wanted was a chance to show his work to the community. We gave him that chance. No other station would even do that, and this is how he pays us back. He'll never get another hour of free time, I can tell you that."
Velona also dismissed Seidman's complaint about making money off his documentary by selling the following hour to the Mission, saying that the Mission often buys time from KHJ for its telethons. He said that the hour following "Lost Angeles" was the only time period this month that the station had available.
Al Byrne, the Mission's administrator, said that the Mission received more than $187,000 in pledges during Sunday's telethon and conceded that its positioning after Seidman's documentary probably helped. He said that although the Mission usually buys time for such telethons during the late-night hours and had not bought an hour of prime time since last Christmas, Seidman's documentary had nothing to do with its purchase of time last Sunday.
"This is our peak fund-raising season and we were looking for an hour of prime time, and that was the only time we could get," Byrne said.
But Jim Stark of the Mission's public relations firm, which produced the telethon, said that KHJ approached the Mission with the idea of buying the time following "Lost Angeles" and that the firm decided that Seidman's program would be a good lead-in for the fund raiser.
Seidman said that he is upset because he believes his program appeared to be associated with the Mission's pitch and helped raise more money than the telethon might have generated on its own. While he has no complaints about the public giving money to the Mission, he said he feels used.
"I don't think that giving money to the Mission is the most effective way to help the homeless," Seidman said. "And if my program helped raise money, I'd like to have some say in where that money goes."