|Photo Illustration: Gluekit; Network photos: ABC, CNN, FOX, NBC; Photo of Larry Garrison: Courtesy Sean Garrison Photography|
“I don’t think you should go with CNN,” Larry Garrison says into his cell phone as he paces across a hotel lobby near his home in Westlake Village, California. “I’d like to team up with you.” He’s talking to John Muldowney, a 78-year-old retired propane inspector from Manheim, Pennsylvania, who thinks that he and his wife might have found Natalee Holloway’s remains while snorkeling off the coast of Aruba. The story involves blood and tragedy, but also the opportunity to go on television, and Garrison, who has one of the most unusual—and controversial—jobs in the TV business, exists to make that happen. “I want to make sure you don’t have your day of glory and then everyone forgets about you,” Garrison continues, his eyes gleaming. “I’ll be there for you.”
There is no single term that fully captures what Garrison does for a living, although it involves a lot of time spent cajoling people over the phone. He’s sometimes called a fixer, a story broker, or—his preference—an independent television producer and consultant, but all the titles mean the same thing: Garrison gets paid to bring tabloid stories to TV news programs. Missing toddlers, murdered coeds, septuplets, serial killers—an endless parade of freaks and victims is marched through the studio sets of Dateline NBC, 20/20, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, and countless other shows, all to satisfy viewers’ seemingly insatiable appetite for real-life tears and melodrama. Sometimes network bookers go out hunting for subjects themselves, armed with bouquets of flowers and boxes of tissues and the names of their star anchors (Diane Sawyer, Matt Lauer) as chits. In many cases, though, Garrison gets there first, locks up the rights to the person’s story, and becomes an unavoidable middleman in whatever transactions follow.