On the credenza in a coveted corner office that overlooks the ice skating rink in New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza is a small green frame engraved with the words, “You the Man.” It bears a picture of staff members of The Rosie O’Donnell Show accepting an Emmy Award for best daytime talk show, their third of four (they’re up for a fifth this month). But the person holding the golden statue is not the star. Instead, it is “the man” with whom O’Donnell shares the title executive producer, the man who began as her booking agent when the comedienne got her start 20 years ago, the man she describes as her “big-brother-father-protector figure.” That man is Bernie Young.
When O’Donnell tapes her final show May 22, Young will be standing where he’s always positioned4off-camera but still in the middle of the action. The 10th of 14 children, Young was raised in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York, by loving, hardworking parents. He learned early on that a screamer may get some attention, but he doesn’t necessarily get respect. And that’s what Young has always wanted.
He sought it first as one of New York City’s finest, where he quickly became a member of the city’s elite street crimes unit and then a detective in just three years. Throughout the years, he honed the cool, unflappable demeanor that would lead his staff to dub him “Shaft.” Says O’Donnell, “There’s nothing you can do or say to fluster Bernie. He’s the no-drama man, which, in this business, is hugely important and totally rare. He’s a great manager. He’s great at motivating people, organizing people, and he’s loyal and very wise. Like I said, he’s very rare.”
He’s also a big risk taker. In the mid-1970s, the restless Young4then married with two children4quit the force and took an outrageous chance: A leap into show business with one contact and zero experience. But Young proved to be a quick study and a fearless entrepreneur, eventually carving out a solid niche managing comedians. His business flourished. But in 1996 he once again did the unthinkable, whittling his lucrative client list down to one: O’Donnell, who was then a fledgling talk show host. Young’s instincts proved infallible. During its six-year run, the Rosie O’Donnell Show has established both a new model and benchmark for daytime talk show success. Content to remain in the background, Young has never granted interviews. But on his 55th birthday he sat down with Editor-At-Large Caroline V. Clarke to share the lessons he’s learned, in his own words, and to shed some light on how a former cop wound up being the most successful black producer in daytime TV.
In his own words
I never had a grand plan. I’ve never thought in a very specific way about what I was going to do. I followed one of my older brothers into the New York City police department after I saw his paycheck one day. It really was that simple. I came out of