People see fresh-faced Sacramento native Tom Leach working as a TV executive, and they say: "Wow! You're really young, and you just walked into this job."
He refrains from ticking off what he describes as "the 10,000 steps" he took between doing his first movie review on "Good Day, Sacramento" up until the day he was hired by Mark Burnett, the reality TV producer whose hits include "Survivor" and "The Voice."
Ten years divided these two career highlights, and what Leach describes as 10,000 steps are really more like 10,000 hours of really intense work.
Leach was 26 when Burnett hired him. He was 16 when his parents, who knew he wanted a career in TV, presented him with a birthday gift they had won in a school auction.
It was the chance to meet entertainment anchor Mark S. Allen and review a movie on his morning show.
"One thing leads to another," Leach told me. "if my parents wouldn't have bought that auction gift for my birthday, if Mark S. Allen hadn't given me his business card, if I hadn't kept the business card."
Two years later, when Leach's parents suggested he find a summer job, the Oak Ridge High School senior made a demo reel in which he did man-on-the-street interviews. He called Allen and asked if he could drive it over after school. Allen looked at it, liked it and offered him the chance to sub for him on an assignment in New York City.
"I remember I was sitting at the dinner table with my parents, and I said, "Mom and Dad, I've got a job,' " Leach said. "They asked me, 'Oh, did you apply at Raley's? Or are you going back to Old Navy? What's the next step?' "
"I said, ' I'm flying to New York City to sit down and interview Hugh Jackman about his movie.' My mom's jaw dropped, and she said, 'You've never been anywhere. You're not flying on a plane to New York City to interview anyone.' "
Leach persisted, saying, "You always encouraged me to dream big." Mom Linda Leach insisted she fly with him on his first assignment. Eventually, though, she and her husband, Bob Leach, got accustomed to waving goodbye at Sacramento airport.
Leach went on to study film and television production at Loyola Marymount University, then went on for a master's in the subjects at UCLA. He founded a student-run TV station at LMU. He worked through college for Jerry Bruckheimer, the Discovery Channel and others. He researched game shows and secured spots on them, using winnings to help pay for college. Now, besides working for Burnett, he also teaches in the film school at Loyola Marymount. And, he subscribes to 25 newspapers and magazines for insights on diverse subjects.
At 26, he's earned the respect of Forbes magazine, which described him as "engaging, surprising and incredibly hardworking" when it recently named him to its list of the 30 most important people under age 30 in Hollywood.
A summer of suds
Beer Week is almost over, and Steve Swinford, the executive director of the Northern California Brewers Guild, is looking forward to summer.
He's got two reasons this year: On June 7, his organization will once again have its big Brewfest in Raley Field. And for the first time, it is coordinating the commercial craft and home brew competitions for the California State Fair.
Entries could start coming in as early as March, and Swinford is already planning changes he hopes will liven up the fair in July.
"We're going to move the brewers' festival over to the racetrack during the thoroughbred meet," he said. "We'll start the first pour at post time. We'll get our awards ceremony out of the way, and then we'll open the gates and we'll have people come in and sample the beers, and they'll pay a nominal fee to get in."
Swinford also has recruited two men whose names command respect to be chief judges of the competition: Tom Dalldorf, founder and publisher of Nevada City-based Celebrator Beer News brewspaper, and grand master beer judge David Teckam.
Dalldorf runs the Alameda County Fair beer competition, Swinford said. And what about Teckam?
"He's the one who teaches the judges in the national Beer Judge Certification Program," Swinford said. "He's kind of like having Jerry Rice teach your high school receivers."