This is a special edition of Close Up with Joe Livecchi about the Covid-19 crisis and a member of our community who has done incredible things to combat it.
Most of us who make content dream of the moment we create something with massive impact. For TV producer and marketing CEO Chris Sloan, the moment his story went viral was the most tragic and transformative of his life. This is a story of hope, bravery and undeniable awesomeness.
Chris Sloan grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the son of a college professor and bar owner.
“As a kid, I never felt like I fit in anywhere, so I retreated into my two passions: television and airplanes,” he recalls. “Airplanes were this magic carpet that transported me to the different places I was living. I was a bit of a nerd and never had a feeling of being great at any one thing, but my passion for the things I loved had no limits. It took me where I wanted to go.”
While a lot of us were working crappy jobs at 15 years old, Sloan had a paying gig as a producer/editor/camera operator on a nationally televised fishing show. I’m not sure if he was a legal hire, but I’m not sure it mattered.
“I was a good student, but I learned more in the real world than any classroom,” he says. “In fact, I’m the only one in my family who didn’t graduate from college. I eventually moved to LA and cut my teeth as an NBC NABET editor during the day, while secretly cutting spec promos through the night. Thanks to Stu Weiss, my first promo was for a Laugh In reunion that aired in the 1993 Super Bowl,” Sloan recounts.
Chris had more ideas. He was part of the NBC 2000 team that developed the ‘credit squeeze’, where content would air on half the screen and the production credits the other half. He built the software system it would run on and then co-ran the department that was formed to create the promos.
“This was during the network’s Must-See TV days. NBC was a playground for me. It was like being paid to go to school and learn and work alongside the best.”
I imagine a young Chris Sloan as a person who runs a little faster than the people around him, always pushing boundaries, trying to do something great. We all know those people. They usually carve a path as overachievers, flame out quickly, or wind up doing something special that no one sees coming. In Sloan’s case, it was all of the above.
Chris would go on to work for the likes of Barry Diller and Paul Buccieri among others, and rise through the ranks as a marketing and network programming executive at USA, TLC, and finally his dream job of running the reality division at CBS. “The CBS gig did not last long,” he admits. “It was a total flame-out. I lasted through lunch. It was a turning point that propelled me into becoming the entrepreneur I always was meant to be.”
With that, Sloan’s 2CMedia was born, a Miami-based media company that created original series, specials, and thousands of trailers. Yet, success wasn’t enough. There had to be more.
Chris had lived through the devastating Northridge Earthquake of 1994 in LA. It’s one of those moments where everyone in LA remembers exactly where they were when it hit.
“There was panic, and no one knew what to do,” he says. “I wanted to help, so I went down to a taco place and put $1,000 worth of food in the back of my pick-up truck and my roommate and I handed it out to the people who needed it most. It was a little unsafe at times, but I just felt like I had to do it. Like many, I’ve lived through some awful crisis situations. I’ve seen horrible things. I always felt lucky to have made it through relatively unscathed, but one time I didn’t get lucky.”
Six years ago, Chris’ young son Calder was involved in a fatal pool accident when he touched a faulty underwater light while swimming. It’s something that’s hard for Chris to even say out loud. The day I interview him turns out to be the anniversary of the day he buried his son.
“When this happened, when our son was taken from us, people rallied around us in the most unbelievable way,” he says. “I can’t tell you how horrible and how incredibly uplifting this time was for us. When something like this happens, you are at the absolute abyss and it never really goes away. We were destroyed. My son Calder had this incredible compassion and empathy and to me there was one word that described him perfectly. AWESOME. And that’s what we called him, Mr. Awesome.
“Three days after the funeral, my friend and mastermind creative Jim Cahill put a self-portrait my son drew of himself on the Internet with the title Mr. Awesome across the top and a slogan, ‘Laughter. Adventure. Kindness,’ created by a family friend Dana Zuckerman. He sent it to six of his friends including Tommy Shaw from Styx. Then it absolutely exploded with Alex Rodriguez, Magic Johnson and the cast of Game of Thrones holding the picture. The Miami Heat put my son’s photo across the entire stadium during the playoffs. Then, Ellen [DeGeneres] did a special tribute to my son on her show and people all across America were showing support by taking photos with Mr. Awesome. It was the only thing at the time bringing us distraction and joy. Through no doing of our own, our son’s story had gone viral. Soon Good Morning America was calling along with The Today Show and NBC Nightly News.”
“I was inspired by how America’s Most Wanted host and producer John Walsh managed to turn his own tragedy with the kidnapping and death of his son into a movement that helped so many,” he continues. “My wife Carla and I vowed then to use the Mr. Awesome platform to do something to make sure our son’s name would be synonymous with giving and his story would last a lifetime.”
The Sloans turned their grief into giving. They started by working to ban high voltage lights in pools in Florida and change the pool electrical code. Then the Sloans started the Caleb and Calder Sloan Awesome Foundation which services missions all around the world, some delivering half a million dollars in aid. (Sloan has another young son named Caleb who they call “Mr. Amazing.”)
“The foundation embodies the qualities of our son, so when we give, it’s our son who is giving to those in need right alongside us. He is with us on every mission. We’ve been blessed to have so many supporters, and we want his name to live on forever.”
“When the COVID-19 crisis happened, we knew we had to act. So, through our foundation, my wife Carla and I created a campaign to match donations for people who give to a charity of their choice, that helps firsts responders and those battling this horrible illness. COVID-19 is a cruel and evil virus, preventing people from coming together when they need to most. Maybe we will be bankrupt when this is all over, but even that is a mitzvah in our book.”
Since writing this piece, the foundation has exceeded its goal of raising $120,000 from over 250 donors benefiting 100 different charities. The bittersweet timing of the COVID-19 crisis with the anniversary of Calder’s passing is another marker of Calder’s spirit helping those in need. I wrote this special edition to celebrate Chris and Carla’s work and the incredible story of their son. Most of all, I wrote it to hopefully inspire those in our community to give somewhere, some way to someone affected by what’s happening all around us. If that could happen, then for a moment, you could experience the joy of having Calder in your heart, and I promise you, it will feel awesome.
If you want to learn more about the impact of Caleb & Calder Sloan’s Awesome Foundation or get involved, check out the link below.