Editor’s Note: The following is a pitch for a reality TV show based upon the most unique and ready-for-primetime Long Island family I’ve ever come across in my experience as a journalist. If any television producers are out there reading this, you’re welcome!
Meet the Millers
13-episode half-hour reality series
Who’s the Boss meets The Real Housewives of Long Island; based on a quirky stay-at-home dad and the shenanigans the family gets into as he plans and executes various social charity-based parties.
The Millers’ home in Roslyn, Long Island at the end of a cul-de-sac. It is decorated in bright hues, with colorful abstract art and movie posters lining the walls. The kitchen has a black-and-white checkered floor with papier-mâché sculptures of skulls peeking out of odd places. A recreation of Vicki’s lips on a 20” x 20” canvas sits atop the cabinets. An autographed framed photo of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dave Grohl hangs by the calendar. The dining room table is a salvaged piece of the Long Beach Boardwalk discovered in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, painted a bright, eye-catching blue that matches the hue of the painted floors leading into the living room. It’s an upscale Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
VICKI – CEO of First Spice Mixing Co., calls her husband by his full name, David Miller. As in, “There’s just something about David Miller.” She has been involved in philanthropy from a very young age, including as a founding member of the junior committee for the Museum of Natural History and the United Nations. Attractive, with a streak of purple in her hair, she is quietly confident, smart as a whip, and cool as F.
DAVID – Is exuberant. Everything about him is outlandish, almost cartoon-like. He has a twisty, iconic mustache and wears brightly colored, custom-made bowties. He speaks in ALL CAPS. He puts most of his energy into the various charity committees that he chairs, including the junior prom committee at his children’s private school and Sunrise Day Camp. He prides himself on knowing everyone, being universally liked, a self-proclaimed attention whore; he balances his oversized personality with a heart of gold.
MILES – Fifteen-year-old, type 1 diabetic with a thick mop of dark hair. His father’s son, he is enthusiastic, bright and entrepreneurial. He is a star goalie for the school soccer team. His claim to fame is raising an unprecedented amount of money for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
MAX – Sixteen years old, the quietest in the family, he is deeply interested in science and technology. As in, he builds computers from parts. An introvert, he is putting a lot of effort into coming out of his shell to make his mark in his overachieving family. He takes DJ lessons in Manhattan and spins beats for his high school friends at various functions. And he has most recently launched a project called Sunrise S.T.E.A.M. Shack (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics), to break ground this June, which includes construction of a building he designed, funded with money he has raised, for a science and technology wing of a summer camp for children with cancer (and their siblings). He may very well be the next Steve Jobs. But a Steve Jobs with a heart.
Right in Roslyn, New York, in the heart of Nassau County, Long Island lives a family straight out of central casting. Precociously brilliant, they are the epitome of thinking big. Why rent a hall and give a bar mitzvah with a DJ and balloons when you can rent a mansion, hire burlesque dancers, and transform the celebration into a sepia-toned perfect recreation of the Great Gatsby era, replete with furniture handmade in the basement workshop of that Roslyn home? Why go trick-or-treating when you can lead the Halloween parade in NYC in glow-in-the-dark LED costumes? While some kids may take the initiative to collect recyclables to earn money for video games, these kids justify new routes by the local sanitation department because their undertaking became so big, earning in the five figures and donating it to charity.
Meet the Millers, a family that redefines what’s possible to accomplish. While the Millers (and Beyoncé) have the same amount of hours in the day as the rest of us, they just get so much more done. (And B while pregnant with twins.) Yet it’s not just their vaulting ambition that makes them reality-show worthy. It’s their quirkiness, their audacity and their oversized senses of humor, balanced with an over-achieving desire to give back. It’s almost a crime that camera crews aren’t documenting their every move.
Consider Sunrise Day Camp. This summer camp for children with cancer (and their siblings) is located in Wheatley Heights. It provides a respite for children who are going through what can be long, grueling treatments that lets them just be kids. It’s a haven for their brothers and sisters who experience traumas, trials, worries, and fears that only other cancer-afflicted siblings could ever truly understand. It’s a very special place. And it’s free.
David Miller became involved with Sunrise in an ancillary way, making donations and bringing the family down to its annual “Planting Day” as a favor to a friend. Yet, when a neighbor’s son became sick with leukemia seemingly overnight, David’s involvement went into overdrive.
“I picked up my phone and called the mother and reached her in the hospital room where she was literally sitting there with her unconscious son,” David gushes. “And I said, ‘Sharon! I heard what happened to Max. I know the director of this camp for kids who have cancer, and I’d love to introduce you.’ She kind of said, ‘Yes,’ then hung up on me and that was it. I picked up the phone and called the camp director. She ran over to the hospital. Twenty minutes later, she was in the room with them.”
Quite often, an immediate human instinctual response to very bad news such as a severe illness or death can be isolating. Ask anyone who’s gone through a trauma, and they will tell you how quickly even close friends distance themselves. It’s a natural response to the awkwardness and fear of not knowing the right words to say.
David’s response was the opposite. He jumped in. That’s what he does.
The camp director was able to offer solace to a mother still absorbing the shocking news of cancer.
“She explained to them what they were going through, what to expect, sort of held mom’s hand and explained to her what was about to happen and that everything will be fine,” Vicki Miller explained. “Told her she deals with this every day. The family was so appreciative.”
That summer, both the boy with cancer and his brother attended Sunrise. They had a wonderful time. They discovered a much-needed support system. It truly changed their lives.
The Millers took note, and in true Millers fashion, they got involved. Big time.
David joined the board of directors and became heavily involved in planning their annual gala event and organizing its “Volunteer Day.” Ten years later, Sunrise now has seven camps, is affiliated with 30 hospitals, and within 12, including Memorial Sloan Kettering, New York–Presbyterian Hospital / Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and Cohen Children’s Medical Center, where they have something called “Sunrise on Wheels,” in which 150 volunteers create camp in the ward.
Beyond that, they do simple things, like rushing to a child’s side and being there with him, or saying to a parent, “Hey, take your other kid to a soccer game.”
David is so committed to Sunrise that he’ll do just about anything to help raise funds. When Raymond Davoodi and Michael Ramin from Great Neck-based title insurance and real estate solutions firm The Atlantis Organization and online crowdfunding real estate investing platform Sharestates proposed that he shave his beloved trademark mustache for a pledge of $10,000, he was taken aback. He gave pause. That ‘stache is not just hair follicles under his nose, but a piece of his identity. It’s a dark, twisty, physical representation of who he is—boisterously evident in a commercial he’s starred in for Capital One. It’s fun, it’s unique, it’s David Miller.
He counter-offered. At the upcoming annual Sunrise Day Camp gala on May 4th at the Glen Head Country Club, David will not only shave his mustache, but his ample head of hair. Not for 10 grand, but for 50.
And in true Miller fashion, it wasn’t just David who got involved with Sunrise. When Max turned 16, he applied to be a camp counselor, a sought-after volunteer job with more than 1,000 applicants vying for only a few hundred positions. Although Max had traditionally attended Yale in the summers for an intensive camp there, when he was hired at Sunrise, he cut his Yale time short.
Max isn’t your typical camp counselor-type. He’s not particularly interested in sports. Unlike his boisterous father, he’s fairly introverted. But when he discovered a sense of purpose that summer at Sunrise, his confidence blossomed into an idea. A big idea.
“I think it was on the second day, during basketball, I saw a kid sitting over in the friendship circle,” Max said. “I went over and sat next to him and introduced myself. We started talking and found that we both liked technology, and later we found that we both really loved cars also. I told him about how I was the captain of my school’s robotics team, and I write 13 kinds of coding languages, and he said, ‘That’s really cool. I wish I could learn that stuff.’ He said he wished the camp had a computer lab so I could teach him. And I went home and asked my dad if we could do that.”
At first, the camp said no. They wanted kids outside, running around, interacting with each other, not sitting with their faces glued to screens. That, you would think, would be that.
But not if you’re a Miller.
Max came back with a compelling argument. Approximately 80 percent of children with cancer become cured, he told the board of directors, but only after years of grueling treatment, which leave gaps in their education and cause them to generally fall behind. However, the 16-year-old said, if you could learn to write code, you will always be employable. Moreover, technology is a low-energy activity, much like arts and crafts. Just a little snazzier. And to kids like Max and his new friend, much more interesting.
Max won approval, but with a caveat: He had to raise his own funds. Technology education would not come from Sunrise Day Camp’s budget.
And so Max learned how to write grant proposals. He became adept at pitching his idea to boardrooms. He raised cash. Then he wanted to do something bigger.
He designed the building on his computer. And with a team or architects and builders, they will break ground on his vision, this spring. The curriculum for the S.T.E.A.M. Shack, which will be a year-long program, includes computer programming, 3-D design and printing, and music production. It will be available as an online education forum offered to children with cancer, as well as a laboratory for kids who attend the camp.
As he talks, he becomes increasingly animated, matching the enthusiasm his brother, Miles, exudes when talking about soccer and the CAPS LOCK-fevered pitch with which his father speaks.
Vicki surveys the living room with a grin, looking over her brood. They are now talking over one another, pitching more ideas and growing ever more excited.
The sun is setting, but they are just getting warmed up.
It’s Miller time.