Friends and colleagues of Ian Sander are gathering at 10 AM this morning at Valley Beth Shalom for a memorial celebration of the veteran TV producer, who died last Tuesday at the age of 68. Among them is writer-producer John Gray, creator/executive producer of the long-running CBS drama Ghost Whisperer starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, on which Sander served as an executive producer alongside his wife and long-time producing partner Kim Moses, as well as in-house director.

Here is Gray’s remembrance of his long-time friend:

I’ve been having a very hard time getting used to using the past tense when thinking or talking about Ian. He was my friend for the last 27 years. He was hilariously funny. He was incredibly smart. Like any sudden death, the finality, the knowledge that you now know what the limit is going to be for how long you know [knew] this person, is surreal and wrenching.

Ian produced my first movie for television. He was 10 years my senior, and had already forgotten more than I knew, and we bonded as a writer-director and producer often (sometimes) do. We became fast friends. It was on that movie that he met his beloved Kim. And unlike most post-shooting promises of “We’ll have to stay in touch,” our friendship remained strong. Our paths diverged and came together again countless times over the years, as paths do in our business, but we always stayed in touch, always knew what each other was doing, and always made each other laugh.

GhostWispererWhen Ian, Kim and I had the great good fortune to land a series on CBS that ran for five years, I was always amazed at his incredible energy, and the depth of his talents: he was great with story, he was a great people manager, he was great with negotiating the political rapids of having a series and keeping it on the air, and he was a damn good director as well. My job was made much easier on that show because Ian and Kim were great buffers – they knew how to solve problems internally and never let anyone (i.e. the studio) see them sweat.

Ian knew production. He was creatively talented, but was also an expert nuts and bolts guy. If he were called to the set he would know in 20 seconds what was wrong, why it was wrong, and how to fix it. You could not bullshit him. He knew.

I’ve never met anyone as persuasive as Ian. We’ve all heard the expression “He won’t take no for answer,” but Ian was the ultimate embodiment of that sentiment. Many times he had pilots or series that were on the bubble, or that had actually been passed on – only to be brought back to life by his seemingly magical ability to get people to say “yes,” often at the last minute when even the show’s writer had accepted defeat. Not Ian.

One of my many favorite Ian expressions that he would often use with that wry grin: “When the answer is no, that’s when the sale begins.”

SanderGrayHe was an incredibly valuable collaborator, and I learned so much from him. He knew the television business through and through, and he used that knowledge deftly and brilliantly. He knew everyone. He was aware of what projects were happening and which ones weren’t – almost always before anyone else. At times I’d be hired on as a director for a brand new show that had just been picked up the day before. I’d mention it to Ian, and he’d say, “Oh, right, I saw that pilot. I think they’re going to have problems with that show.” “Wait,” I’d say, “they haven’t even shown ME the pilot yet. How did you see it?” And I would get the wry grin.

Ian could be a tough customer, no doubt about it. You did not want to be on his shit list. I was on it a time or two, he was on mine a time or two, but luckily for me it would always dissolve with laughter and quickly be forgotten. He was also incredibly emotional, and although he did his best to hide it, he was sensitive and felt everything very deeply. I simply cannot believe he’s gone.

I guess I’ve used an awful lot of past tense in this piece. But for me, in my heart and mind, Ian will always be in the present tense.