Universal Studios is constructed of steel and glass. Paramount’s made out of stucco and soot.
Not counting the famous tour showcasing its back lot, Universal has the appearance of a generic corporate headquarters, its flagship building, the Black Tower, could easily house a national insurance company. Paramount, from its iconic logo at its front entrance, was nothing but a studio.
An old studio.
It seemed a little run down. Unlike Universal’s expansive valley locale, Paramount’s nestled in the borderline seedy section of Hollywood. Behind its northernmost boundary was a cemetery. To me, this is never an auspicious omen.
Paramount’s offices were small. For mine, they had taken two adjoining little square boxes, and knocked down the separating wall, creating an office space that was twice as long as it was wide. I’m a claustrophobic. It wasn’t like the walls were closing in on me. They were already closed when I got there.
Going by its design pattern, its threadbare condition and its overall filth, the hallway carpeting gave the appearance of having been laid in 1932. A couple of years after I arrived, resulting, I believe, from tenants’ complaints, the carpeting was pulled up and replaced. What they proceeded to lay down was a cleaner, thicker-piled version of the exact same carpeting. I guess carpeting was dirt cheap during 1932 and the studio had purchased a ton of it.
I won’t talk about the bathrooms, except to say that the inside of the Men’s Room stalls were illustrated in a school of art best described as Moron Pornography. Universal’s taste ran more to hunters on horseback going after a fox.
(One thing both the Universal and Paramount lots had in common were unexpected fires. I’d look out my window and suddenly in the distance – but not far in the distance – I’d see giant flames shooting into the sky. I was nervous about these fires, until someone informed me that this was the simply the studio’s way of disposing of unwanted inventory, collecting the insurance, and adding much-needed parking areas to the facility. There was the clear impression that these fires were deliberately (and professionally) set.
I found it cynical to believe that was true, though it was curious that the fires always abated at a point entirely consistent the studio’s purposes. There was, like, this predictable line where the fires would inevitably come under control. And it happened every time. Then, after the cleanup, many of us would be relocated to “new parking area.” Eventually, you got used to the fires. I’d see flames out the window, and go back to writing comedy.)
I had worked at Paramount before. I had done Taxi, The Associates, Best of the West and Cheers there. The place held happy memories for me. And yet, returning to these shabby surroundings after the suburban sunniness of Universal, it couldn’t help but feel like downsizing. A substantial cut in pay did nothing to deter that impression.
A good drama writer I know named Steve characterized a writer nearing the end of their career as “running out the clock.” For some reason, I didn’t feel that way. Though I have never been perceived as a positive person – an oblivious person, but never a positive one – when I returned to Paramount, I felt genuinely hopeful.
At that point, the business had not yet turned its back on experienced writers, nor on the multi-camera comedy form I was comfortable with. I was still in the ballpark.
I felt like I still had shows in me. And so did the Paramount people who were paying me. It was simply a matter of sitting down in my long, narrow office and figuring out what they were.