Friday, February 5, 2010

"'Lateline' By-Product - Experiencing The Other Side"

Shuttling between L.A. and New York for my job on Lateline provided me with an unexpected insight into television executives, one I would, otherwise, have never experienced. For one moment in time, and, possibly, for the first time ever, I saw television executives as people.

I freely admit that I don’t understand television executives, both network and studio. What I mean, specifically, is I have no understanding as to what it was that propelled them into show business.

My reason for not understanding why television executives go into show business is that their skills – and they do have skills, I readily admit that – have, as far as I can tell, nothing to do with entertaining the public.

I have creative abilities; show business nurtures creative abilities; I go into show business. That makes sense. That I can understand.

Television executives have different abilities – they’re charming, they’re socially at ease, they dress beautifully, they are administratively skillful – these are commendable attributes. I don’t happen to have any of them, but others do, and good luck to them.

I just have no idea what they’re doing in show business.

I have a theory about the adversarial relationship between “creatives” and executives. Executives are envious of “creatives”, because they want to do what “creatives” do – have fun being creative – but they can’t, because they’re not creative.

“Creatives”, on the other hand, or a vast number of them, can’t do what executives do. But they’re not envious, because they don’t want to do what executives do. Who would? It seems like a terrible job.

The problem is, the executives are in charge. And part of their job is to pass judgment on the work of “creatives.” “Creatives” hate that. Why? Because, one, who wants to have other people pass judgment on your work? And two, look who it’s coming from?

People who aren’t creative.

Moving on.

I’m in Los Angeles, sitting in a tiny room at Paramount Studios, watching a closed circuit television monitor. I am in the company of two Paramount executives, the President of Paramount Television, and the executive assigned to the show.

What we see on the television monitor is the cast of Lateline, plus the production staff, gathered around a table at Astoria Studios in Queens, New York. The script for this week’s episode is about to be read. There’s a closed circuit camera in the room, so that the “table reading” in New York can be watched by the executives in Los Angeles. I’ve been invited o the viewing, because, though I’m currently in Los Angeles, I am the Consulting Executive Producer on the show.

So there we are. Me and two studio executives in a tiny room in Los Angeles, watching a Lateline “table reading”, taking place in New York.

The reading goes how it goes. There are good parts, and parts that need fixing. The reading ends; the room in New York empties. Lateline’s Executive Producers, Al Franken and John Markus, repair to the Writers’ Room. There they will receive a call from the Paramount executives in Los Angeles, during which the executives will delineate the “concerns” they wish to have addressed during the upcoming rewrite session.

The Paramount executives put Al and John on “speaker phone”, so everyone on our side can hear them. We, in turn, are on their “speaker phone” in New York. The Paramount executives begin with the obligatory, “Nice work, guys”, then start in with their litany of “concerns.”

From the moment the Paramount executives start talking, Al and John shoot down every comment, observation and suggestion they make. Their most frequent responses are, “No-o-o!!!, “That’s crazy!” and “What are you talking about!”

I know how Al and John are feeling. The main thing they’re feeling is exhausted. Throw in beleaguered and horribly overworked. And now, as a result of this phone call, you can also add creatively second-guessed and personally attacked.

Al and John’s battered feelings trigger impatience, belligerence, irritation and rudeness, as they continually interrupt, and talk very loud. I’ve been there. I’ve behaved the same way myself, and worse. Often. And I felt justified in doing so. Now, alone with the executives, I would see what the experience felt like from the other side.

The executives looked stricken and bewildered. It’s like they’d been hit by a truck. A truck driven by a member of their family. You could see the hurt in their faces. They didn’t understand it. They were trying to help, and people were yelling at them.

It was an uncomfortable sight to behold.

So, there. Now, nobody can say I’m never sympathetic towards executives. They can say I’m rarely sympathetic towards executives, but they can’t say “never.”

Because I just was.
In response to the question concerning “The Traveling Six-Gun, yes, it was the same gun Dennis announced he was transporting in his “Carry on”, along with the exquisitely hand-tooled leather holster. But he had to check it.

Feel free to ask any questions you want. Sometimes, I not as clear as I think I am. Or as comprehensive. If you want me to elaborate on anything, just ask. I’m prickly, but I’m accommodating.

No comments: