Thursday, December 2, 2010

"I Can't Believe I Did That"

The past two posts, I’ve been bumming myself out with memories of career disappointments, specifically, my inability to write a movie script that got made. Though educational and informative, the Archaeology of Failure will inevitably wear you down. So I’ve decided to move on.

Move on, in fact, in the opposite direction. Today, as the above title indicates, for your enjoyment, and my emotional rehabilitation, it’s the long awaited and highly anticipated – not really, but I like the build-up –

“I Can’t Believe I Did That!”

Hopefully, this will be more than a Pomerantzian bragfest, a behavior that, since early childhood, I’ve been encouraged to eschew. Canadians are culturally prohibited from bragging, their highest praise being, “Pretty good, eh?” And that’s when they’re critiquing someone else’s accomplishment. Canadians aren’t even allowed to brag about other people.

Add to this my mother’s persistent admonition, or is it admonishment, “Let other people tell you you’re good”, and I’m pretty much brainwashed in the bragging department.

If you think this advice is unhelpful in Canada, where nobody says anything nice about anybody, you can imagine the enhanced unhelpfulness when you transport the “No Brag” policy down to the States.

America is the Bragging Country.

“We’re Number One!”

You never hear that from Portugal.

“That's because they’re not.”

They’re Number One at producing wine bottle corks. But you won’t catch them getting bigheaded about that.

If you don’t brag in America, they simply shake their heads, internally grateful that that’s one less entity they have to compete with. There’s nothing to worry about. It’s the German army against Switzerland.

One of the primary purposes of this blog to is demonstrate to flawed people that a flawed person such as myself can enter a bruising business like show business – if they so choose – and not necessarily get chewed up and spit out. (I wonder if there’s another blog that covers that. Check it out. Google:, and see if it’s there. Then let me know. I’d be curious to read it myself.)

In regards to an acknowledgement of my flaws, I have recently noticed something. For some reason, I seem more willing to attribute my disappointments to a deficiency of character than to a limitation in talent. I don’t know why that is, and I have no certainty that this observation is correct. It’s just the story I apparently prefer to tell myself. “I could have done wonders, if I were only a little less like who I am.”

Still – and this is a central message – a leaky boat can still get down the river. That’s what I want people to know. The journey may be rockier, you can still get where you’re trying to go. I’m proof. I got stuff done.


I look back today and, as it says it the title:

“I Can’t Believe I Did That!”

I can’t believe that with no assurance of employment, I gave up my Toronto apartment, and I moved to L.A.

I can’t believe that, though I was totally without prospects, I rejected an offer to work on the original writing staff of Saturday Night Live.

I can’t believe that, having never written a half-hour comedy before, I sat down and wrote a script for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the evaluation of which would determine my future.

I can’t believe that, after an unhappy experience on a writing staff, I walked into my boss’s office, quit the writing staff, and convinced him to allow me instead to write eight scripts a year for MTM’s various TV shows.

And I can’t believe I wrote them. Eight scripts a year. Not for one year. Three years in a row. That’s a lot of scripts. And some of them were even good.

I can’t believe I ran a show (Best of the West). And then another show (The Cosby Show). And then another show (Family Man). And then another show (Major Dad).

Do you have any idea what that involves? You shoot a show on Friday, and on Monday, you’re starting another one. Or, if the show’s shot on a Tuesday, you start another one the very next morning.

Supervising the writing staff, scrutinizing the run-throughs, overseeing the casting, the wardrobe, the set design, the props selection, the filming, the editing, the music, the sound effects, the laugh track. Putting out fires, of various shapes and sizes. Finessing your partnership with the studio. Arguing with the network. Writing your own scripts, and rewriting everyone else’s.

And every morning, despite how excruciatingly late you were there the night before, you go back in. And you do it again.

I can’t believe I did all that.

But I did.

I made guess after guess about what would be funny and, considerably more often than not, had my judgment proved right by the audience’s laughter.

I suggested script changes on The Larry Sanders Show, and heard Garry Shandling say, ”Earl’s right.”

Bill Cosby spoke my words, surprisingly often without changing them.

You know what? I think I’ll stop there.

I’m starting to feel better.


Neal... said...

Love the line about Cosby.

Now I'm properly inspired.

Pretty Good, eh?

Mac said...

Very cool. Having shared your misery, you earn the right (as a self-effacing Canadian) to share your glories. Garry Shandling?! The Larry Sanders Show?!! If I'd worked on that I'd have it tattooed on my forehead.