I was flipping around the channels recently, when I bumped into a nothing special but successful-enough sitcom to have found itself a comfortable home in syndicated reruns. The show was created by a person I had worked with, a man who’d created a number of long-running, if not highly decorated, unless you consider the accumulation of enormous amounts of money a decoration, comedy series.
I had known the man back in the 70’s. Well, not actually “knew” him, but I had worked with him. At the time, he was part of a duo, his partner, an acerbic ironist, who could also do magic tricks. Creatively, they balanced each other out – a synergizing combination of vanilla and vinegar. Not something you’d want to see on a spoon, but it made for a highly productive writing team.
I had reached the point in my career where, in order to supplement my income, I was required to participate in the rewrite sessions of the scripts I had written. I subsequently learned that this was merely an accounting strategy, an effort to pay me a little extra per script without setting a precedent for doing so, by recording the salary bump as a “Consulting Fee.” The company did not actually expect me to “consult.” I did so, because they had neglected to tell me that.
Okay, so on this particular “consulting” day, I am having an extended difference of opinion with the series’ show runner, concerning some story point, now forgotten, but which, at the time, seemed life and death.
Inexplicably, the show runner wants things their way. I, of course, want them mine. It wasn’t an ego thing. I had spent a lot of time thinking about that script, and was convinced that the show runner was taking it in a deleterious direction. Unfortunately, I was outranked. And as a result, feeling enormously frustrated.
Finally, it was time for a break. As I was getting up to go to some uninhabited area and scream, the future successful show creator, then a member of that show’s writing staff, albeit a high-ranking one, leaned over to me and quietly said,
This whispered message caught me off-guard. To that point, I’d been fighting the good fight alone. And losing. I felt revitalized by the encouragement.
I immediately pressed the man further, hoping we could take on the show runner together, and by doing so, keep them from making a terrible mistake.
“How much support can I get from you on this matter?” I excitedly inquired.
To which my new-found ally unequivocally replied,
My first reaction was disappointment. Actually, that’s not true. My first reaction was to laugh. But my laughter masked my disappointment. Well, not really. What it was really masking was my utter dismay at a man who, in a heartbeat, had abandoned his integrity, choosing instead a course that was unashamedly political. Which led immediately to my second response. An internal one, this time. Which was,
“This fellow is going places.”
And he did.
A story is told about a writing team, one member of which was engaged in a heated dispute with a network executive. As the shouting match escalated to a head, the other member of the writing team broke into the screamfest and said,
“Excuse me. I don’t claim to be unbiased – I am one of the writers on this project. But I’ve been sitting here, weighing the merits of both sides of the argument, and I want to go on the record here and now as saying,
“I could go either way.”
That man went places too.
In fact, it may have been the same guy.