Of which the contenders are numerous.
While working under contract at Paramount Studios, I am asked to be part of a panel, speaking to aspiring, young writers of half-hour comedy. I am not clear on the historical context, in terms of where I was in my career, but I have a vague recollection of having just had my latest series proposal shot down by an executive whose lack of comedy credentials was more than made up for by his authority to say no to a really good idea.
So I was not in a great mood.
There were two other people on the panel. One of them, I don’t remember. If you happen to be reading this and that was you, I’m sorry. You’re probably a lovely person. I just don’t happen to recall anything about you. I am thinking now you were a studio executive.
The third panelist was one of the three co-creators of Frasier. Though I never worked on Frasier, I had met them at some point, and had found them all gracious and friendly and deferentially respectful. This fellow was one of that triumvirate, though I am no longer entirely sure which one. I have ruled out one of the possibilities, so, by subtraction, my co-panelist had to be one of the other two. Forgive me. It was a long time ago. Plus, I was not paying attention.
Okay, so the thing is on, and the aspiring writers are asking the usual questions: “How did you get started?” and like that. For some reason, though I am considerably less successful than the co-creator of Frasier, I find myself doing the majority of the talking. With the strong sense that the co-creator of Frasier was letting me.
It must have been a “seniority” issue on his part, my list of credits being chronologically longer than his was. It clearly had nothing to do with net worth or the accumulation of awards. By those standards, I was a bungalow, and he was the Empire State Building.
And yet I was the one yammering away.
At one point, maybe for the first time, or maybe just the first time out loud, I realized that, though my career had been an extended one, I had never worked on a television series for longer than a one season, and then, it was only once. Major Dad. The strain and pressure of which nearly led to my demise. People would come up to me during that arduous season and say,
“You look old.”
I will not try and justify the ridiculous words that at that point flew carelessly out of my mouth. Explanations? Sure. Maybe I was tired. I was feeling momentarily discouraged. It is also not unlikely that I was moltenly envious of my more successful co-paneleer.
For whatever reason, and as I say, these are explanations, not “Get out of jail free” cards, as I rattled on about having never worked on a show for longer than one season, I heard myself add:
“I wouldn’t want to work on a show longer than one season. Working on the same show, year after year,
“It feels like a factory job.”
To which I did not add, but should have:
“A factory job that pays millions of dollars.”
If I had added that line, I could have come off being a really cool guy, a guy who could acknowledge his own pomposity, and could eradicate the embarrassment with a tension-relieving joke. But I didn’t do that. I think, because my brain at that moment was pretending it was somewhere else. And that it did not belong to me.
I was afraid to look at the Frasier guy I had just insulted by labeling his many years as a series show runner “a factory job.” Instead, I looked straight ahead at the audience. It did not help. What my eyes beheld was a roomful of wannabe writers’, their mouths agape with shock and incredulity. It was like,
“Did he just say that?”
I’m afraid I did.
And I can never take it back.