During my three decade career toiling in big-time television, I spent more time sitting in offices (sometimes reclining, often with my eyes closed, and snoring) than I spent down on soundstages, making shows. What follows is a thumbnail reminiscence of five of the most memorable offices I occupied.
Office Number One
I have a special fondness for my first office. (My official first office was actually for a Lily Tomlin special, but that was just for four weeks. The selected five reflect “longer stay” offices. One passing memory of that Lily Tomlin office: On our arrival, each writer was presented with a plant, a gracious gesture of “Welcome” from the star. My plant died within three days.)
Okay, back to “Office Number One.”
I was working for the Mary Tyler Moore Company on the Studio City lot. (On another occasion, I will chronicle the lots.) The office assigned to me, small and windowless but perfectly adequate, and wonderful because it was mine, was a former storeroom, and after I vacated it, it became the Xerox Room. I take pride in knowing that that office never belonged to any other person, just storage stuff (before) and duplicating equipment (after). I was the only human being.
My office was directly opposite the exit door to the parking area. With my office door always open – a product of claustrophobia rather than friendliness – I felt like the doorman. I saw everyone come and go.
Slightly to the left was a winding staircase leading up to (and down from, staircases are great that way) the Second Floor. This arrangement meant that, not only did I have a view of the passing parade, but the passing parade also had a view of me. I recall many puzzled faces proceeding past my open office door wondering, “Who’s the guy in the store room?” I would always wave hello.
Direct access to the exit also meant that, at my preferred departure time of four P.M. – I was a scriptwriter for all the MTM shows rather than working on a specific show’s staff – I could quietly slip out the door without envious staff writers who invariably remained beyond midnight, sniping,
Guilt-free egress is always an asset. But it pales before my most memorable experience, which took on, even then, hallucinatory proportions – it totally didn’t feel real. The event occurred on the first day I took possession of my formerly storage room office.
It was lunchtime. People were leaving,via the exit door in front of me to go out someplace and eat. (I usually ate “on campus”, my “lunching destination of choice”, the standing “Gunsmoke Street” on the other side of the lot.)
I am sitting on my couch, probably cross-legged – I had a nimbleness back then that has long since disappeared – scribbling scriptoral nuggets on a yellow legal pad. I look up, and descending from the Second Floor, side by side, not unlike the group “walk” during the opening credits of the Law & Order franchise, are the creators of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and Rhoda. That was the hallucinatory element. It was like a rookie ballplayer looking up and suddenly, there’s the 1927 Yankees, headed directly your way.
These guys were specifically headed my way, interrupting their lunch departures to drop by and welcome the “newbie” to the MTM family. As they enter my office, I rise from the couch, unshod as was usual for me back then, and I step forward to greet Mr. Brooks and Mr. Burns and Mr. Music and Mr. Davis, names I had seen on the screen, and whose work I aspired to emulate, though I’d be happy with coming close.
As this phalanx of talent proceeds towards me, I find myself overwhelmed by their august and powerful presence. What happens next, seemingly external to my control, is that I suddenly begin to retreat, backing away from their aura, to the point where further backpedaling is impossible, as the backs of my heels have made contact with the couch. Undaunted, and still terrified, without looking behind me, I ascend the couch, and stand barefoot on the pillows, my arm extended, accepting welcoming handshakes.
I imagine they found this behavior unusual, even for a writer. But to my mind, it was no more unusual than the apparition of a gang of comedy writing all-stars swarming into my office.
Full Disclosure: My intention to cover all five offices in a single post has been derailed by my uncontrolled verbosity. Sorry. I will return to the other four in the future.
If I remember to.