Dass awwwl it is.
For three years, during the mid-seventies, I’ve got the best job I ever had, and the best job I would ever have. I’m writing eight episodes a year for the Mary Tyler Moore Company. I’m writing Mary. I’m writing Rhoda. I’m writing The Bob Newhart Show. I’m writing Phyllis. Shows I once watched on television and thought, “I can do that” – now, I was doin’ that!
They gave me money. They gave me an office. They gave me my own parking space. Every morning, they waved me onto a cozy studio lot, radiating the ambience of an Ivy League campus. And at Christmas, they gave me a Mary Tyler Moore belt buckle.
It was the place I wanted to be. Writing for, arguably, the best half-hour comedies on television, and working with the finest practitioners around. I am not by nature a “group” person; I’m more of a “Groucho” guy – “Any group that would want me for a member isn’t worth joining” – but if I had to be in a group, this was the best one I could imagine.
Mary’s then husband, Grant Tinker, who ran the place, was renowned for insulating his “creatives” from network interference. And the shows – an anomaly in television history – were not only of top quality but were also commercially popular.
It was three seasons long, but, while it was happening, quoting the title of a baseball novel (by Mark Harris) about an all-star pitcher in the Major Leagues,
It Seemed Like For Ever.
And then, one day, I got a momentary glimpse of “The Other Side.”
Basking in my self-satisfied cocoon of contentment, and unable to imagine anyone voluntarily leaving such an arrangement, I remarked to my more veteran colleagues that, once in a while, names that I’d see regularly on the writers’ credits of MTM episodes would inexplicably disappear, and I wondered about that, asking, as an example,
“What happened to Steve Pritzker?”
The response to my seemingly innocent query was an uncomfortable and stony silence.
I never met Steve Pritzker. But I looked up his credits, and I saw that, among a respectable list, Steve Pritzker is credited with writing eight episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. This occurred before I arrived, but eight episodes of a classic series – Steve Pritzker must have been pretty good.
“Where did he go?” I asked again.
More silence. The kind that means something, but if you’re on the outside – as, being still if not wet at least damp behind the ears I was – you have absolutely no idea what it was.
All I knew was,
Steve Pritzker had suddenly and entirely
Left the Building.
It felt kind of creepy. I’m alive and flourishing, and someone else is gone, the attendant coldness reminiscent, in a way, of combat, where you‘re told that a soldier you were passingly familiar with had run into the proverbial “bullet with his name on it.” And nobody wants to talk about it. The person is just…
In my naiveté and enthusiasm, this was the first time I realized it could happen.
Despite how it seems – you’re riding high and doin’ great, your prospects for success stretching endlessly in the future –
You could go!
Twentysomething years later, after, gratefully, a substantially lengthy career and some noteworthy achievements,
It’s a chilling lesson, but it has to be learned.
Sooner or later,
We’re all Steve Pritzker.