Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"It's All About The Dinners"

As I have written earlier, “Rewrite Night” was never my favorite chore in the elaborate pantheon of sitcom responsibilities. I am, by nature, a “Morning Person”, and, as indicated in the label “Rewrite Night”, such duties played out a long way from my creative “Magic Time.”

Two in the morning does not count.

I never wrote a script at night. But here they were, demanding I improve scripts when I was entirely out of gas.


Acknowledging my proclivity towards negativity – as the Reverend Jesse Jackson might say, though never about himself – I have determined that, today, as an exercise in balancing the temperamental ledger, I will try and find something positive to say about the “Rewrite Night” experience. Which I never enjoyed, because it felt like a detention.

“You stunk up your daytime writing, so we’re making you stay late.”

Stop it!

Sorry, Italics Man. You can see this “positivity” thing is not easy for me.

I shall monitor your progress.

I appreciate it.

Okay. Here we go.

The best part of “Rewrite Night” were the dinners.

Good start. Tell us more.

“Rewrite Night” participation meant we would not be home for dinner…

Is that complaining?

Stating a fact. As a result, our dinner was supplied – and paid for – by the show. A few shows had their own in-house chefs. The Cosby Show had one. But that was after I left…


I don’t know if he was any good! Cut me some slack, will you?

Sorry. Go on.

More commonly, a Production Assistant picked up prepared food from a nearby restaurant. Every show compiled a stack of “takeout” menus, and via some process – democratic, or the boss chose – a restaurant was selected for that evening’s repast.

The quality of the cuisine depended on the budget available to pay for it. But it was generally pretty good, ranging from Chinese to Italian to deli to quality hamburgers. I was fortunate in this regard, never working with showrunners who, hearkening back to their college days, would thrive on crap.

“Fried chicken makes me funny.”

Fried chicken gives me a gas bubble in my gut.

The secret to the perfect “Rewrite Night” dinner experience was the logistics. What you ate was important. But equally important was when you ate it, and whether it was still edible at the time.

Production Assistants who mastered these logistics inevitably achieved phenomenal success in later life, invariably claiming that, “I learned all I know about organization and management from ordering rewrite dinners for sitcoms.” This is not false humility. It is truly the case.

Runthroughs were called for around four o’clock, running for about an hour and a half. Dinner orders would be put in before leaving for the stage. You could tell how important that was. Everything stopped when the menus were came out.

The essence of the plan was the Production Assistant’s calling in the order at precisely the right time. The goal was for dinner to be waiting for us when we walked in the door.

At the best of times, however, you were precariously rolling the dice, or if you were ordering Chinese, the rice.

What if you ordered too soon, or you ordered on time, but the runthrough ran unexpectedly late, due to problems on the stage, or endless “notes” from network executives who, when they were done, would be driving home and eating with their families?

In these cases, you would return to the office to cold food. Which is fine if you ordered cold food, like deli sandwiches, but otherwise, it’s like,

“I was really looking forward to this. And now I’m not.”

Worse case scenario? The runthrough ran late, or it started late, and you inexplicably did not make your dinner arrangements beforehand. You come back, at, say, seven or seven-thirty, and not only is dinner not waiting for you, it has not even been ordered.

You belatedly make your selections, they call in the order – the food arrives at eight-thirty or, if the traffic was bad, or they were busy and the food wasn’t ready, or they messed up the order and they had to do it again – later.

Okay, first of all, what nourishment were you being fueled by until the food finally showed up? And second, who wants to eat dinner at nine? I mean, what is this, Spain?


Come on! You’ve been working for hours with zero energy, meaning little to nothing has been accomplished. And now you’re stopping to eat. So when you return to work, it’s ten o’clock, or later, at night?

Who does their best work after midnight?

Hookers and hoot owls. Not me.

You were saying that dinners were the best part of…

They were. If the restaurant was acceptable. And if the food came on time, and was reasonably warm when it was served. And if we ate it on a table with an actual tablecloth, using ceramic plates and real silverware, rather than Styrofoam containers with plastic cutlery that, at the slightest pressure, will shatter to pieces, sending shards of plastic, flying into your eye.

Then it was good. You know why?

Because you were out of the damn Rewrite Room!

With its uncomfortable seats and its lumpy couches. With the suffocating airlessness. And a heating system, alternately belching sweltering blasts that put you to sleep and Arctic gusts that made you throw on a coat.

The Rewrite Room, with the pressure to create, and the time ticking away, the shrieking silences when nobody had anything and the “Not funny” when somebody finally took a shot, the exhaustion, the bad vibes, the petty grievances and unspoken rebukes?

There was nothing more agonizing.

Unless it was having dinner in the Rewrite Room! Then, you had all of the above, plus the residual odor of sweet and sour chicken. I mean, the place stinks of decaying leftovers, and we’re supposed to….

I’m going to stop you there. Though it should possibly have been sooner.

You’re right. I promised to be upbeat about “Rewrite Night”, and have made an absolute shambles of the entire affair. Plus, I have suddenly turned English.

Give me another chance, will you? Next time, I will tell you about a “Rewrite Night” I really liked.

I’m not sure we can trust you.

Neither am I.


Frank said...

At least there was no mention of Spam. Funny stuff Earl.

Anonymous said...

I echo your nausea at the thought of rewrite nights from the past, and the psychological minefields therein.