There are moments when I get a glimpse of myself in the blogatorial mirror. Such moments leave me wondering if I’m communicating an accurate picture of who I actually am. Which, if I’m not – or at least not in my totality – is not entirely a horrible thing. At a James Taylor concert I once attended, a fan shouted from the audience, “We love you!”, to which James Taylor shot back, “That’s because you don’t know me.”
I try to write truthfully. But there is unquestionably an element of “Clean up the house; there’s company coming.” You get the real me. But, more often than I actually do, I’m wearing pants.
My specific concern is that, overall, I come off disproportionally negative when discoursing upon my previous line of work. Explaining the gaps in my recall of that period, I have hypothesized PTSD. Let me assert categorically that it wasn’t that bad. I probably just forgot.
Today, I have decided take a much-needed hiatus from my curmudgeonly grumbling to focus on a specific moment in my show biz history when I was brimming with the spirit of excitement bordering on euphoria. (And, to the grizzled professionals around me, I looked like an idiot.)
(Writer’s Note: Do not expect this post to be entirely positive. I am temperamentally unable to pull that off. Also, since I’m shooting for “overall positive”, you can expect this to be one of my shorter posts. Though I have just extended it with this note.)
When Best of the West was picked up for series, it was – to quote a superior writer – the best of times, it was the worst of times. You get your show picked up, and you’re happy; that’s exactly what you wanted to happen. The alternative is, the boulder tumbles down the mountain, and you have to find a new boulder and start rolling it back up.
On the other hand, you spent four to six months making the pilot episode, and now, with an order for twelve more, you have to duplicate that effort on a weekly basis.
My reaction to the pressure was visceral. I had not experienced such stomach-churning cramps since I graduated from Hebrew Day School and moved on to a public Junior High School, where I was suddenly and overwhelmingly a minority.
But then, as with all daunting arrangements, even the terrifying ones, you get used to it. You get into a rhythm, the impossible becomes possible, and the work – some of it even better than in the pilot – moves forward. Suddenly, it’s your job. And to your surprise, delight and overwhelming relief – especially to your lower digestive system – you can handle it.
Ed. Weinberger and Stan Daniels, the writing team who had welcomed me into the Mary Tyler Moore kingdom (or, more accurately, Queendom) served as my bosses on Best of the West. First time show runners are generally not trusted, so experienced hands are installed (at the networks’ insistence) to cover the neophytes’ gaps in know-how and can-do. And, in some cases, their ability to project confidence and leadership.
I may have theoretically felt annoyed having to submit to overseers on my own show, but I needed them. Their presence relaxed me, at least to the extent that I was able to breathe normally. With Ed. and Stan at the helm, there would be somewhere above me for the buck to stop.
My primary responsibility was the scripts. I wrote or co-wrote (with an excellent writer named Michael Leeson) more than half of the twenty-two episodes we filmed, and rewrote – before they went into production – most of the others.
My awareness of what was happening almost literally – and sometimes actually literally – made to hop and sing. It was thrilling to realize that, down on Stage 23 on the Paramount lot, there was a show being made that would never have existed were it not for me.
The sets were built how I’d instructed them to be built. The series regulars, played by actors I had selected, performed scripts I had either personally written, or personally signed off on. And on “show night”, real horses were brought in as “atmosphere”, passing outside the “saloon” windows…
Because I wanted to do a western!
(And had made a pilot good enough for a skeptical network to say okay.)
This heady experience was highlighted twice-weekly by those times during the rehearsal period when we would go down to the stage and watch the runthrough, our opportunity to observe first-hand what was working and what needed to be changed.
Showing up for runthrough was my chance to see the whole thing – my dream, were I of a fanciful nature – coming together.
And so, when around four P.M. in our already work-packed day, the time for the runthrough arrived, and my overburdened bosses lifted themselves from their desks and proceeded dutifully to the soundstage, to their surprise, dismay and disapproval edging towards disgust…
I mean, you know, not fast – an actual runner would be unlikely to identify what I was doing there as “running” – but, compared to my standard shuffling gait,
I was really moving fast!
That was a pure – with nary a “Yeah, but” or “except for” in sight – unqualified,
To get down to the stage, and see what they were doing. To witness the product my imagination come to life – often better than I’d imagined it – outside my head.
Running means it was good.
And looking back, with the illuminating wisdom of hindsight…
It remains good today.