Thursday, September 26, 2013

"A Missing Moment"

This is a strange one.  It may not even qualify as a blog post.  Unless “surprise and dismay” can be considered story-worthy.  And I’d be surprised and dismayed if it couldn’t.  Check it out.  And if it ends up being a time-waster for you, send me your name and address and I’ll send you a quarter.  Nobody should have their time wasted for nothing.

Okay, for those who are left, here we go.

I can remember watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show regularly on Saturday nights.  I can see myself sitting on the basement floor of a friend’s house, absorbing every moment of the sitcom which I considered from its inception to be indisputably top-o’-the-line.  Okay, not every moment.  It being Saturday night, there were always quick “switch-aways” to the local (Canadian) CBC station for updates on the hockey game.  I mean, I loved Mary, but the Leafs were playing!

In 1974, I relocated to Los Angeles for work, and a year later, I wrote a script for The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  This transformation is still amazing to me.  I love and admire the heck out of this show as a viewer, and, like, a blink-of-an-eye later, I am writing for that self-same series. 

I have mentioned this descriptive before, but it seemed that almost literally – a phrase which make no literal sense, but still… – almost literally, I had gotten up from that basement floor, stepped through the television screen, and suddenly, I was on the other side, working on the show I had previously worshipped.  Take a moment to be me, and imagine how that felt.

During subsequent television seasons, I would write scripts for a number of Mary Tyler Moore Company series – Rhoda, Doc, The Bob Newhart Show, The Tony Randall Show and, of course, Mary.  One of my Mary scripts, “Ted’s Change of Heart”, won the Humanitas Prize and was nominated for an Emmy.  The show I lost to Mary’s “Final Episode”, for which six writers were credited.  I felt gratified that it took half a dozen writers to beat me.  But I would preferred to have won.

It is, in fact, that final Mary episode that is the subject of this meandering.

I am writing eight episodes per season (for all the shows), which included four episodes (over two seasons) of Mary.  It was actually a demand that the Mary assignments be part of my seasonal workload, though, as the bottom man on the totem pole, the amazement that I was making demands is exceeded only by the fact that my bosses were agreeing to them.

The Mary show meant everything to me.  It was, first, my inspiration and later, a ”Certificate of Approval.”  In a relatively short period, I had advanced from “audience member” to a player on the roster of The New York Yankees of half-hour comedy.

I am reading this book about the show entitled May And Lou and Rhoda And Ted written by Jennifer Keisin Armstrong (in which I am not mentioned, which is understandable due to my comparatively minimal participation and the fact that the book’s agenda focuses primarily on how the Mary show opened the door for female writers) and I arrive at the chapter chronicling the 168th and final episode of the beloved Mary Tyler Moore Show, its broadcast watched by tens of millions of people.  (I tried to research the actual number, but I got tired and gave up.  I am sure it was a big one. 

 So I’m reading this chapter, when suddenly, a question flashes blindingly in my mind.

There was an historical and emotional filming of the final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a show I revered and had benefitted personally from participating in.

And I could not remember attending that filming. 

I certainly would have if I could have, don’t you think?  He asked strangers, though he is really asking himself?

Then why didn’t I?

I suppose I could have been out of town.  But what would have been so important elsewhere for me to deliberately absent myself from a landmark moment in television history?

I think about the possibilities and draw a Black Holishly total blank.

Though the audience for that final filming was specially selected, I cannot imagine that I would not have been invited, and me being me, I certainly can’t imagine not being invited and not retaining a thirty-six year-old grudge about it.  I hold grudges about things considerably less significant than that.  Once at Christmas, they gave out MTM (with the cat logo on them) belt buckles, and they neglected to give one to me.  I am still steaming about that one.  So it seems unlikely I’d have forgiven the considerably greater slight of not getting invited to the final taping.

For some reason, however, I, bizarrely it now seems in retrospect, did not attend.

The only explanation I can think of is that somehow, despite tangible evidence to the contrary, I did not feel an integral part of things, and felt therefore unworthy of taking up a seat.    

That sounds like me.  Although hardly me at my best.  Misplaced self-diminution  could very well be the reason for my absence.  Though there are certainly other possibilities. now buried in the obscurational mists of time.

I cannot tell you what a jolt I got reading the book and realizing that a monumental moment had taken place that would have – certainly should have – mattered to me tremendously, and I simply, and pretty much inexplicably, was somewhere else.

I wonder where I was?

And why wasn’t I there?


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Re the transformation from basement TV watcher to screenwriter for your favorite show. There is a moment like that in my life. At 18, I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom in the house I was renting with friends over a college summer singing along to Tom Paxton records and thinking of him as someone from another planet. At 24, I shared a workshop stage with him at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. I always felt that if that could happen, anything could.

P.S. Is it possible you attended the final episode filming but were delirious with fever?

Ben Kubelsky said...

Hi Earl: I looked it up, and 51 million people apparently watched the final episode of MTM... which was good for 6th place for the week. I also looked up where you were the night of the taping and, after much web surfing, it turns out you were invited to the taping of the final "Brady Bunch Hour" first. Not wanting to be rude and refuse the invitation, you went with the Bradys, who closed their series by firing Ted Baxter. True story.