Yesterday, I wrote about how, exploiting the creative judgment he had neither been born with nor subsequently developed, the then president of CBS had disparaged our selection of the actress who we wanted to play the Mother and Wife character on Major Dad. Today, so that were I to die today – and I would happily prefer not to – I can take my leave with a (relatively) clear conscience, I shall confess to a moment of inexcusable weakness, wherein I was sheepishly willing to accede to his requirements.
Is there no end to your hyprocritality?
Shamefully, Blue Writing Person, there may not be.
We had completed the Major Dad pilot script, “we” being myself and a writer I was paired together with by the studio. (The writer had been the Executive Producer of the Major Dad star’s previous vehicle, the highly successful one-hour crime series Simon and Simon. Meaning his writing expertise was not in comedy.)
We had waded through the always arduous casting process, discovering who we believed to be the most promising actors for each of the continuing roles. We were particularly enamored of our leading lady candidate, because, though perhaps not the most polished actress, when she auditioned with the star, there was a palpable “chemistry.”
pal-pa-ble – adj. – readily or plainly seen or perceived.
Well, apparently not. When we brought our “preferred actress for the role” to the “Network Audition”, along with two alternatives – as we were required to do by law – network television law – the president of CBS unceremoniously turned her down in favor of another actress whose first name begins with a “B” – why expose innocent participants in this sordid narrative? – whom we believed to be capable, but no sparks.
I won’t dwell on this; it’s important but it’s boring. Networks have always had controlling authority over the programming, most significantly by determining whether your show was ultimately selected for their schedules. But they didn’t own the shows outright, like they do (or at least partly) do now.
What this meant was that there was always this unseemly little dance going on, where the networks pretended that the shows’ producers had the final word, but everyone knew they, for all practical purposes, did not. (Like children whose parents agree they can determine their own bedtime. Yeah, right.)
The president of CBS made it unequivocally clear that Shanna, our choice for the Female Lead, was unacceptable to him. But he would be fine with the actress whose first name begins with a “B.”
Confronted by this intransigence, the president of our studio decided we should conduct an “in house” referendum – Should we surrender our best judgment to the “Power”, thus increasing our chances of success, or vote the other way, thus increasing – nay, guaranteeing – our inevitable failure? I mean, the guy who decided things flatly hated that actress!)
All the Universal executives voted to stick with Shanna. There were two votes for the actress whose first name begins with a “B” –
The writer I had been paired with…
Yeah. I am still living with that.
My excuse being that I really wanted to make that show.
Do I hear booing? Wait, it’s coming from inside.
A week or so later, I, at least partially, redeemed myself.
It was a Thursday evening, the day before the Friday filming of the pilot. We were sitting in the soundstage bleachers, subsequent to the final runthrough.
Everything had gone smoothly. No fireworks, the actors understandably holding back for the actual performance the following day. Everyone was happy. Agonizingly nervous, but happy.
Suddenly, the president of CBS, who had very reluctantly accepted Shanna, spoke up.
“Guys,” he began disingenuously, “I can’t tell you what to do. But if I were you, I would shut down production, and recast the ‘Female Lead.’”
How’s that for a “Pep Talk”? Did this guy have Leadership Qualities, or what?
Spontaneously but firmly, I offered two simple words in response:
Not “We’re done” as in “We’re finished – this guy will never buy this series.” I meant “We’re done” as in, “We have completed our work.”
Which was demonstrably correct. We had a solid script that was running on all cylinders, the production elements were all in place, and we really liked our cast, particularly Shanna, whom I had voted to get rid of only a handful of days earlier.
(Finally, in my case) adhering to our principles, we did not shut down and recast the Female Lead. And on “Show Night”, our trust in our creative instincts was overwhelmingly rewarded. (A trust that had never wavered. What had wavered was my courage.)
So there you have it. Like some recent presidential candidate who I can no longer remember, I had voted against Shanna before I voted for her.
I have this hope that by getting this story out, it will remedially assuage my guilty conscience.
I’ll let you know if that happens.
(He said with a smile of skeptical unlikelihood.)