Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"Everyone's 'On' In Los Angeles"

I can feel a meandering introduction coming on…

And… here we go.

I recently read – actually listened to on CD but believe me the difference is negligible – a book entitled “Where Nobody Knows Your Name” written by John Feinstein, chronicling the experiences of a handful of “Triple A” baseball personnel – mostly players, but also managers, an announcer and an umpire.  For those who don’t know, “Triple A” is the highest level of baseball’s minor leagues.  Immediately above “Triple A” is the top-of-the-totem-pole Major Leagues.

The difference between the Major League level and the level immediately below it in “Triple A” is astronomical, starting with the salaries.  The most any “Triple A” player mentioned in the book made was $12,000 a month for a five-month season, totaling $60,000.  (The majority of “Triple A” players make considerably less than that.) 

By contrast, the minimum salary in Major League baseball – the amount no Major League ballplayer can be contractually paid less than – is $507,500. 

Quoting the memorable baseball movie A League of Their Own,

“That would be more, then, wouldn’t it?

Almost ten times more.  For playing exactly the same game.  Only, instead of Los Angeles, it’s Spokane.

My thoughts concerning the gaping disparities between the two levels – and the even greater disparities at baseball’s lower levels – the players in the “(single) A-Ball” team of which I was once part owner received $800 a month – led me to wonder about the gradational situation in my own line of endeavor, and it occurred to me thinking about it, that in, specifically, writing, performing and directing of dramas and comedies made for the networks – i.e., the Major Leagues of television – there are actually no comparable minor leagues whatsoever.

For aspirants of such undertakings, it is either “The Big Time”, or it’s nothing.  They make no sitcoms in Rochester (where the “Triple A” Red Wings play baseball.)  Nor hour dramatic series in Biloxi (home of baseball’s the “Double A” Shuckers.) 

Such, and other small-market, venues may well serve as “training grounds” for news anchors, sportscasters and weather personnel, but not for writers, actors and directors.   There is no place to effectively “work your way up.”

How then do you acquire the big jobs? 
Writers submit spec scripts they write sitting in their houses (or secretly at their “Day Jobs”), hoping somebody like them.  Actors come out here and give it a shot, while simultaneously rattling off “Today’s Specials” at accommodating eateries that will allow them to take off for auditions.  As for directors… I have no idea how they get their jobs.  I think you just have to know somebody.  (Not being facetious.  Sitcom’s legendary director James Burrows got his start with the MTM organization because his dad, the equally legendary Abe Burrows, had once worked with Mary Tyler Moore.)

The primary difference between the two equally long-shot enterprises – show biz and baseball – is the availability of gradational strata. 

In baseball, you can advance through the levels, and if you don’t make it to the top, or, as happens in Feinstein’s book, you temporarily – or for an extended stretch – make it but are subsequently “sent down”, you can at least, in that situation, remain in the game. 

In show business, if you don’t make it to the top, and the top, in the above-designated areas, is all there is, you are – forgive me if this sounds harsh – a chartered accountant, trying out for the part of “Nicely-Nicely” in the annual synagogue production of Guys & Dolls.

In show biz, you either make it in the “Big Time”, or, as insiders coldly but accurately describe it, you are “out of the business.”

Is that sad?  Perhaps, it is.  Or, perhaps, it isn’t.

In baseball, you can hold onto your dream long after it makes any reasonable sense that you should.  In the meantime – and here’s the “perhaps” that, perhaps, isn’t sad  – you get to continue participating in the game that you love.  

In show business, you either make it, or you immediately – without sacrificing a substantial portion of your life – move on to other things.  But – and here’s the “perhaps” that, perhaps, is sad – you may regret your decision not to go for it, or not to stay with it, forever.

Even getting cast as “Nicely-Nicely” can be a double-edged sword. 

You stop the show at Beth Israel, belting out a memorable rendition of “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat.”  That could easily feel exhilarating.  Or it could feel,

“Man, I could have made it.”

Which situation between baseball’s lingering possibilities and show biz’s “You’re either in or you’re out” is better?  “Dealer’s Choice.”  Although, as I have oft been known to say, “You are who you are, and you do what you do.”  So whatever your decision, regrets are therefore inappropriate.

You were who you were.  And you did what you did. 

You know what?

My meandering introduction infected the entire post, leading to my coming to an end without getting to what I was originally planning to talk about.  The post’s title – which I am too lazy to alter – doesn’t even make sense now.

Oh, well.  I’ll write today’s blog post tomorrow.

Unlike show folk and ballplayers, I am certain – barring “Acts of Whoever” – that I’ll be back.  How do I know that?

I have an ironclad contract with myself.

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

There are certainly "minor leagues" in theater: small theaters all over the place use new work. In Britain, and probably Canada, there's radio; there are even British TV series that began on radio. Also in Britain, the smaller digital channels have been used as testbeds for ground-breaking stuff that, if successful, then moves to the bigger broadcast channels. And, of course, there are plenty of shows that get "out of town tryouts" in other countries that are then imported into the US and remade, sometimes taking their creators with them (successfully, Ricky Gervais, THE OFFICE; unsuccessfully, Steven Moffatt, COUPLING (but look what he went on to do after that)). Movie directors write scripts, do independent films, and theater to get known enough to be trusted with bigger-budget enterprises; or they move up through the chain of directors' assistants or a specialism. Quite a few TV directors have previously worked as writers or actors.

And, of course, now there's the web, where you can prove your ideas...