I wrote a post a while ago entitled “Staffing Season.” The following Facebook comment was forwarded to me in response. And I am passing it along.
(Note: The upcoming content is going to look different. It derived from an e-mail and I do not know how to make it smaller.)
Friends of mine, more mature, saner friends of mine, have told me to let this go, but it's hard to read Earl Pomerantz's blog about how his foot still hurts 30 years after he kicked me in the balls and not want to tell the testicle side of the story. We're writers, we feel shit deeply and then we go off into dark rooms and try to make sense of it. This one hasn't made sense until yesterday, so it's been on my mind and what's Facebook for if not to work through stuff like this?
1) First, let's put this in context. Earl Pomerantz was a hero of mine (as was pretty much anybody who had written for "TAXI" or "CHEERS".) Even though mentioning his name gives me abdominal pain today, good writing is good writing. I still have several of his "Taxi" episodes that I bought from Samuel French back in the day. It had to be said.
2) Let's get racism and bias off the table. Earl's a smart man. I'm sure he'll sort that out for himself. If he says race didn't play a part in his decision, I'll take him at his word. What stays on the table is this. It's just plain mean to dangle a job worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in the face of a 25-year-old and then yank it away long after every show in television had been staffed. Can we all agree on that? After the many shows I've run, and the many writers I've hired since then, that thought would never have even crossed my mind!
3) The script that had gotten Earl's attention was an episode I had written for Dennis Klein's Carol Kane vehicle "Let's Get Mom!". There was a lot of buzz around town about this young, black stand up comedian with a hot sample who had studied under Dennis Klein (the creator of "Larry Sanders"), Thad Mumford, Sam Simon, Ken Levine & David Isaacs. I had a wide selection of job offers that year but I chose to work with the great Earl Pomerantz. When Dennis played Earl's phone message swooning about my writing, I was on a cloud. Knowing what I know now, I still think I made the right decision then.
4) I found out that he'd pulled my deal on the morning of what I thought would be my first day of work. I was told we were going for a research trip to a local military base and, when I called to find out the address, I was told to call my agent. No call from Earl. No nothing. In fact, his assistant eventually told me to just stop calling and I never knew why until yesterday.
5) By the time I got the final word from business affairs that there was no hope in closing the deal, staffing season was over and my "new car smell" was gone. For years everybody thought I was insane to turn down all of the prestigious offers I'd gotten only to end up working on "Full House" (which was a late pick up). Sure, it looks like a brilliant decision today but, back then, it had me punching the pillows at night.
6) As I made a flurry of calls trying to figure out what had gone wrong, a friend of mine who worked in Universal business affairs, told me that my agent and friend, Robb Rothman, had held up my deal in order to get another one of his clients onto the show. He was wrong. It changed my relationship with Robb and I didn't stay with him for long after that. Robb wasn't just an agent. We were the team of Rob and Robb. I'd been to Vegas with the guy. I played with his kids. I shared more dinners with him than I did with my own brother who lived in Santa Monica. We both cried when I left and I'm an ugly crier. Ugly. To find out decades later that I'd tried, convicted and executed the wrong man is devastating. I'll be calling Robb today to apologize... and probably do some ugly crying.
7)There's a stinger in the post that I can't let slide. Earl says that he was afraid I'd write "unusable" material. Quick story. A crew member once pulled me aside during "Fresh Prince" to tell me that the crew looked forward to seeing my scripts because they didn't change much from the table read to the shooting draft. "Rob weeks are easy weeks," he said. I'm not saying that to boast -- well, I kinda am -- but I'm also saying it because I take a lot of pride in the quality of my work and I don't want Earl's blog to be the last word on it.
Anyway, my head's clear now. Thanks Facebook! As for Earl, if this episode has truly been haunting him for 30 years, he can always buy me a drink. He's still a legend and I'm still a fan. But, if he truly wants to explore the issues he brings up in his post, I'll offer these questions for him to explore. If he really felt bad about the confines of only being able to hire Lisa or me, why didn't he hire Lisa and offer me an assignment like I've done for the many writers I've given breaks to over the years? When he got picked up for 3 seasons, and had staff positions open, why didn't he hire me then? If he truly felt bad about the racial implications of his decision, why didn't he hire a different black writer? And, why, on a show about the United States military, where people of color are a greater percentage of the population than they are in civilian life, was "Major Dad"... Okay. I'll stop there. I guess I'm not over it yet. The world's a little different from the ball side, but I hope Earl's foot feels better soon.
Okay. (Look at that. Regular-sized print.)
My first reaction upon reading the preceding was well… I did something that hurt somebody. Not only hurt them but that hurt has stayed with them for an extended period of time.
For that reaction, and my responsibility for it, I am sorry and I am sad.
Ken Levine’s blog post about staffing season triggered personal memories of my own and I decided to write about them. It is very rare that the people involved in my posts – who I almost never identify beyond their first names – connect with what I have written. Having a miniscule readership lulls me into the mistaken belief that I am essentially talking to myself.
But this time, a person involved read it, and they reacted. (For only the third time in almost eight-and-a-half years of blogging. I am currently “one-for-three” in “positive reactions”, the “one”, frankly, being less positive than “I have no opinion on the matter.”)
Summary: I made a last-minute decision to hire a writer whom I had just met and who had totally bowled me over, replacing a writer I had previously determined to hire. The writer I took on was named Lisa. The writer I did not was named Rob. I had troubling qualms about that “Eleventh-Hour” decision, augmented by the fact that the writer I was not hiring was black. But I went with my gut, and I did what I did.
I just sighed. (Not looking for sympathy. That is just what just happened.)
Looking back… and in view of the response… not necessarily in order, and writing from the heart…
It’s a business. (A heartless observation, but what are you gonna do?)
It was a difficult call.
I was doing what I thought best for the situation and for the show.
I used the word “unusable” in my post not in reference to my evaluation of Rob’s writing but in the context of Rob’s stylistic identification with a writer-friend I had previously worked with named Dennis, a non-traditional writer whose script for Best of the West was literally “unusable” – not “not funny,” but incompatible with the show – and I was concerned about experiencing an identical letdown with Rob. Rob’s submitted “writing sample” from a series Dennis created was simultaneously surprising and cautionary. By contrast, Lisa wrote more reassuringly like I did. That’s why she got the job.
One quibbling rebuttal to Rob’s Facebook reaction.
I was involved with Major Dad during its initial season only. I then left the show, and was subsequently barred by my replacement from any further participation. Therefore, there was no possibility of my hiring anyone after “Season One”. Also, since the first season’s production was chaotic in the extreme leaving virtually no opportunity for “outside scripts” to be assigned, that avenue of employment was unavailable as well. Besides, I was too crazed to even think about it.
One more thing. No, two more things.
With the arrival of Major Dad, I had had literally no experience as a series show runner. Best of the West was run exclusively by Ed. Weinberger and Stan Daniels. Family Man ran seven episodes, the scripts for which were exclusively written by me. No outside writers, minimal writing staff.
The situation could have undoubtedly been handled better. More honestly. And more sensitively. But my experience in these matters was minimal. As were – and still are – my unenviable “people skills.”
Second, black or white, I would have made the same ultimate decision.
Those are the specifics as I remember them.
I made a work-related decision, and a person got hurt. Publishing that story, a delicate wound was reopened, hurting that person again.
What do I do about that?
I don’t know.
It would be nice if some good came from it.
I am open for suggestions.