Friday, December 30, 2016

"When The Fun Started, Stopped, And Then Started Again"

(I like to alleviate suspense by laying it all out in the title.)

A recent dinnertime chat with a longtime writer companion brought back moments of genuine enjoyment that I experienced during specific junctures in my career.  Warming reminders of memorable fragments of fun.

My friend confided to me that his entire work experience writing for television was steeped in self-doubt, anxiety, apprehension and dread.  The pressure to deliver rained heavily on his parade. 

This led me – possibly inaccurately; it happens – to recall, with retroactive excitement, the early part of my television writing career, approximately the first seven years, ‘74 to ‘81.

Sure, I was afraid I would be fired and sent home – brrrr! – at any minute – but concerning my overall recollection of those Early Days, I surprised myself, hearing these three words escaping happily from my mouth:

“I loved it.”  

Given the opportunity to recant, under penalty of “Restaurant Perjury”, I instead… didn’t.  Why?  Because what I had said about loving it felt true, characterized by the detectable upturn at the corners of my mouth, a reaction conspicuous for its unusualness.  My lips went, “I can’t believe we’re doing this!”   

And why not “I loved it”?  I was performing my “Dream Job.”  Respected practitioners were telling me I was good.  Or at least skillful enough to remain actively employed.

What floats to mind as evidentiary buttressing of this reaction was a scheduled phone call I received early in my sitcom-writing career.  I had delivered the First Draft of a script I had written; my boss was calling to communicate what he thought. 

More specific details would come later at a Second Draft meeting discussing the requisite changes.  But his overall headline to my submission was this:

“You’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Rather than feeling upsets by his negative response, I recall myself instead feeling surprisingly invigorated.

“I can fix it, “ I replied. 

Partly naivete, I’m sure.  But partly, I really believed I could fix it. 

Consistent with the way things go in this process, I did not completely fix the script.  But. under the guidance of my superiors, my Second Draft was a noticeable improvement over my First, my ameliorating efforts indisputably moving the ball forward. 

Later, during “Final Draft” preparations and later still, during “Production Week”, the script was additionally upgraded by an impressive bombardment of “Writers’ Room” enhancements.  The episode was ultimately positively received.

I had done my part via a meaningful contribution.  My initiating efforts had broken the ice.  I had gotten us “off the shnide.”  I had blasted my way through the Rockies.  Okay, that was too much.  (With apologies to the heroes who actually blasted their way through the Rockies.) 

What brought me joy was I felt like a valuable contributor the team, bold member of a selfless “Suicide Squad”, thundering recklessly down the field.  Okay, that’s too much too.  (With apologizes to actual “Suicide Squad” participants.)  You see why I desperately need direction?  Give me the boundaries and I’ll do the job.  I’m telling you, I can fix it!

Of course, when I became a show runner and the “boundary-giving” responsibilities fell to me, it was not nearly as much fun. 

(Note:  I have just summarized a substantial portion of my career in one sentence.  And yet, I feel I have successfully covered the ground.)

Towards the end of my career, my participation – as a consultant – was requested by such comedy luminaries as Garry Shandling (on both of his revered TV series.)  As a consultant, I would address scripts, both before and during production, looking for ways I could suggest that would make those scripts better.  And right away, the feeling of exhilaration returned.

The stuff in the middle where I was looked to to provide more than just writing?

Then I felt like my longtime writer companion felt his entire career.

But at least some of the time, as a “First Draft Trailblazer” and as a “Show Doctor to the Stars”…

I didn’t.
A secular prayer for things for our country and ourselves.  Thank you for your readerly support, and the best possible outcomes for all of you.


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