Tuesday, December 18, 2018

"A Nice Story I May Be Unable To Tell"

But I’ll try. 

If only to demonstrate why I can’t.

Not infrequently, when an anecdote falls flat, you hear the desperate disclaimer,

“You had to be there.”

This time… hm.  I was going to say that that disclaimer’s actually correct.  But then it occurred to me “You had to be there” is what everyone believes when their story falls flat. 

Although, in this case – you have to believe me – it’s true.  The situation “worked a treat”, as the English say, in “real time.”  The unique problem with this particular…

Will you just tell it, already!”


But remember, that disclaimer?

Emmis!  It’s real.

I did a pilot for a show called Island Guy that never made it to series about a guy from a remote Polynesian island who pilots his outrigger canoe all the way to America, where, upon reaching L.A. harbor, he is run over by a giant yacht.  The guilty yachtser takes the injured “Island Guy” home , leading to a “culture conflict” sitcom, wherein unblinkered innocence experiences… us.

Continuing my commitment to keeping things – as much as possible – “real”, I borrowed some appropriate decorative artwork from my daughter Anna’s bedroom to hang in the “Young Kid’s” bedroom on the show.  The two were approximately the same age, so it fit.

On the pilot’s “Show Night”, being the show’s Executive Producer, it fell to me to select a “Warm-Up Man”, who would guide the assembled live studio audience through the extended process of filming.

I selected myself.

Okay, so during the show, there is this substantial “break” between scenes, involving alterations to the set, a change of wardrobe for the actors, and perhaps hair and make-up” touch-ups as well.  Since my  “Warm-Up Man” M.O. was to “wing it” – rather than delivering prepared material – I look around for something time-fillingly amiable to talk about.

Suddenly, I notice the pictures, hanging on the “Kid’s Bedroom” set wall. 

And away I go.

“Check out the wall in the kid’s bedroom set,” I begin, with no idea of where I am going.  “You see that painting of an apple… or, actually, three apples, hanging up there – one, a full apple, one, an apple with one bite out of it, and one a totally-consumed apple, with only the stem and core remaining?”

Anyone have any idea who painted that picture?”

A hand tentatively goes up.  It is a young girl, maybe ten or eleven.  I go over to her, ask her to rise from her seat, and, swiveling the microphone back-and-forth between us, we engage in the following conversation.

“You know who painted that picture?”


“How old are you?’


“And you’re sure you know the artist.”


“Okay.  Before I ask you who it is… (SQUIRMING UNCOMFORTABLY)… you know there are, like, two hundred people here tonight.  You’re standing in front of all of these people, saying you know who painted that picture.”


“What if you’re wrong?  That’s going to be kind of embarrassing, isn’t it?  Are you sure you know who painted that picture?”    


Real sure.”

“Because I’m kind of worried about you.  People can be, y’know, cruel about these things, and I don’t want you to have, like, this traumatic experience.  I mean, years later, you’re in therapy, going, ‘I raised my hand to answer the question and I was wrong and everyone laughed…’ and then you’re reaching for the Kleenex.  I’m offering you a chance to sit down and forget the whole thing.  Do you want to sit down?”


“Boy, you must really know who painted that picture.” 


“Okay.  (SIGHING DEEPLY, THEN FINALLY ASKING)  “Who painted that picture of the three apples down there?”

I did.”

I then introduce the young lady in the audience.

It is my daughter Anna.

Who had indeed painted the picture.  Which we later displayed in her bedroom.

Okay.  So how many people were ahead of me on that? 

That’s the problem, right there.  The most innocuous “set-up” can be a devastating “tip-off.”  But I had to say something, to explain to you how Anna’s picture got from her bedroom onto the bedroom wall on the set.

Or maybe not…it now suddenly occurs to me.  No, wait.  I did.  No, wait.  Or did I?  This thought is coming to me right now, and it is not sufficiently thought through.

Of course, when it happened in “real time” with the audience, I did not mention where the painting came from.  That would have spoiled the fun of the audience thinking they were in the company of a ten year-old painting savant.  At that time, I could not reveal her name, nor where the painting originally came from. 

But what about here?

Do you see how tricky this is?   (And why my rewrite nights lasted till three in the morning.  I am notoriously indecisive.)

To make the story work here, it has to be different from how I originally handled it with the audience. But how different?  If I reveal “up top” that it’s Anna, all that’s left is a story of me, stringing along a live studio audience.  But then if I say nothing “up front”, I have a lot of ‘splaining to do at the end.  Not just, she painted the picture, but that it had been moved from her bedroom to the set. 

None of which is much fun.

Though I am not sure this was either.

I just felt it worthwhile, showing the difficulty.  So that when you decide to tell a story, you will “pre-think” if they actually needed to be there. 

And if they did, don’t tell it.

Advice, it appears, I should have possibly heeded myself.

1 comment:

JED said...

For one thing, when I'm listening to a story or watching a movie or a TV show, I don't consciously try to figure out what is going to happen. I like to be surprised. But sometimes, a preview of the ending is thrust upon me. So, I wasn't trying to guess how your story turned out. But I thought it was going to turn out that the young girl you had picked from the studio audience turned out to be a friend of Anna's that you hadn't met. Or that Anna had chosen a picture that was one that was used in many art classes in schools in the area. I didn't see the real ending until you revealed it. I thought it was a very nice story.

Something you left out of your story was the audience's reaction. Did they enjoy it?