Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"I Wanted To Be A Commentator"

A few years ago, a female friend put me in contact with an old friend of hers, an Executive Producer of the powerhouse NPR series All Things Considered.  (I had had the occasion of seeing the two of them together, and I sensed that he had once had a crush on her.  Which, I believe, rather than my identifiable natural abilities, is the reason the following opportunity eventualized.)

I was invited to submit a two-to-three-minute commentary, which, if deemed acceptable, would be broadcast – with me reading it – on All Things Considered.  There was “honorarial” money involved, but remuneration was not the issue.  What I was in intense need of at the time – I considered saying “in desperate need of” but it sounded too desperately needy – was a revitalized career.  

Television had recently indicated a unilateral disinterest in my future services.  My “Development Deal” contract at Paramount was not picked up.  (And those were my friends.  So there was a little hope of a rescue from strangers.) 

The “spec” pilot scripts I subsequently wrote, one of which may have been my most fully realized half-hour comedy script ever, were rejected by the networks, my longtime agent retired, and so, after thirty years of regular employment, I found myself suddenly on the outside, grumpily looking in.

Professional athletes talk about “dying twice” – the real time, and before that, when the only thing they ever wanted to do, they are not permitted to do anymore.  I know that’s dramatic.  But it’s right.  And not just for athletes.

Anyway, before lacrimosity shorts out my computer screen…

I now have this chance to return to the Public (Radio) eye  (or, in this case, its ear.) 
Which in reality is all I am looking for – a platform for my efforts, and for somebody to tell me I’m good.  (Like they once previously did in television, and before that – long before that – in school.)

I will read self-written commentaries on a nationally broadcast radio program.  And who knows where that will lead?  Even if it leads nowhere, I am still reading self-written commentaries on a nationally broadcast radio program.  And, if it turned out being on a regular basis, I am “back in the business” and happy as a clam. 

It didn’t happen.

Actually, it happened for a while – six commentaries worth, to be exact – but then it ended.  My Executive Producer contact, who appreciated my work (either that, or he was trying to please the woman he’d had a crush on decades earlier), delegated the commentary-picking process to a woman who was definitely not a fan. 

After overruling her on a couple of occasions, my patron relinquished final authority, explaining that he had to allow the woman to do her job, or something equally as ridiculous. 

Imagine, a boss delegating an assignment to an underling, and then actually letting them do it.  I do not understand it!  I mean, have we entirely lost the concept of “pulling rank” in this country?  Override this foolish woman, and be done with it!

The fact is, I was a capable or better commentary writer, but a less than acceptable reader of them.  Why?  Primarily because while I am reading what I have written, I am constantly rewriting in my head, inevitably discovering better ways of saying what I have written, thus triggering a collision of words in my brain, derailing concentration, leading to a detectably uncertain rhythm in my reading.  Plus, my peripheral vision isn’t that great.  Reading off a paper, I am unable to anticipate what’s next.

I even wrote a commentary about that.  Though I expressed my concerns differently.  Rather than taking personal responsibility, I instead attacked the commentary-reading process itself. 

And not, I believe, without justification.  Because that process is a sham.

Think about this.

A man wants to express his innermost feelings of affection and admiration for his beloved, which he pours out in the form of a proposal of marriage.   Consider, if you will, the impact this sincere outpouring of emotion would have on his beloved if the man drops down on bended knee, takes out a piece of paper…

And reads it to her!

My intention was to blow the lid off the entire commentary process, exposing its dishonesty to the chastening light of day.  While simultaneously making the equally important point that reading to them is not the most effective method of communicating with an audience.

I was thinking of the long-ago, variety radio host Arthur Godfrey, and the loquacious sports commentator Howard Cossell, and perhaps Garrison Keillor, though I am uncertain if he writes out his “Lake Wobegon” narratives in their entirety or not.  The other two famously spontaneously “winged it.”  And, in my view, made more successful contact with their audience by so doing.

So I constructed this radio commentary, which, in part, said:

“I will be totally honest with you.  I may sound like I am talking to you right now, but I’m not.  I am reading to you.  For example, when I said, ‘I am reading to you’? – I read that.  And when I said, ‘I read that’? – I read that too.  And ‘I read that too’? – I also read that.  In fact, I am reading everything you are currently listening to.  Including ‘I am reading everything you are currently listening to.’  As well as what I just said.  And also that.  Yes, and ‘and also that’ as well.  And also that.” 

Because I needed a humorous payoff for my commentary, I explained that I was going to to abandon my prepared script and speak entirely “off the cuff.”  I then found myself at a complete loss of words, my panic propelling me immediately back to the script. 

Ultimately invalidating my original point.  (Which, abandoned for comedic effect, I continue to believe in, although I may, in fact, be unable to pull off an “in the moment” commentary myself.)

My commentary on commentaries was never broadcast.

Not only did the selector who didn’t like any of my submissions hate it, the Executive Producer shot it down as well, branding the material, “smart-ass.”  (Was it?  Or was it instead “dangerously subversive”?)

And so I do not do commentaries anymore.  Except for here.  Where I can say freely that the possibility of “connecting” is substantially enhanced by talking directly to people rather than by writing things down.

Which, of course, I cannot do here, because when I said “rather than by writing things down”? – I actually wrote that down.  And when I say, “I actually wrote that down”? – I wrote that down too.  And when I say “I wrote that down too”…


(Which I also wrote down.)
Tomorrow:  What I Know About the Cosby Situation


JED said...

In case you (and other readers of your blog) are interested, I found five of your commentaries still available at the National Public Radio website.

1) "Which is First, Grapefruit or Baseball?"

2) "A Family Divided"

3) "The Wisdom of Financial Experts"

4) "Learning to Love Summer Camp"

5) "A Canadian Embraces U.S. Citizenship"

Frank eh said...

Just goes to show smart ass NPR executive producers know about as much about comedy as the genius NBC tv executives who loved the idea of a sick family sitcom headed by friendly old Bill Cosby.

Dave Olden said...

I've followed all of JED's links (thanks, Jed!) and listened to all these commentaries, and Earl, I want to hear more!

Hey, maybe you could do a podcast!

(Maybe you could call the podcast...
"Just Saying...
A regular person thinks about things, then writes about them, then tells you what he's written.")

Maybe you could borrow the NPR voice-lady for openings and closings...

I'd listen.