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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
Years ago, when I was based on the Paramount Studios lot, we used to order take-out lunch maybe twice a week from the old City Restaurant on La Brea. It's not there anymore, but I can still remember every item on the lunch menu.
It's hard to overstate how important lunch is, when you're in production. It's a little pause in the stressed-out, short-tempered day -- a little treat, a time when you can flip idly through the trades, return phone calls, share objectionable jokes with your colleagues…
The good restaurants understand this, and so they pack up their salads and sandwiches in white cardboard boxes, with flaps and a sticker closure that make the process of unpacking your lunch a lot like unwrapping a present.
So the studio is concerned about the cost overruns and the director has called from the stage to say that the C scene doesn't work and the network isn't saying anything about the 25% drop in ratings from your lead-in, but, hey look! Presents! A club sandwich wrapped up like a Japanese paper swan, and a mini container of cucumber salad. Everything's going to be all right.
For most of us television writers, that's what lunch is. For everybody else in town, lunch is business. Lunch is Arnold Palmer, small talk, the primaries, entrée salad, gossip, no dessert, thanks, coffee, and then a pause, a silence, and down to business. Everything important, everything that needs to be discussed, always happens at the end of the meal -- and sometimes even after that, during the awkward wait for the valet to bring the cars.
I think, but cannot prove, that I actually saw a small talent agency getting bought by a larger talent agency outside Orso on Third Street. The guys were talking intensely, quietly, one stopped and looked at the other expectantly, the other one was silent for a moment, and just then the valet drove up with his car -- so that was pressure to make a decision: cars backed up on Third, people waiting, the valet standing by the open door -- and finally, the guy shrugged, held out his hand, they shook, done deal.
(This is just another version of the entertainment industry maxim that states that any contractual agreement can only be settled at the last legal minute. At 7:30pm on Friday.)
The owners of the old City Restaurant now own a place downtown called Ciudad. It's a different menu, but every so often they recreate the old City Restaurant menu, and last week was one of those times. I sat and ate the things I used to eat more than ten years ago -- this time on actual plates, with knives and forks made out of metal -- and of course it was good. But it wasn't, you know, the same. It wasn't a break in a busy day, I wasn't drinking a Diet Coke out of the can, somebody didn't come by and unceremoniously toss the empty containers into a plastic garbage bag and tell me that the run-through was in five minutes.
On the other hand, it was a civilized meal. There were fun people at the table, and we didn't talk business, and no one told any objectionable jokes, and no one sold, or bought, a small talent agency.
City Restaurant was famous for its cupcakes -- this was way before the cupcake craze of '07 -- and that night, they had them on the menu. I ordered four. To go. And each one was individually boxed in a paper carton -- like a Japanese origami swan -- and when I got home I put them in the refrigerator. And they're still there -- all stacked up like small white cardboard gifts, because it's pilot season, and at some point in the next few weeks, I'm going to need to open a present.
That's all for this week. Next week, New Media. The budget choice. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.