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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
I have a friend who's an executive at a large television network. No, seriously.
A few weeks ago, my friend called me to ask some advice. It seems that the writer who runs one of their new comedies isn't doing such a great job. The scripts are getting done at the very last minute, the post-production schedule is deteriorating, and apparently the guy has no handle on the basic duties of show-running.
None of which I really believed, because what it takes to actually run a show is a mystery to a lot of people, but especially to network executives, so I'm not really sure my executive friend was in any position to judge. So I asked him: what makes you think this guy is such a bad show-runner?
And then he told me: because he begins every note session by cradling his head in his hands and moaning, "I am such a bad show-runner." And then apparently when he's asked about the next few scripts, he shrugs and says "I don't know" in a panicked and desperate tone of voice.
But how's the show?" I asked.
"We like what we're seeing," my friend said. "But we're worried about, you know, the other stuff."
And here is the problem: pretty much everybody who has ever run a show has, at some point, cradled his or her head in hands, and moaned "I am such a bad show-runner." We've all been racing to put together last-minute scripts, letting post-production slide, lost trying to gin up some new storylines. We've all been moments from disaster, seconds from collapse, at wit's end and running empty.
We just didn't share it with the network.
And that's the problem. The show-runner working on that troubled show isn't bad, he's normal. He's just too honest. Producing a weekly television show has always been a high-wire act, but the key is to keep it to yourself. When this guy moans and shrugs and sends the message that the next script is going to be a last-minute slapdash affair, he's sending the signal to every executive in his orbit that he's fair game for endless notes and conference calls and pointless revisions. He's a gazelle, limping on the horizon. They're hungry lions. Cut to the feast.
Look, I said to my executive pal, this guy is probably doing a great job. He's just letting you see too much of the wiring and scaffolding. The truth is, at this point in the season, there's not a show on the air that isn't limping along, tired and thirsty, heading to the last block of the year.
"So we shouldn't fire him?" he asked.
"No," I said. "You should tell him to shut up. Tell him that his honesty is making you nervous."
"We'd rather fire him," he said. "It'll be easier than getting him to shut up."
I heard a brilliant, inspiring acting teacher once tell a student that getting hired in Hollywood was really about projecting certainty and self-control. About being clear and in charge.
"It's a confidence game," he said.
And the student asked, "Do you mean ‘confidence game' like, it's important to be show confidence in your work and ability, or ‘confidence game' like ‘con game,' like it's important to trick people into believing you?"
"Yes," the teacher said. Lesson over.
That's it for this week. Next week, we stare at the check. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.