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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
A friend of mine tells this story about a pilot he did years ago. It was a pretty simple premise – single dad raising a kid; kid's smart; dad's weirded out by getting into the dating world; you know, that show – and the network was pressuring him to cast a certain actor in the lead role, an actor who was really hot at that moment, who was a major star on Broadway.
This was back when the phrase "a major star on Broadway” wasn't considered a punchline to the set up, "Guess who made my sandwich at Quizno's today?”
But this major Broadway star, like a lot of stars (major and minor) had had his fill of auditioning and reading and testing at the network, and he was now at what we call in the business the "offer only” level. Meaning, you want him? Make him an offer.
(It's a weird slight of hand, though, because the "offer” is always, officially and legally, an "offer subject to a meeting with the series creators,” and no one really defines what a "meeting” is, so sometimes a meeting is a meeting with chit chat and polite circular doglike sniffing between actor and writer, and sometimes it's a meeting that evolves, due to a script lying on the office coffetable, helpfully opened to a certain scene or monologue, into a casual reading and sometimes, as with the case of my friend and the big Broadway star, it's an offer subject to a meeting that takes place over lunch at the hotel where the Broadway star is staying, and the lunch takes place under the close personal supervision of the head of casting for the network and the Broadway star's enfranchised representative.
So, you can guess how the meeting goes.
In my friend's case, though, the meeting went even worse.
"I liked the script,” boomed the actor over his glass of white wine.
"Thank you,” said my friend.
"Yeah, it was the best of the bad TV scripts I read this year.”
"Thank you,” said my friend.
And here he had a choice. He could ignore that little dig – it was just posturing and preening, fur ruffling silliness – which would keep the meeting light and easy, and send a message to the network that he was the kind of executive producer who got things done, who got it, who knew that casting and dealing with actors and putting together a hit TV show entails, every now and then, eating a big fat – well, this is public radio, so I don't know how to put it. But there's a certain kind of sandwich we all have to eat now and then, and it's not pleasant or tasty or particularly dignified, but we're in show business, not Doctors Without Borders, so we tuck into that specific kind of sandwich and we smile to the hot, sought-after actor and get the deal done to make our pilot or film or whatever, because the only way to have a hit anything is first, you have to roll film. And you can't roll film without a cast. And if the big Broadway star is kind of a jerk at first, well, he's right for the role.
And also: what if turns out to be not really a jerk at all, but basically a nice guy deep down?
All right, that's not going to happen, but, you know, it could. In the magic realism sense.
So when the Broadway star said to my friend, "Yeah, it was the best of the bad TV scripts I read this year,” the correct response was to say exactly what my friend said.
And not to add, as my friend did, "Yeah, well you're the best of the bad actors the network is shoving down my throat, so we're even. "
Don't get me wrong, as a fellow writer, this guy is my hero. He got a reputation as a writer you didn't mess around with, a writer who wouldn't compromise. And that was back before the phrase "a writer who wouldn't compromise” became the punchline to the set-up, "Guess who's running the UPS Store in Visalia?”
That's it for this week. Next week, pilot week. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.