This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
There was a time, not too long ago, when the best way to cast a television show was to make a list of the biggest stars you could think of who were currently having money troubles. And then you'd work your way down the list until money troubles plotted on the X-axis and size of part plotted on the Y-axis met, and, suddenly, you'd have a cast.
It still, sort of, works that way with every job in Hollywood. Television has gotten a lot better, of course – better in a lot of ways than feature films, that's for sure – and so you might have to plot some more lines on the graph – quality of role, prestige of the writer, other big names also appearing on that particular network, existence of other offers (or the long silence since the last real one) – all of these things factor in.
And I'm not just talking about actors. Writers, too, have to make these kinds of calculations. Not too long ago, it was axiomatic that a writer with a show on one of the new, fledgling networks was either just beginning, or winding down, his career.
But this is a business that deals in euphemisms. We don't like to actually come out and say what's really happening. I mean, you'll never see am article in Variety announcing some recent piece of casting – where a big movie name, say, suddenly joins a the cast of a new TV pilot or series – by mentioning the actor's current monthly nut. No, it'll be something about "creative opportunities" and "deeply drawn characters" and "risk-taking, edgy material" which will all be true, of course, but there's true and there's being upside down on a jumbo mortgage in the middle of a housing slump. You know what I mean.
So we euphemize. I remember once, when a certain project came my way, but one which required a fair dollop of humiliation and begging, telling my then-agent, okay, I'll do it. Set up the meeting. Show me which ones to kiss, and where, and I'll do it.
"You know what I like about you?" my then-agent asked.
"The speed with which I'll sell out for money?" I said.
"No, not that," was the reply. "Because you're not selling out. You're approaching the business with a philosophical attitude. That's what I like about you. You're a philosopher."
A philosopher. I'm philosophical. I'm meeting a probably-insane former movie star at her house in Malibu Canyon in what was surely going to be some kind of writer/producer bake-off – I mean, there were other writers and producers scheduled for the same day; some of them were waiting by the pool when I arrived – but, you know, it was a big piece of business and I'm, you know, philosophical about that.
When gas contracts, it throws off a lot of energy. When a business contracts – especially this one, which is itself so gaseous – it throws off a lot of new euphemisms.
The other day I was having lunch with a friend of mine, an executive at a large production company. He was complaining about some writers' deals he was trying to make.
"Do you know what these guys expect?" he asked, incredulous. "Do they not know that the nineties are over? That's it a different world?"
So I asked him. "What are you offering?" And he told me. And it was low, of course – everything's lower, now – but it wasn't all that low. I mean, it wasn't insultingly low. And what he was offering was a lot more attractive in some ways than what bigger studios might offer, because his company is a lot more edgy and risk-taking.
Yeah, yeah. I know.
So I told him that. And he said, "You know what I like about you?"
"The speed with which I'll sell out for money?"
"No, not that. I like your entrepreneurial attitude."
My entrepreneurial attitude. Entrepreneurial. The new euphemism for underpaid. Good to know.
That's all for this week. Next week, we eat egg salad. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.