This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
Not too long ago, I had a meeting with a couple of writers who had written an excellent pilot. They were experienced, smart guys – they'd been on lots of shows before, never quite at the top of the pyramid, but close enough – but for some reason, the network that bought the pilot wanted to add one more element, what's called in the business a "show-runner."
We invented lots of colorful phrases in the early days of this business – the "martini shot" is one of them, which refers to the last shot of the day – but somewhere around the wide-screen release of "Breakin' Two – Electric Boogaloo" the creative energy just went out of phrasemaking, and we're stuck with phrases like "show-runner" to describe the guy who runs the show, and "packaging agent" for the guy who gets paid for doing nothing.
So the network wants to add a show-runner to the project, which is odd because the guys who wrote the script weren't novices at all, had written a strong piece, and didn't need that kind of help. They needed to hire some young, energetic, funny writers; they needed some great first lieutenants, not another four-star general.
I explained this to my agent when it was time to set up the meeting, and my agent's response was, if I remember correctly, something along the lines of, please shut up.
Look, he said, if they're looking for a show-runner, they must have their reasons. Just take the meeting and stop second guessing everyone. And also: try to be positive.
I am positive, I said. Just not about stupid stuff that makes no sense.
That's what I'm talking about, he said. The little remarks. The negativity. Look, I know it's all an act and you know it's all an act, but some people who don't know you might think you're this gloomy, cranky guy who thinks the television business is basically done for, and sees doom and failure around every corner. And you don't.
I mean, do you?
Well, of course I do. But I didn't tell him that.
No, of course not, I said. This is still a great business. It still has limitless possibilities.
Then do yourself a favor, he said. Convey that in the meeting. Be positive and upbeat. Buck these guys up. Be a cheerleader.
So I did. I mean, I went in and sipped my Fiji water and talked to them about the script, which really was strong, and gave them some thoughts of my own. It was as upbeat as any person can be expected to be at 4:30 in the afternoon in Studio City.
But at a certain point, the conversation meandered over to the network, and what they were expecting, and why they seemed to think that these two guys needed to have a show-runner added to the mix.
I don't know, one of them said forlornly. I guess they just don't think we can do it.
Of course you can, I said, bucking them up. Of course you can! You guys are great! You wrote a strong script with great characters – the show is clear and funny and I can totally see it on the air.
Really? They asked.
Really! I said, being positive and upbeat and cheerleading and conveying that in the meeting. You guys could run this show without me or anyone. Seriously.
And they beamed and I got up to go and we all shook hands merrily and my phone rang before I made it to my car.
It was my agent.
Um, well, congratulations. You just talked yourself out of a job.
Apparently, you told them that they didn't need you.
It was a general kind of upbeat bucking up type of cheerleading.
And they told the network that you were so convincing, they weren't going to hire anyone. The network just called me. They're furious with you.
I was just being, you know, positive.
Well, go back to gloomy pessimism. You can't afford upbeat and cheerful.
That's it for this week. Next week, we'll Tweet. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.