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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

This is for the guy driving the BMW 5 Series, with a show on the air, a show that premiered sometime in the past few weeks, one that did okay the first week, a little worse the second, had okay reviews except from some losers who just didn't get it, a show that's actually pretty good -- it's funny (if it's supposed to be a comedy) and dramatic (if it's supposed to be a drama) -- but for some reason just isn't catching fire. It just isn't breaking through.

And I know that the network and the studio are being totally supportive right now -- saying all the right things, sending little muffins when little muffins seem appropriate -- talking about being in it for the long haul or the end of the day or whatever this year's cliché is. They love the arena. They love the interaction of the characters. But I also know that you've noticed a certain lack of…what can you call it?...energy around the project. A certain almost imperceptible powering down of the engines. The Doritos at the crafts service table don't seem as from-the-bag-crispy. The cut-up melon has wilted, rounded, non-pointy edges, as if it's thinking to itself, "Oh, why bother?"

Right, right, I know. Hey, I've been there. They love the show. It's actually doing better than the show they had there last year. They know that they have to stick with shows longer, give them more support, help them grow an audience. You cast a star that the network really wanted. Last year, there was a bidding war for the pitch. I know. I've been there.

I have a friend who works in investment banking, and he says that when layoffs come, usually in a wide, sweeping wave -- they come as a surprise to almost everyone. Oh, of course there're a few in the quiet offices upstairs who know the names -- know them? What am I saying? Who crossed them out personally -- but for the rest of the crowd it seems to come out of the blue, despite the bad news in the paper and the downward profit curve and the subtle signs all around them that things are changing, powering down, getting worse. For some reason, most of those employees are caught off-guard, like a guy driving a BMW 5-Series whose show is about to be cancelled, but who nevertheless thinks that maybe, you know, with a little more promotion and a better lead-in, he'll hang on. Make a few more. They'll see what a great show they have on their hands.

It surprises everyone but one guy. The indispensable system administrator. The IT guy in the tan Dockers and the cell phone holster. He knows. He sees the list while it's still warm from the Xerox machine. Because, you see, it's his job to wait until exactly 10:33 on the morning that the axe is going to swing, that's three minutes after each doomed employee has been summoned to a meeting with a cheery, upbeat IM -- "Got a sec? Can you pop your head into my office?" -- and when the big hand points to three minutes and the second hand sweeps to twelve, he runs a finger down the list of names, and one by one disables their computer passwords and shuts off their email.

We don't have system administrators in show business, of course. But we do have UPM's. And they talk to guys in studio finance. Who talk to guys in network business affairs. Who hear things in the hallways. Things like: send them a basket of little muffins and tell them how much we love the show. But no more Doritos. And use last week's melon.

Look, to the guy driving the BMW 5-Series with a show on the air that he thinks is doing well and is probably going to get an order for nine more episodes, ask yourself: how pointy is your melon?

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll talk out of school. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.


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