Did They Say Anything?

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Did They Say Anything?

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

This is awkward. In order to tell this story, I have to fudge a little.

That's not the awkward part, of course. I do that pretty much every week. What I mean is, this story is about two friends and two different television shows. The two friends are at the associate producer level on a production staff -- they run around doing post-production, keep the trains running on time, make sure the rest of the production staff gets paid -- that sort of thing.

One of the guys is unemployed right now. The pilots he worked on last season didn't get picked up, and the show he was working on got cancelled, so he's sort of sitting around at the Coffee Bean, living on credit card fumes and thinking dark thoughts.

The other guy is working -- hard, ragged -- on one of the worst television shows currently on the air. A comedy so un-comic, with a cast so un-nimble, that the whole thing has sort of a hospice vibe. You know -- putting a brave face on to watch the gathering clouds. A terrible show. And one that everyone expects to be cancelled. Cancelled with extreme prejudice. You see, when a network orders a show, it first only orders 12 episodes, even though a full season is closer to 22 episodes. After the show has been on a few weeks, and after the network gets a sense of whether it's working (this one isn't) or getting better (this one isn't) or getting funnier (this one isn't) it orders the remaining episodes needed to complete the season. It's called "the back nine" and it's what everyone working on a show wants their show to get. This one isn't.

Especially since everyone knows that the network in question has another comedy all lined up and in production, ready to take its place. And this show has a well-known star in the lead, and a well-known writer at the helm. Let's call it the Aquarium show. I mean, it isn't the Aquarium show, but let's just call it that because I have friends in town but also because I have enemies in town too, and why drain one pond to fill the other? Right?

So everyone's waiting for the bad show to get yanked and replaced with the Aquarium show. And one day the producer on the bad show calls his friend the unemployed producer with the news.

"Guess what?" he says. "The network just called. We got a back nine."


"They gave us a back nine."

"What? Did they say anything? Did they give a reason?"

"Um, I guess they like the show? Can't you just say congratulations?"

"Man, how bad is that Aquarium show?"

"Excuse me?"

"That Aquarium show must be an absolute disaster!"

"Just not in your vocabulary, huh? No congratulations, nothing. I won't have to dip into my home equity line of credit, but... okay, got it... "

"Can you maybe get a copy of that Aquarium show? Man, that's got to be hilariously awful! I mean, that's got to be about the worst show ever made!"

"G-bye," said the working friend. And he hung up.

Which is understandable, of course. You see, the truth is, in Hollywood, no matter how awful the project is, the people working on it, suffering the long hours and the pressured, short-tempered atmosphere, tend over time to convince themselves that the terrible, stinko show or movie they're spending their dwindling earth time on isn't, actually, when you really think about it, all that bad. In fact, it's pretty good. There's a lot there, they say. It's getting better, they say. It's actually very very good, they finally tell themselves. It's like Stockholm Syndrome, except in Studio City.

Show people are like that. Remember back in high school, all the kids who did plays would work their butts off after school, late into the night, for months, just to put on the worst production of The Crucible every seen -- with terrible old man makeup and puffs of corn starch clouding over their fake grey hair. Intermittent accents. Awkward stage movements. "You know what?" we'd say, "The kids are having fun up there and that's all that matters."

Still, I'd love to get my hands on that Aquarium show. Actually, I know a guy who works on that show. He says it's pretty good. Getting better.

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll eat neatly. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long