Hosted by

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

There's an old reporter's saying that they use when a story or rumor perfectly illustrates the point the reporter is trying to make.

"Too good to check."

Meaning: it's probably not true, or not true enough, to really count as a fact, but it's perfect, so don't check it. Just use it.

Here's a story I heard a few years ago that's too good to check:

A studio executive was so fulsome with her praise and reflexive star flattery that she once bounced up to an actor after a screening and gushed, "Oh my God you are so wonderful in this film. So magic. I had goose bumps. Really. I'm not even lying to you."

Not even lying to you.

Because, of course, I'm usually lying to you, and you usually know that, but in this instance I'm not lying to you, and I want you to know that I know that you know that I usually do, am supposed to actually, am paid to when it gets right down to it, but I'm not even doing it right now. That's how great you are in this film.

We lie to each other a lot, in this business. It's sort of a cliché that we're all liars and double-dealers, that it's a business of sharks and no-accounts, but mostly we lie to each other to make things simpler.

"That's a great idea," we tell each other when we pitch each other our ideas, and not because it's a great idea, but because the process of really thinking about it, entertaining it, treating it with thoughtful analysis is so exhausting and worse – what if it's a lousy idea? What do you say then? -- that's it's best just to say, "That's a great idea."

"You've given us a lot to think about," I've heard after pitches that I was pretty sure fell flat and provided very little for them to think about. And in turn I've said "great notes" to dozens of network and studio executives, without always meaning exactly that. Or that at all.

"When can we expect the first draft of the script?" is another one of those questions begging for a false response. Tuesday, I always say, whether or not Tuesday is the day, or whether or not there's any day on the horizon. Tuesday, I say, with chipper enthusiasm.

"But today is Tuesday," a studio executive once said to me. "Do you mean today?"

"Well, you know, I'm actually thinking that maybe –" And then I hang up on myself, mid-sentence, which is something nobody ever does, and so it seems like I'm going through a bad cell or something. Hanging up on yourself isn't exactly lying, of course. It conveys a false impression, though, so it counts. It gets you out of a troublesome exchange, in which the truth – "When can we expect the script?" "Well, I don't know. I haven't started it yet. I'm a bad, lazy, undisciplined person" – will be unsatisfying to everyone involved.

Look, morally, I get it: these are lies. Falsehoods. Just more small minor failings that add up, over time. But they keep things moving, they keep the social traffic running smoothly. It's sort of like when you're in the left-hand lane and the light is red and there really, technically, isn't time for eight cars to turn left – let alone your car, the ninth. But you push it and make the turn and of course you have to. It's wrong, but it's the only way to keep things moving along. And you can always hang up on yourself, if you really get into trouble and haven't thought of a way to.

And that's it for this week. Next week, what passes for the holidays. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long