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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

Circus monkeys, deep down, are mean. Someone once told me that a decent circus monkey is only good for about seven or eight years until he decides to retire, which can come at any time -– hanging around the other monkeys, in the middle of a show -– no one ever knows when, exactly, a monkey suddenly says to himself, "Okay, had enough" but when he does, here's what happens.

He begins, I was told, by stopping in the middle of whatever it was he was doing. Then he waves his arms slowly in a crisscross fashion above his head. Like a surrender. And then he stops.

And then he attacks.

Yeah, attacks. Something inside him snaps, I guess -- all those years of silly hats and tiny vests and hopping around for the crowds, the performing and traveling and years in a cage -- all of it just wells up in him and the minute he's done, the minute he says to himself, "uh huh, not so much of this anymore" the pent-up rage comes cascading out of him in an immediate and frenzied attack.

And the person he attacks, mostly, is the clown on stage with him.

Monkeys are vicious -- they're excellent street fighters, totally unencumbered by the rules and traditions of a fair fight. There's biting and scratching and eye-gouging and every kind of below-the-belt violence. Plus, they scream.

And here's where it gets worse. The other clowns, they just back away. When a monkey goes rogue, no clown will come to your aid. That's just the way clowns are -- every clown for himself.

So, picture it: a crazed monkey, spitting and clawing with every limb; a terrified, battered clown, face streaked with blood and greasepaint, wig torn to shreds, begging for help, for someone, anyone, to get this monkey away from him. The other clowns backing away slowly, the other monkeys watching, waiting, thinking. And then it's all over -- the monkey, exhausted, collapses. The clown, whimpering and bloody, is raced to the emergency room. And the show goes on.

In other words, basically, pilot season.

Which is now, right now, in the television business. Writers and show-runners and networks and studios and agents are all into it, calling and begging and waiting and in the thick of deal-making combat. No matter how bad the TV business gets -- no matter how low the audience share sinks, or how old the remaining viewers are, no matter how hard it is to find willing, gullible advertisers or how busted the business model of the TV business is -- in other words, it doesn't matter that the whole idea of pilot season is crazy, inefficient, irrational, bad business -- we still do it. We're still compelled by some internal drive to take all of the major decisions that affect the success or failure of a two million dollar investment -- script, casting, director, revisions -- and pile them into eight frenzied, short-tempered, maddening weeks.

This is the time when the race and panic of pilot season leads people to cast unfunny stage actors in wacky neighbor roles. To rewrite the script so the detective can be in high school. To add voice-overs and flashbacks and all sorts of bad moments in a script. To cut and recut and reshoot for a slightly different reading. To fire an actress right after the table reading because, you know, she didn't "pop."

Wait a minute. A detective still in high school? That's actually good. I'm going to write that one down.

Still, at some point in the next eight weeks -- from pilot pickup announcements to the delivery of the finished product at the network president's office -- everyone involved is going to say to him or herself, "I just made a really bad decision because it's halfway through pilot season and I don't have time to make a good decision.

Why do we do it this way?"

We do it because it's our nature. In pilot season, you're either a monkey, or a clown. And either way, you're going down.

That's it for this week. Next week, we help out.

For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long