No Dog in the Fight

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No Dog in the Fight
This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

In Vietnam, in the summer, the heat can get so intense that in the city markets, the caged monkeys slowly go bonkers. Their tiny brains, genetically designed for a leafy, jungle climate, quite literally cook in the hot city sun. As they turn alternatively catatonic and mad, the monkeys begin to attack each other with tremendous violence.

Hollywood in the autumn is a bit like that, except for the smell. The final box office figures for the summer movies have come rolling in, and with them the ritual movie studio firing. The announcements go something like: "It is with great regret that I accept the resignation of Hapless Studio Executive. In his 18 months with our studio, Hapless has made invaluable contributions and will be missed. Signed, Triumphant Ruthless Shark."

Just as the tension eases on the feature film side of the studio lot, it heats up considerably on the television side. In the early autumn, the television networks premiere their fall schedules, in what must rate as one of the finest displays of corporate incompetence in the world. By the beginning of November, most of them have failed. It's an awfully tense time.

Right now, though, I don't have a show on the air to worry about. Without, as they say, -a dog in the fight," the whole business seems like an interesting chess game. Kind of like semi-retirement.

But not for everyone. A friend called me up the other day.

-Did you hear?" he asked. -We're cancelled."

-Sorry to hear that," I say.

-You know how it went down? This is classic. Get this: they call me up on Monday and tell me that they want to have a meeting this morning to discuss the creative direction and development of the show. And I said to them, 'Does this mean there's going to be a show? Because I've been getting some pretty strong signals that we're about to be cancelled.' And they're, like, 'Are you kidding, we love the show, blah, blah, blah.' So I'm thinking, okay, we're going to get to do a few more of these at least. So this morning I'm in my car, driving to the meeting --

-The one they called, right?" I ask, just for clarification.

-Right. Right. The meeting they called. And my cell rings. It's the network. Calling to cancel the meeting. Because they're canceling the show."

-What about the meeting?"

-Right! What about the meeting? What about the meeting? They said that on Monday they didn't think they were going to be canceling the show, but that today, this morning, they changed their minds."

-Today is Wednesday."

-Right. Right!"

-What happened between Monday and this morning?"

-I asked them that. And do you know what they said? They said that the research numbers hadn't been fully crunched on Monday because the guy who crunches them was at his kids' soccer game or tonsillectomy or whatever, and when he got back the next day, he discovered that, statistically, we could never be more than a nine share show. And he sent the network president an email that night - last night - to that effect, but that the network president left early that day to do to some charity thing - what's the thing where your skin gets all hard and your face turns into a big toenail?" -Scleroderma?"

-Whatever. Anyway, he's doesn't check his email until this morning, by which time I'm on the 134 heading to his office."

A moment passes. I can hear my friend slowly calming down.

-Do you know who I blame?" he asks, quietly.

-The network?" I ask helpfully.

-No. Not the network. Those guys are just doing their jobs. No, who I really blame is America. I blame them."

-You're mad at America?"

-Damn right. I gave them a meaningful, nuanced half-hour show and they just ignored it. Just ignored it. Well, you know what? To hell with them."

My friend doesn't mean it. He'll be back with another show soon. And the truth is, his show really, really stank. It wasn't a nuanced half hour. It was a cheerless, grimly executed non-comedy. But I also know that he's a friend, and in Hollywood, you're not obligated to be happy for your friends' successes, or be disappointed in their failures, or even think they're very good at their jobs. In Hollywood, to be a friend, your basic job is to sit there, listen to their bitter complaints, and agree with them that yes, everyone at the network is a moron and yes, everyone at the studio is a cowardly bureaucrat and yes, your stuff is so much better than anything out there.

Anyway, that's what he said to me, when my last show was cancelled.

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll do charity work.

For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long