The Carousel

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

Something strange is happening in Hollywood: people are getting fired.

Well, let me clarify: people get the sack all the time around here. Executives are tossed out with such routine indifference that any executive who hasn't been fired at least three times in his career is probably not very good at his job.

A couple of bad television seasons, an outright flop at the box office, or maybe just a long-simmering blood feud with a new boss – all of these are respectable reasons to get tossed out on your ear. In fact, there's sort of a cushy career carousel operating in Hollywood: studio executive gets fired, gets a nice severance package which includes a production deal, he produces a few movies, get rehired at another studio, gets fired from that studio, gets a nice severance package which includes a production deal, he produces a few movies….you see where I'm going with this. The trick is to hang on; it's all about staying on the carousel with the painted ponies and the pretty music and the atmosphere of fantasy and fable that's so festive and childlike and circular.

But for the past few years, with advertising spending going down and the web-based audience going up, with production costs soaring and box office profits flat at best, the entire entertainment industry has been trapped in a tight margin squeeze. And that always means one thing, no matter whether your business is movies or mousetraps or hamburgers: you've got to cut overhead. People are going to get fired. They don't give you the fistful of ketchups anymore at fast-food restaurants. The same thing is happening in Hollywood, with deals.

And the timing couldn't be worse. The carousel, right now, is broken: the ponies aren't going up and down very well, the paint is peeling, and the music is distinctly off-tune. Kids are crying on the sidelines. The whole thing is starting to look a little sad and shabby. Meaning: lot of people in Hollywood are getting fired without getting plush packages and production deals. A lot of people are getting tossed off the carousel entirely. There are a lot of people rolling around in the gravel.

I had lunch a few months ago with a friend of mine who's a major executive recruiter. When people are looking for a job, or, better, when someone is looking to hire a high-level executive, he's the first guy they call. It wasn't that kind of lunch, of course. We were just shooting the breeze about politics and Wall Street and things in general. But later that day, I told another friend of mine, who is an executive at a big media company, that I had lunch that day with an executive recruiter, and she instantly jumped on it, "Great! Great! I am so happy that you're doing that. You really need to branch out. You really need to start exploring other options besides, you know, the writing thing which is, what, stalled? Can we agree that your career is slowing down? So I'm thrilled to hear that you're being proactive about your dwindling options. Bravo. Seriously."

"Dwindling options?" I said. "Um, it was just a friendly lunch, I'm not, you know, I'm not, I mean, my career is fine…"

"Yeah. Oh, sure. I know that."

Now, what you need to know is this: sometimes on these broadcast I call people "friends" when I really should use the word "colleague" or "acquaintance" or "business contact who makes me nervous" or "person who scares me" or something. So it doesn't seem totally cold blooded of me when I say that a week or so ago, when my…business contact who makes me nervous was fired, I, well, I didn't laugh, really. I sort of did one of these – what's that? A Snort? I snorted. I snorted with a restrained delight.

Because if you're a writer in Hollywood, you never really were on the carousel. There were no severance packages or golden parachutes for us. We were always scrambling around the carousel, trying to hop on, getting tossed in the gravel, trying again. So if you want to locate a bunch of writers in town, just wait until another studio announces a new wave of layoffs, and listen closely for the snorts.

And that's it for this week. Next week, we'll think about the seventies. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long