The Check

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

A few years ago, I had dinner with an actor and his manager. I was trying to woo this actor to take the lead role in a pilot I was producing. He liked the part, liked the script, but was a little hesitant about signing what was, essentially, a six-year commitment. In success, that is. The truth is that television pilots have about a ninety-eight percent failure rate, and of the successful pilots that go on to series, those have about a ninety-five percent failure rate.

I didn't actually get to go to the math Olympics, but I do know that if you take a ninety-five percent failure rate and somehow put it inside a ninety-eight percent failure rate, you get disaster, chaos, bankruptcy, financial collapse, and clinical depression. You get the TV business, in other words.

But that's not a terribly inspiring pitch to an actor contemplating doing a television series. "Hey, look, this thing isn't going to go. Just do the pilot and move on." People like uplifting messages.

And also: his manager was really pushing this. He really wanted his client to do the pilot – not only because it was a great piece of writing and because of the sterling reputation of the show-runners, but because there's a little thing called the "producer's fee" which a lot of managers get for delivering their client to a project. Plus they get a cut of the client's fee. Plus, points – well, they ask for points, but they don't always get those.

In fact, the whole reason for the dinner in the first place was because his manager had set it up – his manager had insisted. He set up the dinner, made the reservation, ordered the wine, took charge. He was doing his part to make this happen.

So pretty much everybody at the table was pushing the actor to say "yes," especially the actor's representative.

I mean, it was an expensive restaurant. We ate well. We drank good wine. We wined and dined and wooed and schmoozed. And the actor said he'd think about it.

He left before the rest of us – something about a wife and kids and the airport – and so we lingered for a few moments with his manager. The check arrived.

"We have got to get him in this," the manager said, plaintively.

The check sat there. Let me repeat: this was a dinner set up, instigated, arranged, and defacto demanded by the manager.

"It is such a great part for him."

The check sat there, but louder. I ignored it.

"He says he wants to do independent films. There are no independent films that are calling."

The check started screaming. He ignored it.

"I just…you know, I just don't know. I thought with dinner and a nice bottle of wine…."

The check started to dance around the table. We ignored it.

"You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to talk to him."

And the manager jumped out of his seat and raced out of the restaurant, where the actor was waiting for his car. We could see them through the window, talking. Talking. Nodding. The actor's car pulled up. A hug goodbye. He drove off. Then the manager's car pulled up. And he drove off.

And the check, if it's possible, was laughing at me.

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




Rob Long