This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
I want to talk today about Hollywood's most popular product: Simmering personal feuds.
A few years ago, when we were shooting the pilot episode of a new comedy series, we asked a veteran comedy writer to help us out for a day. The term is "punch up:" you invite an experienced vet to come to a run-through of your new show, then over a nice dinner and a good bottle of wine, hope that he pitches a dozen or so killer jokes and "punches up" the script. He agreed to come.
"One question," he said, "before I get there."
"Ask away," I said.
"Who else will be working that day?"
I named a few of the junior-level writers. Then I named an older writer, a guy who's been around.
"Do you know him?" I ask.
"Know him? Yeah, I know him. I hate him. I know him and I hate him."
"Oh. Will that be a problem?" I asked.
"Not for me," the vet replied, "'cause I won't be there. Call me later, when he's gone."
"But what did he do?" I asked, frantic. "Why do you hate him?"
There was a long pause on the telephone line.
"Truth? I'm not sure. I can't remember."
The only thing he remembered, naturally, was that he hated the guy. The other guy couldn't remember ever working with the old vet, and was completely bewildered by the feud.
Bewildered but philosophical: "If the guy hates me, then he hates me. I never met him before in my life, but it takes a lot of integrity and discipline to hate a guy you've never met or worked with," he said. "And you gotta respect that."
I am out having a drink with my best friend, an actor. He is telling me about the past television season, and how impossible it had been for him to get hired on a certain network.
"I couldn't figure it out for the longest time," he says. "I'd go on lots of auditions, have tons of call-backs, but in the end, they never hired me." I give him the it's-a-crazy-business shrug.
"But then I realized," he went on, "that it was always one particular network. Like I was being blackballed by someone in the casting department."
"C'mon. You're being paranoid."
"I'm serious. But not just blackballed. Blackballed with extreme prejudice, 'cause they'd call me in, then call me back, get my hopes up, and then bang, they'd pass on me. It was like someone out there really hated me."
"Of course someone hated you. You're an actor."
"Not just hated. Hated hated."
I give him the it's-a-crazy--business-someone-always-hates-you-but-what-can-you-do-about-it shrug, which is similar to the basic it's-a-crazy--business shrug, except that it's delivered with a sad shake of the head.
"So I do a little research," he tells me. "I find out that the vice-president of casting is a guy who was best friends with that girl I was living with when "you know...met my wife."
"Met my wife" is a sophisticated umbrella euphemism for a story that you can probably figure out yourself, in that it involves a guy, his girlfriend, and the woman who later became his wife. The story turns, as all love stories do, on issues of timing: when did she find out about her?
It turns out that the girl he was living with when he...you know...met his wife...had lots of friends in low-level jobs in the entertainment industry, friends who, in the intervening years, have acquired high-level jobs in the entertainment industry, and in one particular case, a high-level job in network television casting. And that guy, out of perverse and long-lived loyalty, is torturing my best friend.
"Wow," I say. "What are you going to do?"
"What can I do? I'm just going to wait it out, hope he gets bored, or hope that he suddenly realizes how bizarre it is to punish me for something that happened years ago."
"Hmm. I guess that's all you can do."
"Well," he says, "what did you do when you found out how much they hated you at the network?"
I look up from my drink. "What network?"
My friend names the highest-rated network in American television.
"They hate me?" I ask.
"You didn't know?"
"They hate me?"
"You didn't know?"
"What did I ever do to them?" I ask in a tiny, childish voice.
"Maybe it's those stupid books you write, about how dumb they are. Where you write down all the stupid stuff they say."
"But I make most of that up," I shout. "They know that, right?"
"Then maybe it's because you never listen to their notes. Who knows?" he says. "But I can't believe you didn't know that they hate you. It's kind of a famous feud."
"Well, isn't it obvious? They never buy any of your shows. I can't believe this is news to you."
I say: "I've never been hated before. I've always been the hater, not the hatee."
He gives me a it's-a-crazy-business-someone-always-hates-you-you-pathetic-out-of-touch-loser-I-can't-believe-you-didn't-know shrug, which is similar to the basic it's-a-crazy--business-shrug except that in addition to the sad shake of the head, his eyes are closed.
Next week, we'll discuss deep and abiding friendships.
For KCRW, I'm Rob Long with Martini Shot.