x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Comments are for people with nothing to say

Criticising others is easy – but why do that when you could be doing something positive instead?

Last week, I did a very stupid thing. Let me rephrase that. Among the stupid things I did last week was this particular thing:

Someone walked into my office and said: "Hey, Rob, there's a story on the web about you and your new television project." Which was followed quickly by: "Oh, and whatever you do, do not read the comments section below the story."

So, obviously, I pointed my browser to the popular website that covers the entertainment industry, scanned the article about me and immediately clicked through to read the comments.

Because, seriously, how can anyone resist? There's a perverse and irresistible human need to know what people are saying about you, even when you know it's probably not all that nice. Even when you know that people who leave comments on websites - especially people in the entertainment industry, who read show business news websites steeped in a psychotic mixture of envy, rage and clinical depression - don't waste their time writing love notes. No, if you are going to go to the trouble to click on the "Leave Comment" button, it is to do one thing and one thing only: get nasty.

In a way, of course, it is oddly flattering that a small article about a project I am involved with would inspire a few dozen anonymous folks to unleash a torrent of anti-me verbiage. I mean, even I do not find myself all that inspiring.

But it is also alarming to reflect that, judging by the one or two minutes between the time of the article's posting and the time stamp on the very first (very negative) comment, quite a few people in the entertainment business have ready-made sour opinions of me on-the-go, at their fingertips, fully worked out and carefully pre-phrased.

The story, to be fair, was only glancingly about me. A project I am working on has just landed a very popular comic actor in a lead role - it was what we in the business call a "very good get" - and that made a splash in the industry press. There are several other people involved in the project, too. The article touched on all of them. The comments, on the other hand, were mostly about how old I am.

Let me summarise: "Rob," the commenters seemed to sing in unison, "please die, and quickly, and make room for younger writers."

I mean, they said it more nicely, some of them, but the gist was: him again? Actually, that wasn't the gist, I think one of them said, literally: "Him, again?" I am not sure why I was surprised. The first rule of show business is: anyone who is not working is always convinced that it is because someone else is.

Wait. No. The first rule of show business is: never read the comments.

The second rule of show business is: everyone always thinks someone else is keeping them from getting that big job, from getting that big break, from putting a foot on the big ladder that leads from the tiny flat in the bad neighbourhood to the sprawling villa in Bel Air and the ungrateful children in expensive private schools.

But there is a third rule of show business, and this is the one that really counts: if you let the second rule get to you, it will really mess you up in the head.

It is true that market forces mean that there are a lot of older writers now in the market for the kinds of jobs that younger and more inexperienced writers used to do, which pushes budgets out of whack and makes for fewer entry-level writing staff jobs per show. But on the other hand, there are more shows on. A lot more shows. You do not have to be as ancient as I am to recall a time when there was not an endless list of TV channels to sort through.

Doddering old codgers like me may still be lingering around the business, soaking up jobs and money and precious oxygen - and, for the record, I celebrated my 48th birthday last weekend - but that is more than compensated for by the vastly improved marketplace of opportunities. Put it this way: I have two television series in production - I know, I know, I should stop being such a big, fat old hog and let some kids get to the trough - but both of them are on cable channels that didn't even exist 10 years ago. That is good news for everyone, old hogs and youngsters both.

But a career in show business has always been a complicated blend of talent and luck. Actually, a career in any business - and maybe not just a career but a life, too - is a blend of those things. And when you find yourself complaining about a system that is tilted against you, even if it is, you are wasting your energy.

Do not write comments. Write scripts.


Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood

On Twitter: @rcbl