x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

It's easy to shine like a star when surrounded by dim bulbs

In life, just as in show business, being the best of a bad bunch is sometimes good enough.

Once, not too long ago, I ran into an old friend at a party. She was with her new boyfriend, and when I asked the normal stuff - you know: how long had they been going out, how did they meet, that sort of thing - she kind of waved her hand in the air dismissively and said, to forestall any more discussion: "He's just somebody for now."

Her boyfriend was across the room at the time and didn't hear her. At least, I don't think he heard her, because if he did he's an awfully forgiving kind of fellow.

They're getting married in July, according to the wedding invitation I just received in the mail.

So the guy who was "just somebody for now" was transformed over time into the guy who is for now and forever, which doesn't mean that she's settled for mediocre or that he's in trouble with the immigration authorities or anything other than the most basic human formula of all: somebody you don't really want but who will do for now, with enough time, becomes the somebody you want forever. Love is a mysterious and wonderful thing.

As long as there aren't any other better choices around.

And that's really the key here. It's important that there be no other choices, no other guys or girls around who just might be a cut above the "somebody for now" lurking in the wings.

It works the same way in the entertainment business. Television shows, like people, are rarely hits right off. Sometimes the best way to fall in love - with a person, if you're a person; or with a show, if you're a television network - is to have no other viable choices.

I remember a network president extolling the virtues of one of his network's biggest hits - this was at a party to celebrate the show's 200th episode, which in cold hard cash terms means the show had generated hundreds of millions of dollars - by saying that everyone had loved the show from its earliest days.

"Why did we keep it on?" he asked, referring to the first couple of rocky years, when the ratings were poor and it kept coming in third. "Why? Because we loved the show," he said, and as he raised his glass in a toast, one of the shows creators called out: "Are you kidding? It was because you had nothing else to replace it with."

After an awkward silence, the network president shrugged. "Yeah, that's true," he said, in a rare moment of candour.

They would have replaced it if they had anything to replace it with. Which is one of the reasons why it's always better to be on a lower-rated, almost-broke network than to be on the most successful network - the number one network has money and backups and options. The sixth place - or, these days, 10th place - networks tend to be barely holding on. They have to stick with stuff, not because they love it but because they're out of choices.

It's the same in our romantic lives. Or, at least, in mine. I may not dazzle every lady friend at first meeting, but over time - and if there aren't any better-looking, more charming, wittier or richer guys around - I may just end up like my friend's boyfriend and win the war of attrition. I may, in other words, wait it out, and get promoted from "just this doofus I'm killing time with because I hate to come to parties alone" to "With this ring, I thee wed ..."

It hasn't happened yet, but I'm confident it will unfold in exactly that way. Love is funny.

In love as in show business. Eventually, you hope, the low-rated, unloved television show that was just "someone for now" to a faltering network becomes something to love, something to protect, something, eventually, that becomes a hit show that goes for over 200 episodes and makes everyone rich and inspires a lot of revisionist toasts, about how loved and cherished it was right from the beginning.

This is a classic Hollywood pattern: from irritating stepchild to number-one offspring, and all it usually takes is $100 million. After that, it's easy to forget, once something has transformed itself into a cherished and beloved object, how indifferent we were to it before the pixie dust hit.

Just as it's easy to forget, I suppose, that the person standing opposite you on your wedding day was someone who just a short time ago was coldly dismissed as "just for now". The trick in both cases is to lie. Never let them know how close it was.


Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood