x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Not even frenemies will let you starve in showbiz

It's one thing to imply that your colleague's pilot is doomed to fail, it's quite another to do it accurately. And to have done it and wrapped it all up in a job offer is the kind of diabolically skilled nastiness that people become famous for in this business.

A writer friend of mine told me this story a few weeks ago.

He's walking back to his office from the studio cafe when he runs into an old friend of his, also a writer. He and this guy worked together on a show a few years ago, and they're friends.

Well, not friends as in "friendly" or "nice to each other", but friends as in, they each loathe the other for personal and professional reasons, but neither one of them wants to take the animosity to the next level.

Neither one of them wants to get serious about the relationship, and just call it what it is: hatred. So both of them have decided to stay friendly. But not friends.

My friend was deep in the midst of a two-week long pilot production. He had written a great script for a complicated medical drama, and a television network had ordered a first, or "pilot" episode of the series, and if it turned out well, they'd want to order 20 more. The difference between shooting a pilot and shooting a series is the difference between getting one large paycheque and getting 20 large paycheques.

So when these two best-friends-who-loathe-each-other met, it was during a particularly tense time for my pal.

"We pass each other on the way back from lunch," my friend told me over coffee, "and I know this guy knows that I'm shooting a pilot this week, I mean, we've got some great buzz - but we stop, say 'Hi', and before I can say anything, he tells me that he's shooting a pilot on the studio lot and asks me if I'd like to help out."

"But he knows you're shooting a pilot on the lot, too, right?"

"Right! He knows. But he's asking me because he wants me to tell him. Which I do. And then he says sort of baffled, 'Oh. Oh, great! Yeah, I heard about that, but I guess I didn't know that it actually got a green light.'"

"So what did you say?" I ask.

"I sort of stammer and say, 'yeah, it's going, it's going. It's actually getting pretty good buzz.' And then he gets all bright and cheerful and says, 'Hey! Maybe you'd like to be on the writing staff on my show when it gets a 20-episode order!"

"But you have a pilot," I say. "Yours could get a 20-episode order, too."

"Right. He's basically saying that he knows my pilot won't succeed, and that his will. He's just trying to undermine my confidence. He's playing a head game. I hate that guy. I hate him."

"So what did you say?"

"I said thanks. I said I'd do it. I said I've heard good things about his pilot."

"Well," I say after a few moments, "You gotta eat."

"I gotta eat," he agrees.

"And," I added, "I've heard good things about his pilot, too." Which I didn't have to add, but did, for some indistinct and cruel reason.

As it turns out, my friend's show didn't get ordered, and his enemy friend's show did, which made the encounter all the more insulting. I mean, it's one thing to subtly imply that your colleague's pilot is doomed to fail, it's quite another to do it accurately.

And to have done it and wrapped it all up in a job offer is the kind of diabolically skilled nastiness that people become famous for in this business.

My friend called me the other day for some commiseration. It was his first day on the job.

As fun as it is to spend your time writing scripts, hoping to get a pilot produced and then hoping to get 20 episodes ordered, it's a tough business. It's sort of like playing the lottery for a living.

And when school fees and ex-wives and the general cash squeeze that occurs while living in Los Angeles start to press, often it's smarter to take a break from the roulette wheel and take a job - even a job with a friendly enemy - than to spin the wheel one more time.

"This show stinks," he said. "It's so pedestrian. And my friend is such a pain - he's really taking this executive producer thing and going to town with it. He's imperious and dictatorial and now sends memos to the writing staff quoting Shakespeare. What a jerk."

"Well," I say, "maybe you should cut him some slack. Running a show is hard work."

"I know, Rob," my friend says indignantly. "I've run a show before."

"Really?" I ask.

"Yes, really." And then my friend mentions a show that he had on the air back in the 1990s.

"Oh, right, sorry," I say. "I forgot about that one."

But I hadn't, really. I just pretended I had because, well, the guy is my friend, but I don't really like him that much. You know how it is.

Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood. On Twitter: @rbcl