Friday, January 27, 2006

Why we fight

After yesterday’s post someone wondered why my partner and I still continue to write pilots despite the state of the industry. The facetious but partly true answer lies in a speech I wrote in my play, UPFRONTS AND PERSONAL. It’s about the network upfronts process as played out in a New York hotel suite one of the studios has claimed as its war room. I had a reading of the play last summer and was fortunate enough to put together a sensational cast that included Jason Alexander, Wendie Malick, Ed Asner, Kurtwood Smith, Jennifer Tilly, and Matt Letscher.

At one point Gary (Jason Alexander), a grizzled veteran, is asked the same question by a young writer (Matt Letscher) whose first upfronts has been a nightmare.

GARY
You do it my friend, because more people will see one episode of television you write, even if it finishes dead last in the ratings, than have ever seen all the productions of "Thousand Clowns" put together. And among those millions and millions of viewers there have to be at least one or two of the girls from high school who wouldn't sleep with you. That's why we do it. That's why we'll continue to do it.

***

Touching words I know. Truthfully, writers in television still have way more influence and creative say than screenwriters. And if you’re lucky enough to somehow catch the brass ring, create a show that works – it can be a spectacular (and lucrative) experience.

****

With UPN merging with the Frog this week -- a further example of how huge conglomerates, swallow up, own, and control everything in their path -- I thought I’d post another excerpt from my play,

Here is Walter, the network president’s justification for this new corporate model. Picture Kurtwood Smith as Walter, Jason Alexander as writer Gary and Wendie Malick as writer Beth.

BETH
(to Walter)
So you guys merge with Haleburton and Enron yet?

WALTER
You worried about it?

BETH
No. I just see the trend and worry that someday I'll be living in the "United States of Google".

WALTER
Yeah, yeah. Corporate America, the ultimate evil. Ruining this great country of ours. Here's the story I like to tell. Let's say there's this small town -- real Americana -- Hooterville or Pixley or one of them. They got a nice little Main Street with all these ma and pop businesses. And everyone is real friendly. The owners all know everyone by name. "Becky's getting so big", "I heard little Skip got a telescope", that sort of shit. And then Wal-Mart opens on the edge of town. And everyone goes "who needs Wal-Mart with their big city ways? We're just fine." Well, let me tell you, the first thing Wal-Mart better stock is two-by-fours because that's what the Main Street merchants are going to need to board up their shops. Because the minute Wal-Mart opens people are going to discover that hey, there's more jobs, a much better selection, and at cheaper prices. So what if they don't know my kid's name? I'm saving money!" And what do they do with that extra money? Well it's their choice but they can build better schools, and parks, and roads. So at the end of the day, you look back, and Wal-Mart didn't destroy Hooterville, it saved it.

GARY
That's beautiful. It's like if Michael Milken wrote a children's book.

9 comments:

Neil said...

I was just IM-ing with a fellow blogger who lives in a small town in Georgia, while I live in LA. He's telling me this story about how he went shopping with his wife at his Albertson's Supermarket.

"You have an Albertson's in Georgia?" I asked. "I thought that was a local California store."

He said it used to be called something else, but they were bought out when the new Office Depot opened up.

"Office Depot?" I said, "I live down the block from an Office Depot!"

These huge conglomerates are eating up more than the Frog network. If I'm going to IM with some guy in Georgia, I want to hear about quirky Andy Griffith-type Southern culture, not that he shops at Albertson's!

Whaledawg said...

Because the minute Wal-Mart opens people are going to discover that hey, there's more jobs, a much better selection, and at cheaper prices. So what if they don't know my kid's name? I'm saving money!"

I think you should have a quotation mark in front of 'So'.

By the way, was this play ever put on? Did that line get a laugh? I would assume that not a lot of people would catch a Michael Milken reference.

Alex Epstein said...

Heh. I got a kick out of when the baby-eating-Christians tried to boycott Walmart.

Boycott Walmart. Heh. Right.

You can actually DO that in a blue state (by which I mean, a city). In a red state? Only till you run out of diapers.

Heh heh.

Stephen Gallagher said...

My version of the 'two girls from high school' response is that much as I hate what I have to go through to get stuff looked at, messed with and made, if I wasn't doing it I'd be insanely jealous of anyone who was.

Ken Levine said...

I haven't had a production, just two readings with large audiences. The Milken joke got a big laugh both times. Of course, if it didn't get a laugh the first reading it wouldn't be there for the second.

VP19 said...

I believe during his illicit reign in the '80s, Michael Milken purchased the Encino estate where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard lived. One can only hope the ghosts of Clark and Carole somehow set him straight. (Think "Topper" meets "A Christmas Carol.")

MoviePen said...

Thanks -- I'm fascinated by the motives of why we do what we do for as long as we do it.

Lloyd Thaxton said...

I just want to go on record that I saw the read of Ken's play. I was awed by the process. Great Actors, yes, but, what a funny play.

You know it is funny when you see such veteran comedy actors laughing as they read the words Ken wrote.

If you want to be a writer, keep tuned to this blog. You will learn from a master of the game.

Lloyd Thaxton

Ed Drone said...

"the first thing Wal-Mart better stock is two-by-fours because that's what the Main Street merchants are going to need to board up their shops."

Sorry, but don't they tend to use plywood for boarding-up of buildings? Remember all those hurricanes?

Why am I QC-ing this blog? I do wonder about myself sometimes. Then again, I know a friend who does this for the "industry" in Hollywood. Fact-checks, that is. It actually sounds like a great job, doing what he does.


Ed