Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"You're fired. Get a good night's sleep."

Heading off to Chicago for my daughter’s graduation. Posts will continue. I’ll have plenty of time to write while all those other kids get their diplomas.The week’s classless award goes to the New York Mets. Here’s how they fired their manager, Willie Randolph this week: They let him take the red eye from New York to Anaheim and less than 24 hours later, after winning a game, they canned him in his hotel room in the middle of the night. Smoooooth. I think the only thing worse would be to let him fly to Anaheim and during the game just post it on the Jumbotron Board.

"Willie, you are hereby relieved of your duties as manager of the New York Mets effective immediately. And a reminder to Mets fans: Friday is Squeeze bottle night when the Mets return home to face the pesky Marlins."

This incident just makes me recall those excruciating times when I had to fire someone (fortunately those times were few) or someone had to fire me (an almost monthly ritual when I was a disc jockey). As a showrunner, letting someone go is usually the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. I say “usually” because there are some cases when – depending on the individual – it’s the only real perk of the job. But for the most part, especially in the case of firing actors, it’s just a matter of them not being right for that specific role, you’re forced to by higher-ups, or no one has died in three weeks on LOST and someone has to go.

We had a situation once where the night of our last filming before the two-week Christmas hiatus we were informed we had to fire two series regulars. At least that’s how I interpreted “When I walk off this stage tonight that’s the last time I ever want to see them.

So when during the Christmas holidays do you drop the axe? NFL teams are notorious for firing head coaches on Christmas Eve. That seemed a little cruel... even for television. I was once fired the week before Xmas (here’s that twisted tale) and that was no fun. We decided to wait until after Christmas. The trouble was, they were both now out of town. We had hoped to do it in person. But instead we had to do it over the phone.

One of the actors was so furious she didn’t speak to me for ten years. The other was so relieved I still get Christmas cards from him.

When CBS demanded we fire Kevin Kilner from ALMOST PERFECT he too was out of town and we had to do it via the phone. (College football coach John Robinson claims USC fired him by leaving a voice message.) What made that call especially agonizing is that we vehemently disagreed with the decision, we loved Kevin personally, and after firing him we also had to ask if he’d do us a favor and come back for one episode so we could write him out of the show. Kevin could not have been more gracious and understanding. More than I probably would have been. We’ve remained good friends and every time I see him I still apologize for ten minutes.

There was an actor we decided to replace after a table reading once, and before we could tell him, he had a big muffin basket delivered to us as thanks for hiring him. Oy. And no, we didn’t eat the muffins.

There have been times when we had to fire a day player because he just wasn’t right for that part but we hired him later to play something else and he invariably was great.

You would think that your cast would freak out if you fired somebody. But generally that’s not the case. If you can see that someone is clearly not working out the cast can see it too. And a bad actor can pull down everyone else’s performance. So in a sense your cast is relieved and made to feel more secure because they know you have their backs.

Getting fired can be traumatic no matter who you are or what the job. In the case of Willie Randolph I feel it was undeserved. He was just a scapegoat. And I hope when Mets’ General Manager Omar Minaya did give him the word Monday night he didn’t do it the way I was fired from K100 radio in Los Angeles. I hope he didn’t just say:

“Hey babe, we’re making some changes and you’re one of ‘em.”

31 comments:

xjill said...

Wow, that is harsh. Willie was probably too tired to come up with a clever comeback or f*ck you.

It's funny because I was just wondering about some of the other things you mentioned when I read Monday that they dropped the actress from the Kohan-Mutchnick pilot after a table read. I thought that must really suck for her.

J Gillespie said...

I'm a Met fan and thought the handling of this was especially weird

Didn't Joe Theismann supposedly divorce one of his wives via fax?

Vince said...

Another Met fan here who thought the handling of this was a disaster. I'm forced to treat this season as a soap opera to get me through summer. It beats watching America's Got Talent. And that was a nice win against the Angels tonight ...

Ray Randolph said...

Who in their right mind would want to fire a person named Randolph?

Jason said...

One of my first jobs in "the business" was - of course - production assistant. We pre-produced a show, nice budget, good actors. One part missing.

Now there was this guy - he was an aspiring actor. One of the "I spend half of my days in acting classes, the rest in the gym" muscular types. He could act, he was sweet, he was charming. Good guy, really.

Well, long story short - there was an error in communication. My producer THOUGHT about hiring him, I thought we would DEFINITELY hire him. So I called him to deliver the great news - major part, basically his foot in the door, one full season booked already. He was SO happy.

Next day I had to call again. The part went to someone else. Never heard from the guy again.

In the end he made a truckload of money as a soap actor, so things are good.

Bitter Animator said...

My boss/producer/whatever the hell he does is afraid to fire people. Seriously. Whoever heard of a producer afraid to hire people?

We've carried so many people who just haven't been able to do the job and he just sits blindly hoping they'll go away.

I don't know what the hell he's afraid of, whether he's afraid they'll sue or he just can't take their sad little faces and the 'I have a family to support' thing but, bloody hell, he's rubbish at it.

Anyone remember that Cheers episode where Norm became the firing guy and he ended up crying? Comedy gold. That one was fantastic - who wrote that one?

Bitter Animator said...

Apparently it was Heide Perlman. Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

What the old saying, there are two kinds of people in radio-those who have been fired and those who will be.

Another classless firing story. Chicago Blackhawks in 1976 fired head coach Billy Reay (who had coached the team for over 10 years, and to much success) by sliding a note under his apartment door, on Christmas Eve.

benson said...

Well, I just learned something new. If you forget to put your name in the box, it defaults to posting you as anonymous.

Now back to your regularly schedule blog comments...

Hank Hollyweird said...

In this morning's LA Times, Sports D7, in Around the Majors, the headline reads: Randolph criticizes mets over his firing.

Well, duh.

Willie figured the mets would be firing someone, but didn't think it be him. Randolph says in talking GM Minaya he would have whack a couple of his coaches but not get fired himself.


Classic case of, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." Actually, I guess it's more a question of comprehension and reading in between the lines...And what happened between the baselines is what got Willie canned. Ironic, isn't it?

Oh, well, you get hired to be fired. Maybe Willie will one day succeed Joe Torre after all.

Vermonter17032 said...

Look, I don't think the Mets organization handled this firing very well, but really what is the big fuss. In the real world people get fired in all sorts of crappy ways, and they don't have the financial means that Willie has... heck, he'll get paid the remainder of his contract, which is more money than I'll make in ten years. How about those people who work in factories and mills that are continually being threatened with closing? They often work paycheck to paycheck... suddenly they're out of work and have no health insurance either. Where's the outrage over that? Please forgive me if I'm not too sympathetic to poor Willie Randolph. I'd love to be fired with the contract Willie had.

John said...

The Mets' management, going all the way back to the mid-70s reign on M. Donald Grant, has always looked bad in down times in large part because they've never had the lack of shame of a George M. Steinbrenner, who in his prime would ax a manager over a Saturday loss on the NBC Game of the Week.

Even when George ran the Yankees into the ground by the early 1990s (were it not for Howie Spira and the suspension, the team never would have been rebuilt) he never vacillated over canning people, and wore his assholeism like a badge of honor. Meanwhile, the Mets upnder Payson, Doubleday and now Wilpon have always been concerned about being the un-Steinbrenner -- Great for PR when things are going good, but in bad times, they're unable to pull the trigger right away, drag things out and then when they finally take action, do it clumsily (remember the Tom Seaver trade?) and get crucified more than they would have in the first place if they had just done the deed before it turned into a newspaper and TV soap opera.

Courtney Suzanne said...

Whether you're poor or rich, it still sucks to be fired like that. Sure, he'll have money, but there are a billion more tactful ways of doin' the deed.

Still, I doubt the owners are losing sleep over their behavior.

Cooler By the Lake said...

Favorite Dilbert Cartoon
Boss: Knock, knock.
Employee: Who's there?
Boss: Not you anymore!

On a somewhat related note, my library had this book featuring screenwriters recalling their first sale. Not a how to book, but in many cases hilarious.

http://www.amazon.com/First-Time-Got-Paid-Hollywood/dp/1586480138

Richard Jennings said...

There are many good jobs posted on employment sites if you get fired -

http://www.realmatch.com
http://www.monster.com
http://www.simplyhired.com

Dont focus on the firing, look ahead at the new opportunities!

willieb said...

First radio firing: I was recording a new forecast on our "Weather Phone" service when my boss walked in the room. He asked me what I was doing. "Updating the weather phone," I told him, surprised that he'd ask such an obvious question. He pulled an envelope out of his jacket containing my severance pay. "Why don't you let a paid employee do that?" he said, tossing the envelope at me abefore walking out of the room.

Doug Walsh said...

Yet Richie Sexson and Jose Vidro still have their jobs... go figure.

Seattle Doug said...

But Bill Bavasi and John McLaren don't, anymore.

Brian said...

Years ago, Warren Moon found out he was fired by the Houston Oilers by reading the newspaper. My wife was enormously upset and put a fake hoodoo on the team.

They went on to a 1-15 season. Don't blame my wife, she even called off the hoodoo slightly after the middle of the season but it must have been too late.

D. McEwan said...

Hey, I got fired by my parents once.

I was "given" (i.e. ordered to take) a job while in high school of being the janitor at my aunt & uncle's movie theater. This was a rebellious period in my life, and sweeping up people's crap in this theater was not my idea of a "Show Biz" job. So my first day there, alone in the theater, I rerecorded the theater's answering machine message. I didn't change the words. I just replaced Aunt Betty's voice with my own. My intention was to get fired.

So they phoned my parents, and had them inform me I was canned. Actually, it was sweet, as it was my parents who had forced it on me, and they found, neither for the first nor the last time, that controlling me was a lot harder than they had bargained on. (A similar power stuggle was going on betweenm us at the time about my church attendance.)

On a less-happy note, I was dumped by a now-former friend this very week by email.

Nobody has the balls for face-to-face anymore. The one and only time I fired someone (An "actress" who really, really sucked. She was cast by someone else, and when I was brought in to direct, she had to go.), I at least did it face-to-face. And let me tell you, she was LIVID!

When I was working in a bank (A dreadful period in my life), I saved the manager's ass one time, by alerting her to some employee malfeasance which, if she'd not discovered it in time, would have meant a substantial loss to the bank and gotten her fired.

Two months later, in staff cut backs, she fired me, without so much as a "I'm sorry about this." from this bitch whose job I had saved.

Six months later, she was fired.

And her boss, who had ordered the cutbacks, had a mental breakdown, and ended up comitted for a few months. Heh. Heh. Heh. I encountered him at a gas station two years later. "Hi Bob, I heard how you flipped out and had to be put away. I laughed Bob, how I laughed."

The thing about radio is, you sometimes end up working again with the people who fired you. Chuck Southcott had to fire me once. (And he was right to do so. I had screwed up something fierce. Looking at it objectively, in his shoes, I'd have fired me too.) Less than a year later I was hired by someone else to work at the same station again, right along with Chuck. There were no hard feelings on that one. Just blood under the bridge.

mockingbird said...

My first job in LA, as a PA, I came in to work one Monday morning and no one would look me in the eye. I was told to go see the producer, which was usual enough. He told me I was fired, that I wasn't "helpful" enough, and he'd meant to tell me Friday but couldn't find me. Sometimes being told on the phone would be preferable.

Michael Bell said...

Ken, you're right. Radio is famous for horrible firings.

I was once fired by a DJ I had hired a month before. The GM had called him in, told him they were promoting him to PD and his first job was to can me.

At a station I worked at in Seattle, the entire staff was invited to a meeting at a downtown hotel. Our Owner/GM had sold his majority share of the station to a group of investors that included Celtics star Kevin McHale. We all trooped into the hotel suite on the 40th floor where our now former Owner/GM - The legendary Pat O'Day - told us, 'You're all fired, there's the bar." Needless to say we all got extremely hammered.

At KROQ in 1989, I was sitting in the bar at Dalt's in Burbank with our General Sales Manager and the rest of the sales staff one Friday afternoon. The GSM asked me to run upstairs and get her cigarettes for her. As I passed the PD's office, he called me in. "You're fired. And if the GM sees you in the building next week, he said he'd kick your ass."

I went back downstairs to the bar, tossed the GSM her cigarettes and told her, "Well, that's the last I run any errands for you!"

My favorite radio firing story was attributed to a famous PD in San Fransisco who is reported to have had a collection of antique toy soldiers in his office.

He called one of his jocks in one afternoon and had him take a seat. The PD then lined up 5 or 6 of the toy soldiers on the edge of his desk.

"You see these soldiers," he asked the jock. "This is our staff."

He then pointed to one particular toy soldier. 'This one right here is you." The jock nodded that he understood.

The PD then forcefully flicked the soldier off the desk into the trash.

"You're outta here, Pal."

Cold.

VP81955 said...

Former Rams and Redskins coach George Allen, who had his share of firing incidents, once collaborated with an author on a book about how to cope with the loss of a job, and it had some good advice. The book was called "Merry Christmas -- You're Fired," referring to when the Rams fired Allen on the day after Christmas, 1968 (back then, the NFL regular season ended before the holidays). The furor in L.A. was such that the Rams brought him back a few days later (though he was fired again, and this one stuck, after the '70 season).

Tezcatzontecatl said...

If it makes you feel any better, Doug, I don't think Sexson or Vidro will be with the M's much longer. Now, if we could only extend the reach of the axe to Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln, this might actually be the beginning of something good.

Schottzie03 said...

The Reds fired Tony Perez over the phone. Tony Perez. Over the phone.

As far as radio, for the last 5 years or so, Clear Channel has been celebrating the Holidays by having Santa come in to hand out pink slips.

During my first job review in radio, the PD told me, "Some people make their best contribution when they come in the door, some people make their greatest contribution when they go out the door...it's time for you to make your contribution."

Luckily, he was just kidding, but I think he really wanted the chance to say it to someone for real.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I worked at a place that fired a guy via ship-to-shore radio while he was on vacation.

I asked for a raise at a place I worked and was told, "We can't, we're laying you off."

Thank God for civil service jobs.

As for John MacLaren of the Mariners, good riddance. If I had a dollar for every bad decision he made this season I could fill the tank of a Winnebago and have enough left over to buy dinner. Sorry, Mac, nothing personal.

Stella Louise said...

How ironic that you posted this exactly one day before I got fired. Mine is a gruesome story as well--via a phone conversation that was THIRTEEN hours worth of waiting.

It would have been so much easier and quicker to have been fired via Jumbotron...

A. Scott said...

Ken:

Despite how difficult it must have been for you, Kevin Kilner's last episode remains my all-time favorite episode of ALMOST PERFECT, and one of my all-time sitcom eps in general. The last line in particular made me shriek with laughter.

PamelaJaye said...

I just got a feed reader, and I've been getting into reading blogs the easier way. Somehow none of your newer post headers looked interesting, but this one did, and I was reading along and then I hit

Kevin Kilner

now notwithstanding the fact that TV Guide once referred to Kevin (who I've never actually watched in anything since) as "a Scott Bakula type" (yay! It's nice TV Guide *remembered* Scott) - well notwithstanding isn't the right word.

I thought, like you, that firing Kevin was a travesty. The show was a damn Romantic Comedy for pete's sake, and Les Moonves (who I blame for everything I can - and this one I can - should be shot)

I still have some episodes on random VHS tapes, inspersed with eps of Mad About You. And somewhere, I have the episode where - what was Nancy's name? was directing and Mike was an extra. It was hysterical.
You know, if they put the series out on DVD (the entire series in one set) I'd actually buy it.

I also loved when Gary (?) blew up the set - on his one chance - by referring to NOW. and it's amazing to realize that that was actually Lisa Edelstein before her stints as a call girl and a woman with a penis (Lisa is what got me to discover that House was going to be on - the cast picture and description in TV Guide *surely* didn't do it - but I was watching yet another rerun of something with Lisa in a guest role and I went and tvtomed her and came up with House.

Darn it I loved Almost Perfect.... (I also loved Duet - when it was on Lifetime. Did you ever see that?)
Romantic Comedy sitcoms must be real bears to do. There just aren't that many of them.And one less, thanks to Les.

PamelaJaye said...

er.. Lisa... was Gary's wife.

and David Clennon - that man has *range*!

Matt's been all over since then. He must have range too, cause most of the time I find his characters far more annoying than... Rob?

Anonymous said...

>>We had a situation once where the night of our last filming before the two-week Christmas hiatus we were informed we had to fire two series regulars. At least that’s how I interpreted “When I walk off this stage tonight that’s the last time I ever want to see them.”<<

Heh - that's a Mary Tyler Moore story, I bet. Ken and his partner worked on her 1980s comeback sitcom, "Mary", and two regulars (Carlene Watkins and whoever played her husband) disappeared halfway through its short run. Never knew that Mary ordered the axing. But Ken has implied many times that Mary was less than pleasant to work with.