Saturday, February 18, 2012
Never have a cake when your show is in trouble
First was during the premiere year of CHEERS. The secretaries and P.A.’s were so sweet on that show. They prepared cakes and champagne for everyone’s birthdays. It just so happened that on mine we had a disastrous runthrough… not just a train wreck but one of those Amtrak 200-car pile-ups. We all trudged up to the office (we being me, my partner David Isaacs and Glen & Les Charles) knowing we were in shit shape with this episode. At best we were going to be there until the wee hours.
We start untangling the story, the door bursts open, and there are ten people with my cake. You know how awkward it is when someone sings “Happy Birthday” to you? Imagine that but add your co-workers want to kill you. I know it’s not my fault… but it is. To Glen & Les’ credit, they just fumed but allowed the party to go forward. There are showrunners on other shows (I won’t mention their names) but in a similar situation they would have yelled to the secretaries: “GET THE FUCK OUT!! NOW!!” and then fired me.
I will say this: that cake made a nice snack when we started rewriting the second act… at 2 A.M.
A few years later, David and I created a show for Mary Tyler Moore. On this particular week we had a script in such trouble and received so many extensive rewrites that we decided not to shoot it in front of a studio audience. It was unfair to make the actors learn 40 new pages of dialogue in one night and perform to an audience with only a day’s worth of rehearsal. Plus, we didn't want anyone storming the stage if the show still sucked.
So instead, we did a process called “block and shoot”. We filmed all day. The director would rehearse, assign camera moves, then film each scene individually. The process takes about ten to twelve hours.
Filming day was my birthday. Add to that, we had a monsoon. Rain was coming down so hard that it sprung a few leaks in the stage roof. One of them dripped right on Mary’s head when she sat at her desk in the office set. It was the Chinese Water Torture Test. Needless to say, Ms. Moore was not pleased. Workmen were dispatched to the catwalks to plug the leak. Yes, it was risky and dangerous, but we didn't care. I never saw them after they set out to fix the leak. I wonder if they made it.
We finally wrapped. All anyone wanted to do was just go home and crash. But just before they left – here comes the cake and champagne and singing secretaries. I didn’t need anyone to kill me. I was ready to kill myself. So for the next ten minutes everyone wolfed down their cake and ran out of the stage. Oh, and Mary can’t even eat cake.
I got in the car. My engine flooded. I had to call AAA, and of course I was not the only one with problems on a stormy night. I think I got home about 3.
So now I look at it that any birthday where I only age one year (instead of two that CHEERS year and four that Mary year) is a good one. This year my birthday celebration went off without incident. My car wasn’t towed until the next night.