Thursday, October 26, 2006

Back-up scripts

Networks are beginning to give freshman series additional script orders. On the surface this seems like a vote of confidence. Actually, it’s just Lucy teeing up the football one more time for Charlie Brown. If networks really had confidence they’d order more episodes. In most cases you’ll still be cancelled but now you’ll also have to do extra useless work. Last year those coveted additional script orders went out to THRESHOLD, E-RING, and OUT OF PRACTICE. In the case of the latter, they eventually got a production order, made the episodes only to be cancelled and never aired. Tee it up, Lucy!

In an earlier post I described the back-up script that David and I wrote in a half an hour (with an included portion). Here's that entry.

But that's not my favorite story. Many years ago, we were show runners for a series at 20th Century Fox that got axed after we wrote a commissioned back-up episode. (I should note here that none of the executives involved are anywhere connected with 20th anymore.) The President of the studio at the time called us, told us of the cancellation – there was the usual balloon juice about how stupid the network was, yada yada – and said he wanted us to stay in the 20th family and offered us a development deal. We thanked him, were very grateful but said this was all very sudden and we’d need a little time to decide what we wanted to do next. He understood and repeated his pledge that there would always be a place for us at the studio.

An hour later a business affairs person called and said they weren’t paying us for the script. We told her it was part of the network back-up order, it was already written, and even printed out with a 20th cover. She said, tough, they’re not paying. So we called the union and fifteen minutes later she was informed that indeed they WERE paying.

Ten minutes later she called to say we had to be out of our office within the hour. Great way to treat such valued members of the 20th “family”. So we packed up and left, and you’ll be amazed to know declined their development deal.

Flash forward two months. Michael Douglas hires us to rewrite JEWEL OF THE NILE, the sequel to ROMANCING THE STONE. We tell him we have two conditions – a secretary (we write scripts by dictating them to an assistant) and an office…but not just ANY office. We wanted our old office (which was still vacant) and told him why. Michael loved the story, is always up for a good tussle with the studio, and sure enough later that afternoon the same business affairs bitch who threw us out of that office had to call and arrange for our moving back in.

This tiny victory was additionally sweet because it was on the same lot that Darryl F. Zanuck reportedly once said about a writer, “throw him off the lot until we need him again.”


Anonymous said...

First off, I had no idea you guys doctored "Jewel". How much of your stuff made the final cut?
Secondly, that story confirms what I always say, I may not believe in God, but Goddamn I believe in Karma.

the third coast said...

Ken, I adore you and your chutzpah! And I have to say my opinion of Michael Douglas went up a notch (not to imply I didn't already respect the guy). What a great story.

Anonymous said...


Speaking of movies, what do you think of the writings of Joe Ezterhas?

Anonymous said...

There are a staggering amount of assholes at studios and your story is yet another illustration of that. I've always wondered how these pathetic souls sleep at night.
As for Michael Douglas...a mensch! Interviewed him a few times years ago and found him to be a very decent guy who has a soul!
Keep the stories coming them!

Anonymous said...

hah! good story, great ending. I like this blog, I stumbled across it a few weeks ago, and I've been stopping by daily thereafter.

Could you write more on the creative process? I love hearing about how people come up with their respective products. I know, you don't like stabbing the frog...

Lastly, do you think there is anything you've done that crossed over into the (snooty) realm of Art - that was not only funny but also had a poignancy to it, or some sort of insight?


Anonymous said...

Anonymous here -

I just asked you to write more on the creative process, and sheesh - I somehow missed "Knowing when to stop."

Ah well, more! It was a good one, too.

Richard Cooper said...

Ken, another great story! If Zanuck said that about the writer, he got the attitude from Harry Cohn (see the "King Cohn" biography) who asked his secretary to make sure the writer did not step foot on studio grounds again--at least until Harry needed him.

Julie O'Hora said...

Love how a little moxie + a lotta baytzim = instant karma.

Anonymous said...


I LOVE that story. It is so typically Hollywood. They spit at you one day then shine your shoes with that spit the next.


Anonymous said...

They used to refer to studio writers as a "Stable of writers". I've always assumed that was not a metaphor, but that they really kept them in a stable out back. But then I realized they valued the horses too highly.

Anonymous said...

Great story. You give good blog. Thanks.

MartiniCocoa said...

Memory and grudges are a wonderful thing.