Thursday, April 19, 2012

From the "meetings from hell" file...

Hollywood is all about meetings. You get them. You have them. You take them. You reschedule them. Generally, you’re pitching someone or they’re pitching you. The last thing said in most meetings is, “Great. We’ll get back to you.”

Some of these meetings are awkward. And the longer you’ve been around, the more of them you amass. I’ve had more than my share of these train wrecks and recounting them seems to be a popular feature on this blog. (Readers especially seem to love this one.)

So here’s another.

This happened sometime in the early ‘00s. My partner, David Isaacs and I had a development deal at Paramount. We were mentoring two young writers who had a great idea for a pilot. So we set up meetings with networks.

Based on the idea, we concluded that the perfect place for it was The WB. So we lined up that meeting first.

David and I had never had a meeting at The WB. We didn’t know any of the executives personally and had never been to their offices.

The four of us dutifully showed up at the appointed time in their modest lobby. The WB headquarters was an elongated bungalow on the Warners annex lot, which is closer to Burbank Airport than the actual Warner Brothers studios. It looked like a glorified real estate office.  Clearly, space was at a premium. 

An assistant popped his head in and invited us to “come on back.” We followed him through a maze of narrow hallways, passing the Xerox machine, coffee maker, etc. At one point he wanted us to turn left and go down another hall but we mistook his gesture and entered a large office instead.

There was some dude at a desk on the phone. Again, we had never met the VP of Comedy Development we were pitching. But we figured this must be him.

So we all flopped down on his couch and made ourselves at home. Slouching, crossing our legs, just stretching out.

The fellow looked a little shocked to see us. But he continued his call and we patiently waited – setting our water bottles on his coffee table, getting out the notes for our pitch, etc.

Finally, he finished his call, stood up, and said, “Who the fuck are you guys?”

I figured, “Swell. He forgot our meeting.  Yet another reminder of how important we are in this business.” I introduced us.

Still confused, he said, “So what the hell are you doing in my office?”

Clearly, he was a little annoyed, but hey, it wasn’t my fault he forgot our damn meeting.  Not only did we remember.  We had to drive to the valley and find this place.  TV networks are not usually down the street from strip malls.

But in awkward cases like this I find the best thing to do is lighten the mood. So I said, “Uh… pitching a pilot and maybe if it goes well, using your shower.”

Now he was really pissed. And we couldn’t understand why. All we had done was show up on time, prepared, for a pitch meeting.

The panicked assistant dashed in, mortified. There’d been a terrible mistake. That wasn’t the VP of Comedy Development. That was Jordan Levin, the president of The WB.   Oops. No wonder he didn't find it funny that I wanted to use his shower. 

We didn’t help matters by then laughing. We found it funny. Jordan Levin did not. I can’t blame him. He’s a major figure in the television industry and the Marx Brothers suddenly barge into his office.  Thank goodness we didn't help ourselves to any of his liquor.  

Needless to say we didn’t sell that pilot. Or any pilot. (We did, however, sell that pilot to NBC. President Warren Littlefield was out of the office that day.)

Ultimately, of course, The WB merged with UPN and disappeared. Looking back, all the signs were there. What network president doesn’t have an outer office? I’m surprised they lasted as long as they did.


Raj said...

Hilarious. And the other one was even more so. These meetings seem to have a lot of material for comedy. No wonder Seinfeld made so many episodes trying to pitch NBC 'A Show about Nothing.' :)

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Well, that pretty much messes up the good guy image I've always had of Jordan Levin.

I first heard that name when he directed an episode of Everwood. Having the network president direct an episode was a big deal back in 2004.

I'm probably being naive, but I could never picture the guy who greenlit a family-oriented show like Everwood to be a foul mouth.

Craig said...

Where do we ask the Friday Questions? I really think I've got a good Frasier one! Thanks


Michael Hagerty said...
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Ben said...

The WB wasn't even carried on regular cable here in Canada. It and UPN were always premium channels bundled with the movie networks. We'd get some of the shows picked up on Canadian stations, but as a whole, it was not something easily available to us like the other American networks were (and it took a few years for Fox to come to Canadian cable too, IIRC).

D. McEwan said...

"Eduardo Jencarelli said...
I'm probably being naive, but I could never picture the guy who greenlit a family-oriented show like Everwood to be a foul mouth."

naive. Just because someone greenlights a family-oriented" TV show doesn't mean he's Miss Francis of Ding Dong School. The last (only ever) non-foul-mouthed studio head died on December 16, 1966. His name was Walt Disney, and the occasional "Shit" slipped out of even his mouth. Hypocracy is the rule, not the exception, in studio heads.

Very funny story. I particularly loved how long it took your guide to notice you'd all disappeared, and come back for you. Not even a glance back to make sure the folks he was shepherding through the building hadn't wandered off somewhere forbidden.

In 1965, I toured the White House, and I recall vividly the guide telling us, only partially kidding: "Please do not wander off or get seperated from the tour group or you may be shot."

(The guide also pointed out a screen around a large staircase, hiding it from view, and said that the screen was there so that if the President (LBJ), who was upstairs at that very moment, should happen to come downstairs, he wouldn't "disturb" us! Given what he was up to in Vietnam at the time, he had already greatly disturbed us, or at least me.)

Anonymous said...

You'd think they'd at least label the door "President" or something. Pretty funny story.

Quick question, is it true "the writers often gave Kelsey Grammer deliberately bad lines as a game to see if he could make them funny"? (imdb trivia page)

Doug Thompson said...

Interesting comment about Warren Littlefield Ken. I haven't heard or read many good things about his network executive abilities or creative assesment skills.
Of course, he got the job after the legendary Brandon Tartikoff had moved on to Paramount Studios.
Must be tough to follow in the footsteps of a giant.

Ron said...

What is Jordan Levin doing nowadays?

The Jnow said...

It's still the CW building though... and not much has changed. It's a maze that I always get lost in.

Mike Botula said...

Ken, this is a great story. Interesting that Levin didn't even ask you guys what you were doing in his office. (If that had been me, I would have. People stumble into the wrong places all the time). Then your host should have turned around as he led you through that rat's next. It reminds me of the time when, as a very young radio reporter, I waited for then Gov. Reagan to arrive at a Regents meeting and asked him if I could ask him a few questions as we walked into the building. He said "yes." We walked into the building toward where we thought the meeting room was. I asked some questions and we chatted for a few minutes. Finally, I thanked him. We both looked around and he asked if I knew where we were. "No, sir," I said. "Well, neither have I," he replied. As we both looked around trying to find the way out of the empty hallway, his press guy and two bodyguards ran up wanting to know if he was OK. "Yes," he told them. "The reporter and I just got to talking and we lost track of where we were." Years later when I covered him as President, I remembered that moment and realized that was a once in a lifetime happening. Most people I tell the story to don't believe me. God, I wish I had been following you guys that morning.

RCP said...
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