Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The not-so-quiet life of a TV writer

Why is it that any construction project, even if it’s just doing touch-up painting on windowsills, requires jackhammers? And usually for weeks at a time even though the project is a three-day job. Plus, all jackhammers must be in use at 7:00 AM. Only farmers get up earlier than jackhammer operators.

We currently have a construction project going at our house and as I write this the walls are rattling.

When David Isaacs and I are writing at one of our houses we (half) jokingly contend that construction crews wait for us to begin writing a script before they go to work. Obama must’ve wire-tapped our homes and when Barack or Michelle hears “fade in” they alert construction crews waiting around the corner that the mission is a “go.”

TV writers must learn to deal with such distractions. There’s no time to drive up to your cabin, throw some logs in the fireplace, make yourself some Swiss Miss, gaze out over the breathtaking panorama, and wait for the muse to gently caress you. The stage needs pages! NOW!

And often times the conditions are not optimal. David and I had a great bungalow for many years at Paramount. It’s where we had our writing room for several series. The only slight problem was our bungalow was across the street of the studio mill where they built the sets. So all day long we would hear drills and power saws and hammers and they had a radio tuned to the oldies station, KRTH which, at the time, played “Pretty Woman” six times every hour. We tried to send the PA over to tell them to all be quiet, we were working, but that didn’t go well.

Our office at MASH was in the Old Writers Building on the 20th lot. It looks like a Swiss Chalet. Quite often it was used in movies or TV shows. Just a couple of weeks ago I saw it on FEUD. It was not uncommon to hear gun battles outside our window for six hours. Or a body falling down the adjacent staircase after a flurry of bullets.

One time they were taping a Mike Douglas Show outside our window. Mike Douglas was a popular daytime talk show host – think “Ellen” with dark hair. All day long they recorded him singing. So we were writing while Mike Douglas serenaded us with love songs. I preferred the gun battles.

This was similar to earlier in our career when we wrote at my apartment in West Hollywood. A neighbor blared the soundtrack of CHORUS LINE all friggin’ day. “ONE singular sensation!”

The point is, you have to persevere through it. TV writers learn to do that.  And we take pride in our professionalism and stamina.   But Jesus, don’t these maniacs ever take a break?! And... oh no!  One of them just turned on KRTH.  

14 comments :

Mike Barer said...

That reminds me of the time I was working an all night shift at a food processing plant. One morning, I was awakened to a jackhammer in the early morning.

therealshell said...

I used to watch Mike Douglas every day,mostly because he came on after the Commander Tom Show, from WKBW in Buffalo. They both seemed like nice chaps.

VP81955 said...

Times have changed, Ken; now KRTH plays "Hotel California" six times an hour.

John Hammes said...

Proof that, if they had a jackhammer... they'd hammer in the morning...

Steve Lanzi (formerly known as qdpsteve) said...

What VP81955 said, LOL.

Nowadays KRTH considers songs from 1989 "oldies" which really makes me feel old (just turned 50 last year). I still remember when KRTH's oldies were songs like "Sh-Boom," Buddy Holly, doo-wop, "Sugar Shack" and Gene Pitney. Yeesh.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Working remotely from home is just as difficult. All of a sudden, you are in the middle of an important phone conversation and you hear your teenagers shouting at each other and their mother, about whatever teenage drama is afflicting them that day.

I'd take the jackhammer.

Andy Rose said...

I record audiobook narration from home. I work in a mostly soundproof room, but I live in a small house so even a garbage truck going by still causes a problem. If my neighbor's kids decide to play basketball in their driveway, I'm pretty much done for the day. No one wants to listen to an audiobook with "ping-ping-ping-thud" in the background.

I worked at an oldies station in 1992, and back then they would play songs as late as the early 70s. (Jim Croce, Eagles, etc.) Those songs were only 20 years old then. Obviously, songs that are 20 years old this year were released in 1997, so just be glad KRTH isn't playing "Semi-Charmed Life." Yet.

normadesmond said...

I'm imagining Mike Douglas as one of the faces of Cover Girl Cosmetics and enjoying the vision.

VP81955 said...

To Steve Lanzi and Andy Rose:

A few weeks ago, someone noted that 1260 AM in metro LA, which until recently simulcast classical/public radio KUSC-FM, had transitioned into a standards station with the "Unforgettable" tag (a la "Music of Your Life"). Well, 1260 now is an oldies station...and by "oldies," I mean songs from the mid-'50s ("Earth Angel," "Pledging My Love") to the end of the '60s ("Hey Jude," "Since You've Been Gone"). It's a nice mix of big hits and the relatively obscure; recently, I heard Brenda Lee's overlooked "I Want To Be Wanted," followed by the Beatles' brilliant "Things We Said Today" (not a single in the U.S., though it was the B-side of "A Hard Day's Night" in the UK). The only drawback is that there are no live announcers, traffic and weather reports, etc. -- for all intents and purposes, it's a jukebox, bereft of the audio excitement that made Top 40 radio so compelling back in the day. Moreover, the signal is weak south of the San Fernando Valley. Still, it's a good alternative to have on the dial. If only we could get Ken to program the station!

Steve Lanzi (formerly known as qdpsteve) said...

VP81955, thanks for the tip! My mom will love that station. ;-)

D. McEwan said...

I'd be sympathetic but as it happens today was the day they had to check ALL the fire alarms in the building I live in, and they were apparently very curious to see how well they worked in the early morning.

"OK, the last ten can wake up Mr. McEwan, now let's see if this one can!"

Barry Traylor said...

For 30 years I worked nights and did not get home until 5:00 AM so I feel your pain. There was a time that I used to get calls at 7:00 AM from some guy wanting me to make a golf reservation for him. Around the fifth time (not seeming to get it through his thick skull he dialed the wrong number) I said "yes Sir, and how many will there be in your party?" The calls stopped.

Gary Theroux said...

Mike Douglas being the equivalent of "Ellen with dark hair"? Wow, Now there's a comparision which would have never come to me a million years. Douglas, who's best remembered today as a long-running (1961-80) daytime TV talk-variety host, started out as a mellow-voiced big band singer with Kay Kyser & his Orchestra, scoring hits like "The Old Lamplighter" (1947) and the #1 million-seller "Ole Buttermilk Sky" (1946). In 1966, amid competing tracks by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Aretha Franklin, Mike Douglas soared to #5 on the hit parade with a sentimental smash called "The Men In My Little Girl's Life." Even if Ellen recut that latter tune as "The Women In My Little Girl's Life," I fail to see much similarity -- other than both Mike and Ellen had VERY loyal fan follwings!

Unknown said...

I had an idyllic spot in which to write, that overlooked a nature trail and a lake. It was quiet and beautiful. That was the problem. It was a distraction because it was too beautiful to keep my attention focused on the task at hand.