Sunday, June 11, 2017

One of my meetings from hell

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.

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.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Sounds like it's the president's lack of a sense of humor that really killed them.


VincentS said...

Great story, Ken. And, yes, please keep those meeting stories coming.

Eric J said...

Like a good Dilbert strip, we can all relate as we've all been there, at least in other industries.

Ted said...

If you were the actual Marx Brothers, you might have had a better shot. They famously got naked and roasted potatoes in legendary MGM production chief Irving Thalberg's office fireplace, yet it never affected their close working relationship.

Andy Rose said...

Here's a photo of what that gate looks like now, including a set piece from The Middle visible from the road. You can also see part of the building row that appeared in the Friends intro. (You can't see the fountain from the road, but it's still there behind the fence.)

Warner Bros. Ranch Gate

Andrew said...

What you and your fellow writer should have done, once you were told your mistake:
1) Start blaming each other.
2) Escalate into name-calling and obscenities.
3) Start throwing furniture at each other.
4) Push the desk over.
5) Break everything you can.
6) Chase each other out of the building.
7) Go out for lunch.

Anonymous said...

I hesitate to write this because I love your blog and, as a long-time reader, I know how sensitive you are about grammar and spelling corrections. So don't publish this BUT somebody should tell you--

It's "Tonys", not "Tony's". (How would you spell the plural of "Emmy"?) Same for "cliché's." It's "clichés". They are plurals, not possessives or contractions, so there's no need for an apostrophe. Just stick an "s" on the end.

Take this as constructive criticism from a fan.

But don't ask me if periods and question marks go inside or outside the quotation marks. I was sick that day

Jahn Ghalt said...

Ted beat me to the naked Marx story. At least Thalberg deserved "special treatment" like that - he'd apparently kept the Boys waiting - more than once.

I think you handled the mistake very well, Ken. The "prez" was not fast on his feet - maybe having a bad day. But then some folks spend their entire lives on a "bad day."

Jahn Ghalt said...

Hey, Anonymous:

"Tonys" (Tony's) looks to me like a contraction - for "Tony Awards" [ Tony( Award)s ].

The apostrophe replaces "Award".