Sunday, August 05, 2018

A typical Hollywood story

I was a Story Editor on MASH and was invited to speak to a sitcom writing class at UCLA along with my friend Larry, who at the time was a Story Editor on RHODA. We talked about how to break into the business – the importance of writing great spec scripts. Do’s and don’ts. 

We stressed the need for hard work, really studying the shows, setting high standards for yourself. That was the path to a script assignment for one of our shows.

A friend of mine was in the class and overheard the following:

Two coeds talking. Near the end of our discussion one turned to the other.

COED #1: So what do you think, Ken or Larry?

COED #2 (after some consideration): I’ll fuck Larry. I’d rather get a RHODA.

Postscript: Neither of us got lucky that night. And she never got a RHODA. But it was nice to know the students really were taking our career advice seriously.


Peter said...

The irony is that had she got a RHODA, she would now be accusing Larry of being a predator.

I'm not trying to trivialize the genuine cases of abuse, like Weinstein and Spacey, but among the appalling scandals there have also been a few examples of retroactive buyer's remorse by a few women who slept with men to get what they want and then 30 years later say they were coerced.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Tom Bergeron wrote that when he was hosting a Miss Who-The-Hell-Ever pageant that before the live event, he's sitting in his dressing room going over notes and such, and feels a pair of hands massaging his neck and shoulders; it was one of the contenders. She asks how he likes it, he tells her it feels nice, then she offers to turn it into a "full-body massage" if he picks her as the winner.

E. Yarber said...

I'm just wondering how many people will take that story as proof that the writing business is a lurid cesspool of depravity even though the opposite is the point.

Anthony Hoffman said...


Eric J said...

Something I learned from teaching college for 10 years: You can't control how students interpret what you think you're teaching, and you will never know how they use it.

Mateja Đedović said...

Had Larry gotten lucky that night and she a "Rhoda", he'd now be gone the way of Harvey Weinstein, and she'd be hailed as a victim of the Hollywood Patriarchy.

Brian said...

Here's your least favorite cartoon referencing your favorite actress and director in their cutaway. But sadly it's part of the deleted scenes.

@3:23 -

Mike Bloodworth said...

I had always wondered if writers had groupies like athletes, actors, and musicians do. This post doesn't really answer the question. However, it does show that that segment of the industry isn't completely devoid of "action."

E. Yarber said...

Does anybody seriously think Larry or Ken were going to compromise themselves with a couple of film students? The joke here is that sleeping around is not how a writers room gets staffed.

One story department I worked for got a TV pilot written by two young women who bound 8x10s of themselves in lingerie into the pages. The editor assigned it to me, gleefully anticipating the relentless bloodletting I'd inflict upon it, and he wasn't disappointed.

There are non-sexual versions of the same story. I used to give a little introductory talk to new clients all about how they were trying to enter the big leagues now and had to be prepared for rough shocks like a player beginning NFL training.

"Oh, I can handle ANYTHING," they'd inevitably say, "I'll do WHATEVER it takes."

"Okay, then," I'd begin, "now I'd cut this bit on page 4..." And the rest of the session would be taken up with the wannabe acting as though I'd run over their dog with a car. Dudebros who had acted totally chilled-out up to that point would suddenly start whining in shrill childlike voices, threatened that I was pulling their careers away from them. Women would tell me how mysogonistic I was for killing their dreams. Nothing would satisfy them except me telling them that their work was simply wonderful as it was. They hadn't come to me to improve their skill but expected me to praise them and hand their script over to some studio executive. That wasn't my job and nobody was going to buy their work in the condition it was in.

I've also seen serious aspirants, of course, but working with them makes for less entertaining anecdotes.

Kirk said...

Rhoda over MASH? Must have been before Joe dumped her and the ratings took a nosedive.

Phil said...

Mr. E. Yarber,

I really wish you wrote a book of all the times when you had to deal with newcomers and how you dissected their stories/dreams and the way they reacted. All your stories sound like military training stuff. Tough. Painful. Relentlessly hammering the truth home. You could call it "When I told the truth" :)

No, but seriously, I wish you wrote a book. I would read it.

E. Yarber said...

I'm up for a cookbook, if anyone's interested. I wrote the potential client an email describing what I had for lunch and added, "If that makes you hungry, maybe I should do the text for your recipes." Now I'm on the short list of ghostwriters under consideration.

You couldn't call me harsh or demanding with aspiring writers, though. It's true I have to be a coach, not a cheerleader, but the work honestly has to be approached rigorously. It's a discipline, not a con job or get-rich-quick scheme. That doesn't mean I have to gratuitously bust anyone's chops. The joke is that no matter how gently I try to give comments to a writer, there are those who'll simply explode the moment I question them. Anyone who reacts like that is not going to survive a process in which they have to please talent and executives far less of a softie than I.

Think of it like those people who want to say they climbed Mount Everest, so they pay tens of thousands of dollars to Sherpas who basically have to carry these clients to the summit. There are wannabes who think simply getting through film school will lead directly to a high-ticket career, or that I'll be able to get them to some sort of creative plateau through my own effort while all they put into the sessions are money for my time. You can't fake talent or use shortcuts to get the ability. It has to come from self-development. If you can't understand that, nothing anyone might say or teach you will have any meaning. And that's what today's post is about.

gottacook said...

Kirk: Not possible. Rhoda was in its fourth and final season during our host's first year on the MASH writing staff.

(I don't know whether or not to be embarrassed that I didn't have to look up this information.)

Professor Herb said...

After decades of working in higher education, I am still amazed to read or hear stories like this. It defies credulity that the women might have been even half way serious, or so I tend to think. But I've always been a bit naive. I just think the revealing clothing in my classes is just because of the hot climate.

Years ago, a woman in my class was not scoring above 50% on anything all term. As she was telling me the impossible to believe statement that my class was the only one she had any difficulty passing, the graduate student assistant was not far away. After the whiner left, the assistant let out an audible sigh. "Poor girl," the woman in my employ explained. "She doesn't realize that you're immune." I really had to ask her what she meant, With a few derisive asides on individual colleagues, she explained the sometimes-validated faith in a grade value of sex appeal, the student belief in a better grade for a gratuitous flirt, and the thinking that exposed cleavage is more important than reading the assignments. My wife later told me it was true, and repeatedly tells me, yet I still don't want to believe it.

Matthew said...

Off topic - Great Big Radio is shutting down! Sad day.

Janet Ybarra said...

RHODA over MASH? I'd take the MASH residuals any day. How often do you see RHODA reruns compared to MASH?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I certainly didn't know anyone in college or high school who thought flirting or dressing provocatively was the way to better grades. (Or if I did, I didn't know they did.)

This story of Ken's does date itself with the word "coed", though. :)


Aaron said...

Wendy - I am good friends with a young woman who is desperately looking for a chance to use her "assets" to try to break into a creative industry. Unfortunately she spends more time in search of such an opportunity than actually working at her craft (she's a would-be writer / filmmaker) and doesn't seem to understand that nobody with a half-decent reputation or portfolio is going to risk it by taking her up on her offer.

Still, the low cut shirts and the thigh high boots come out whenever she thinks they might get her somewhere. Meanwhile the rest of us idiots spend every waking hour in front of a computer trying to get THAT MUCH BETTER than the txt guy (or gal).

Aaron Sheckley said...

I bet every industry has this issue, because there will always be a portion of people in any industry that are in the Venn diagram intersection of "people who think their physical assets are irresistible and a way to get ahead" and "people who are in power who are willing to throw their life/marriage/career away in exchange for a blowjob ". I can theorize that the entertainment industry may have a higher portion of people in that intersection, but it's only a theory. After all, a business that's built around appearance and "hotness factor" may certainly convey the idea to a lot of people that being "hot" can get you ahead, because being hot in the entertainment industry CAN get you ahead. It's not that great of a leap for people in that intersection to theorize "hey, I'm hot, and if I can just sleep with the right person, that's my stepping stone". Just like there will always be people in positions of power who will consider the offer of sexual favors as a perk of the job.

I was a cop for 25 years. Every cop has a story or two about the unbuttoned blouse or the hiked up skirt when you're standing beside the road issuing a traffic ticket. And, like every other industry, there are cops in that Venn diagram intersection that are stupid enough to follow through on an offer. And I'm not talking about Weinstein style predation here, where someone is pressured into sex; I'm strictly talking about the people who willingly make the offer, and the people who willingly accept the offer. How common it is in an industry may vary by the kind of industry, but without a doubt, it does happen.