Saturday, August 08, 2020

Weekend Post

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.  THE MIDDLE was filmed there (for you trivia buffs). 

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.


-3- said...

I don't know about for you, but for me the worst thing about those Hollywood meetings was that they always seemed to be talking about what they were doing six months or more from 'now'. Granted, after a few such meetings i bailed, walked out of Tristar, and decided to be somewhere else. (this was back in the 90s when Hollywood came knocking on the door of video game makers - my turf at the time) The meetings were mind-numbing anyway, especially for a hermit like myself, but the abstract nature of the talks seemed to reinforce the feeling of working in a fantasy land (not necessarily the good kind)

Eventually, they DO get around to talking about the present and near future, right?
They must.


As much as i respect and enjoy your work, i may respect your ability to endure those meetings and actually make them into something productive even more.

Troy McClure said...

That's hilarious.

Levin's Wikipedia says "Levin became The WB's CEO at the age of 35, making him the youngest CEO in broadcast television history."

That's very young for someone to have lost his sense of humor.

When he got angry, you could have said "Hey, you're Levin, I'm Levine, we're practically family."

By the way, have you ever run into Mike Medavoy again since that time he mistook you for someone else?

Michael said...

The Warner Bros. animators in the 1930s were at a building they called Termite Terrace. Warners still spends a ton on office space, I see.

By the way, the president was in the grand Warners tradition. After a couple of decades of producing brilliant cartoons, Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, and Bob McKimson received an invitation to dine with the Warner Brothers themselves. When they arrived, Harry Warner said all he knew about their cartoons was that they had Mickey Mouse. The directors looked at one another and, thinking it was a joke, Friz said, "Well, we'll do our best to make sure he remains the most popular animated character." Jack Warner said, "If you want to keep your jobs, you'll see that you do."

Jack was also the genius who wanted "My Fair Lady" rewritten as a vehicle for Alfred P. Doolittle and offered James Cagney a million to come out of retirement and play him. When that failed, he tried for Cary Grant as Higgins. I'm amazed the studio still exists at all.

Mike Bloodworth said...

"Who the fuck are you guys?" You should have said, "Who the fuck are we?!" "I the fuck am Ken Levine and he's fucking David Isaacs!" And if that didn't work while you were using his shower you could have "dropped the soap."😉

Just kidding. Ken is not gay. And as far as I know he would never trade sexual favors for a job. With the possible exception of working with Natalie Wood, of course.


Tom Galloway said...

Sort of a Friday question; Are you planning to watch all 11 films on TCM on Saturday August 22nd from 0600 to 0600 Sunday? 'Cause that's their Natalie Wood day on this year's Summer Under The Stars .

Anonymous said...

Interesting... the Animaniacs were well off the air but this is exactly the sort of thing Yakko, Wakko, and Dot would do. Only with a bit more physical contact of varying levels of force, and if not on-air the liquor most certainly _would_ have been sampled.

My 15 Minute Show said...

@kenlevine: Your blog theme song made me think of this (link at the end) — a look at how jingles are made. Which like sausage, it’s a long, laborious process best not seen how it’s made. Much credit needs to be given to jingle singers. I was ready to blow my brains out after, like, the third take of hearing the trumpet blast.

My 15 Minute Show said...

Hello again @kenlevine. Given your sports broadcasting and comedy background, y’know what might be podcast fun? Go to the FS1 channel at like 4am and call an Australian Rules Football game. Just wing it and tape it from your own personal booth. I’m pretty sure the result would be entertaining.

Don Kemp said...

The REAL Marx Brothers, upon having this happen to them and being treated this way, would have immediately responded in kind. Groucho was not one to take being treated rudely without giving better than he got. He'd go right into Mr. Levin. Harpo would have disrobed, stood on the guy's desk and begin to knock things off of it. Chico would be kibbutzing, telling the guy he's only making it worse by getting madder. The he and Harpo would look to see if the office has a fireplace. If not, Harpo would pose like the Statue of Liberty holding a makeshift torch lit by Groucho's cigar near a sprinkler head. Once those came on, their work there would be done. They'd gather Harpo's clothes and stride right out singing God Bless America at the top of their lungs.

George said...

Inspired by Don's above comment, here is a direct relevant quote from IMDB:

"Producer Irving Thalberg would often call people in for meetings, and then keep them waiting in his office for hours while he attended other meetings on the MGM lot. One day, during pre-production for [A Night At The Opera], Thalberg kept The Marx Brothers waiting for several hours in his secretary's office while he was in his own office making phone calls. When Thalberg's secretary went home for the day, the brothers decided they'd had enough. They pushed the office file cabinets against Thalberg's door, trapping the producer in his office. Afterwards, Thalberg kept his appointments with the Marx Brothers, but would often interrupt his meetings with them and step out to attend other meetings--again keeping the brothers waiting for hours. One day Thalberg came back from another meeting to find Groucho Marx, Chico Marx and Harpo Marx sitting in his office completely naked, and roasting potatoes on sticks in his office fireplace. Thalberg sat down with them, had a potato and never missed or interrupted another meeting with the Marx Brothers. "

-bee said...

Hey Michael...

If he could have pulled off the accent, Cagney would have made a great Dolittle, and him being one of Warner Brothers big stars for many years, it's kind of sweeet Jack Warner was still looking for projects for him. I'm sorry Cagney didn't do it.

On the other hand, yeah, the idea of Cary Grant as Higgens is wrong in so many ways...

I've always enjoyed reading books about animators and there were so many stories of how poorly the great WB animation team was treated, but at least according to a talk I heard Chuck Jones give, the disinterest of the Warners did give them a fair amount of artistic freedom.

Troy McClure said...

Pass the sick bucket. Madonna is writing a screenplay with Diablo Cody.

One of them writing would be bad enough, but both together will be unbearable.

When will Madonna stop trying to do things she's completely incapable of doing well? You'd think that being one of the most successful and influential recording artists of all time would be enough, but she's tried to be an actress, a children's author and a film director and been terrible at all of them. Now she wants to be a screenwriter.

No. Just no.

Mike Doran said...

Jack Warner and James Cagney had a classic love-hate relationship.
Warner loved Cagney and Cagney hated Warner.

The story I heard was that Warner actually offered the Doolittle part to Cagney, who not only turned him down outright, but told "the Shvontz" that he was a fool not to give the part to Stanley Holloway.

Sometimes things just work out …

Bob said...

When the WB unveiled the slogan "Dubba Dubba WB," my friend & I used to call the studio just to hear the receptionist have to answer the phone by saying, "Dubba Dubba WB." Then we'd laugh and hang up. My God we were stupid.

Unknown said...

Don't forget her trying standup on a late night show.