The Year of Living Desperately

Quote of the Day: “Fate/Up against your will/Through the thick and thin…” — Echo & the Bunnymen, “The Killing Moon”

(…sorry for the lack of visual stuff in this post, for some reason Blogger isn’t allowing me to post pics….)

About three years ago, my screenwriting partner and I wrote a TV spec script—a script based on our own idea, without an assignment, that no one paid us for—which we somehow got to Fran Drescher, you know, The Nanny chick. She read it, she loved it, she wanted my partner and I to come to LA and work with her on a script that would be her return to episodic TV. Our script was an hour-long drama about a rich Park Avenue Jewish housewife who managed a down-on-his-luck but up-and-coming young black boxer from Brooklyn. Somewhere between writing our great script, which had gotten us meetings with other people as well, and getting on a plane back to NYC after pitch meetings with Fran at ABC, the show had somehow become a half-hour sitcom about a rich Park Avenue Jewish housewife who’s husband’s been convicted of some Enron-type thievery, leaving said housewife and her kids as down-on-their-luck as the black Brooklyn boxer said housewife discovers is her client after her hubby’s prison sentence begins.

Suffice to say, nothing ever became of the script we wrote. Fran went her way, with her ideas about a show in which she’d be dating a much younger guy (once our boxer) and we went ours, me to HUNG, my partner to a great idea that I won’t reveal here. The best thing I can say about that experience was that I got an up-close-and-personal view of some things I’d never experienced before. The first being TV execs who say things like “We don’t do single-camera shows”, then suddenly a coupla single-camera comedies appear on the network a season later. The second being the truly priceless education in TV comedy writing that I got from Fran herself, of whom I was a huge fan years before she’d read and liked my writing, before I ever set foot in her luscious Malibu crib. The third was the very beauty and nirvana that was Malibu itself. I’d always been fascinated by Malibu, by the idea of it, the idea of the Colony, where all the rich and famous played and snorted coke and had orgies. Part of the time, at least. But it wasn’t until my partner and I were ensconsed in Fran’s guest house, right on the beach, waking up and writing to the lush sound of Pacific Ocean waves lapping at the sand below the deck that I really knew the sound and meaning of paradise.

The last thing I encountered was my own sense of self, which one probably has to encounter in a land of plenty like Malibu for it to really make any sense. I was getting on a Jet Blue flight back to NYC with no firm deal in place, with only the possibility of some network agreeing to greenlight a sitcom co-developed by two TV novices and the former star of a former hit show. But I was getting on that plane with a very clear sense that I was doing what I was meant to be doing. I was meant to be creating; I was meant to use words to create an effect, to create an emotion, to get a reaction. Going to Malibu, chilling with Fran Drescher, who was getting through her own cancer ordeal and forging ahead in a world that didn’t exactly think of over-40 women as viable entertainment options, gave me a purpose about my writing future I hadn’t had before, even with the success of VIBE and my journalism behind me. Something about that trip, about the impending rejection implicit in it, about the eventual pass that came to pass when all the negotiation began—I knew that the fight was part of the plan and that I could wage it if I had to to make sure the words I wrote were to find a life outside of my PowerBook.

I was thinking about all this stuff last night as I watched the season premieres of Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy, two huge hit shows back for second seasons on the network that didn’t have any hit shows when Fran and Dan and I were sitting in that meeting with the development execs telling us what they “did” and “didn’t” do. I was thinking about all this stuff because someone at ABC took a risk. Someone at ABC thought that Marc Cherry’s dark satire of prime-time soaps which had been rejected all around town was a viable enough project to put on the air last year. Someone at ABC thought that Shonda Rhimes’s crafty and smart interns-in-love show was strong enough to be given a shot. I was thinking about all this because Marc Cherry is the gay guy and Shonda Rhimes is the black chick and they’re running their shows in a town where there aren’t a lot of gay guys or black chicks running their own shows. And they’re reaping the rewards of hard times and dark times and rejection and late paychecks and bad agents and cancellations and lame studio “notes” and awkward picth meetings and being told what networks “did” and “didn’t” do and deciding somewhere along the line that they were meant to be creating, too.

******************

Funniest, saddest, most perfect character moment I’ve seen on television in a long long time: Desperate Housewives Marcia Cross as Bree Van der Kamp, walking the aisle of the church during her husband’s funeral, looking for a tie to replace the gaudy prep-school memento her monstrous mother-in-law (the spot-on Shirley Knight) had managed to slip around Rex’s neck, then, finding one, propping Rex up in the casket and tying the tie that she preferred. Had Rex, indeed traded a controlling mother for a controlling wife? Oh, Marcia, Marcia, Marcia—so good, dating back to the psycho she played on Knots Landing way before Melrose Place was a diamond dot in Aaron Spelling or Darren Star’s eyes—is spot-on, and the reason I watch every week. Or at least she was; Miss Alfre’s in town now…

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