Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"Movin' On Up"



In a recent conversation with a family member who works for a gigantic foreign- based company – though this could very likely be the case with all companies – the rule for “Upper Management”, he explained, was that if they did not move up during the scheduled review periods, they would inevitably be moved out.  This, I imagine, is meant to incentive employees to do whatever it takes to garner a promotion.

From my Major Dad investigation, trolling for story ideas, I seem to recall a similar situation in the Marine Corps, wherein, if an officer was not promoted in the course of two consecutive review periods, they had to turn in their haircuts and become a civilian.  That was too glib.  They let them keep your haircuts.

This got me got pondering if there was a paralleling situation in my own racket.  Does show business also employ an enforced “Up or Out” protocol?  The answer appears to be “Yes” and “No.”  Which leaves a lot to be desired in the “satisfying” department, but at least I have something to write about.

Using myself as an example, which is the only example I am cognizant of in depth:

I have mentioned, though I do not believe recently, that my most extended “happiest time” writing for television took place in the mid-to-late seventies, when I was working for the Mary Tyler Moore Company. 

It was my happiest time – okay, yes, because I was young – but for lots of other reasons as well – the invigorating quality of the work, the “family” feeling deliberately generated by the ownership, and the Ivy League college ambiance of the “Studio Center” lot on, which the MTM series were produced.  (And it has nothing to do with the company’s barracuda-like “Business Affairs” executives who pinched every penny on behalf of their bosses, inevitably driving the company’s prodigious writing talent to studios that were more financially forthcoming.)

The primary reason I relished the job, however – was that, after a disturbing experience as a “Story Editor” on Phyllis, where the lead actress habitually arrived hours late for the table readings and was insensitive in her remarks concerning the writing, I abandoned that job and settled in, writing eight scripts per season for MTM’s stable of comedies, including the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Phyllis, Rhoda, a short-lived series called Doc, The Tony Randall Show, an even shorter-lived series called The Betty White Show, and, in its final season, The Bob Newhart Show (the one in which Newhart played a psychologist).

I was the luckiest writer in Hollywood – arguably, since there was not actually a contest.  They gave me my own office and a parking space, I wrote for quality TV shows, and I went home.  No excruciatingly late rewrite nights, no dealing with actors and, perhaps most importantly – to me, and though they were unaware of it, to the vehicles on the road around me – no driving home in the dark.

On sunny mornings – which in Los Angeles – sorry, Canada – is virtually every morning – I could be found, decked out a t-shirt, cutoff jeans shorts and sandals, sitting on the step outside the two-floor-high, Spanish-style structure housing the company’s production offices, writing on a yellow, legal pad fastened to a clipboard balancing on my knees.  Judging from the reactions of the exhausted staff writers passing me as they trudged inside, though they made considerably more money than me and ranked substantially higher on the “totem pole”, there was at least a momentary impulse to switch places with me.

It did not help that I was humming. 

After those halcyon three seasons, I reluctantly relocated to the older and grungier Paramount Pictures lot, accompanying my bosses who had been contracted to create new TV shows there, the first of them being Taxi.  My job description remained unchanged.  I wrote “multiples”, by which is meant multiple scripts, and I was never on staff.  Appended to my Paramount-era resume would be ultimately nine episodes of Taxi and four additional episodes of Cheers.

Around then is when things radically changed. 

And they never changed back.

Show business includes no official “move up or move out” dialectic.  It’s just that if you don’t move up, people – “people” meaning the studio executives, and to some degree your own agent whose commissions increase with their clients’ upgrades in salary – eventually wonder why you didn’t.

In show business, providing you’re successful, you move up not because if you don’t move up, you’re fired.  You move up because you’re expected to.  

So I did. 

I created a show – Best of the West – and I ran it.  The experience sent me directly to therapy.  Later in my career, I accepted prodigiously rewarding “overall deals”, multi-year contracts to develop new TV shows.  When two of those shows went into production – Family Man and Major Dad – I was naturally expected to run them. 

Virtually every day as “Executive Producer”, I wondered,

“What happened to that kid who wrote scripts in the sunshine?”

It now occurs to me that I had actually done this to myself.  Nobody insisted that I move up.  I was offered an opportunity, and at least a part of me, I must confess, welcomed it.   

I have frequently opined, “It is better to be a boss than to have a boss.”  I am pretty sure I said that when I wasn’t the boss.  When I was, I am uncertain I’d have agreed. 

The rewards were palpable, the opportunity dangling in front of me.  Maybe I simply succumbed to the temptation.  And the flattery – I’m the muffin and they’re slathering on the jelly. 

I mean, how do say “Stop!” to jelly?

In truth, I’m not really sure you can realistically stay in one place.  Today, the “multiples” writer has disappeared, all the scripts now written “in house” by the series’ writing staffs, or – and I cannot imagine enjoying this – “group” written around a table, writers slinging suggestions in a cacophony of testosterone.  (And lady testosterone.)

Change is inevitable.

But, also inevitably, it is not always a change for the better.

This got me got pondering if there was a paralleling situation in my own racket.  Does show business also employ an enforced “Up or Out” protocol?  The answer appears to be “Yes” and “No.”  Which leaves a lot to be desired in the “satisfying” department, but at least I have something to write about.

Using myself as an example, which is the only example I am cognizant of in depth:

I have mentioned, though I do not believe recently, that my most extended “happiest time” writing for television took place in the mid-to-late seventies, when I was working for the Mary Tyler Moore Company. 

It was my happiest time – okay, yes, because I was young – but for lots of other reasons as well – the invigorating quality of the work, the “family” feeling deliberately generated by the ownership, and the Ivy League college ambiance of the “Studio Center” lot on, which the MTM series were produced.  (And it has nothing to do with the company’s barracuda-like “Business Affairs” executives who pinched every penny on behalf of their bosses, inevitably driving the company’s prodigious writing talent to studios that were more financially forthcoming.)

The primary reason I relished the job, however – was that, after a disturbing experience as a “Story Editor” on Phyllis, where the lead actress habitually arrived hours late for the table readings and was insensitive in her remarks concerning the writing, I abandoned that job and settled in, writing eight scripts per season for MTM’s stable of comedies, including the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Phyllis, Rhoda, a short-lived series called Doc, The Tony Randall Show, an even shorter-lived series called The Betty White Show, and, in its final season, The Bob Newhart Show (the one in which Newhart played a psychologist).

I was the luckiest writer in Hollywood – arguably, since there was not actually a contest.  They gave me my own office and a parking space, I wrote for quality TV shows, and I went home.  No excruciatingly late rewrite nights, no dealing with actors and, perhaps most importantly – to me, and though they were unaware of it, to the vehicles on the road around me – no driving home in the dark.

On sunny mornings – which in Los Angeles – sorry, Canada – is virtually every morning – I could be found, decked out a t-shirt, cutoff jeans shorts and sandals, sitting on the step outside the two-floor-high, Spanish-style structure housing the company’s production offices, writing on a yellow, legal pad fastened to a clipboard balancing on my knees.  Judging from the reactions of the exhausted staff writers passing me as they trudged inside, though they made considerably more money than me and ranked substantially higher on the “totem pole”, there was at least a momentary impulse to switch places with me.

It did not help that I was humming. 

After those halcyon three seasons, I reluctantly relocated to the older and grungier Paramount Pictures lot, accompanying my bosses who had been contracted to create new TV shows there, the first of them being Taxi.  My job description remained unchanged.  I wrote “multiples”, by which is meant multiple scripts, and I was never on staff.  Appended to my Paramount-era resume would be ultimately nine episodes of Taxi and four additional episodes of Cheers.

Around then is when things radically changed. 

And they never changed back.

Show business includes no official “move up or move out” dialectic.  It’s just that if you don’t move up, people – “people” meaning the studio executives, and to some degree your own agent whose commissions increase with their clients’ upgrades in salary – eventually wonder why you didn’t.

In show business, providing you’re successful, you move up not because if you don’t move up, you’re fired.  You move up because you’re expected to.  

So I did. 

I created a show – Best of the West – and I ran it.  The experience sent me directly to therapy.  Later in my career, I accepted prodigiously rewarding “overall deals”, multi-year contracts to develop new TV shows.  When two of those shows went into production – Family Man and Major Dad – I was naturally expected to run them. 

Virtually every day as “Executive Producer”, I wondered,

“What happened to that kid who wrote scripts in the sunshine?”

It now occurs to me that I had actually done this to myself.  Nobody insisted that I move up.  I was offered an opportunity, and at least a part of me, I must confess, welcomed it.   

I have frequently opined, “It is better to be a boss than to have a boss.”  I am pretty sure I said that when I wasn’t the boss.  When I was, I am uncertain I’d have agreed. 

The rewards were palpable, the opportunity dangling in front of me.  Maybe I simply succumbed to the temptation.  And the flattery – I’m the muffin and they’re slathering on the jelly. 

I mean, how do say “Stop!” to jelly?

In truth, I’m not really sure you can realistically stay in one place.  Today, the “multiples” writer has disappeared, all the scripts now written “in house” by the series’ writing staffs, or – and I cannot imagine enjoying this – “group” written around a table, writers slinging suggestions in a cacophony of testosterone.  (And lady testosterone.)

Change is inevitable.

But, also inevitably, it is not always a change for the better.
--------------------------------------------------
Answers to "My First Contest: 1-9 ; 2-6; 3-4; 4-3;  5-1; 6-10; 7-12; 8-8; 9-2; 10-7; 11-5; 12-11.

The name I made up:  Zylindra.

Which, to me, makes no less sense that any of the others.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"The Uncaring Juggernaut"


Okay, here we go. 

I find “blind spots” in capitalism.  So I must be a Socialist, right? 

No, and here’s why.

I have this rhetorical question I dredge up when I am debating with myself – I am generally my most accessible adversary – I say, in the context of a slight deviation from lockstep orthodoxy:  

“If a person is six-foot-five and another person is six-foot-three, does that make the six-foot-three person a midget?” 

(Sorry.  I should have said “Little Person” but I am trying to be colorful.)

You see what I am going for there?  You take the tiniest step away from “uncritical about capitalism”, and instantaneously, you’re “The Evil Empire.”  I may not be six-foot-five about capitalism.  But I am still an enthusiastic six-foot-three.

“Socialist!”

Stop it!

Here’s my position.  Capitalism is great.  But it is not perfect.

“Socialist!”

I hate adversarialism.  I just hate it! 

So here’s the thing.

When I see two articles on the same day printed in the same section of the newspaper concerning the same issue, a compelling voice inside of me says,

“That’s something you should write about.”

Why?  One, because it caught my attention by being two articles on the same day printed in the same section of the newspaper concerning the same issue.  And two, because the issue’s evidentiary ubiquitousness – trying saying that fast three times – indicates that “There is a lot of that going on.”

The two issue-related stories appeared in the “Sports Section” of the Los Angeles Times on Saturday April the 4th.

“And you are writing about it today?”

I like to let things percolate. 

The first story involves, well, this is actually the second year of it.  And it shows no signs of coming to an end.

Here, in a capsulized version, is what happened.

Time-Warner Cable paid the Los Angeles Dodgers over eight billion dollars – you read that right – for the exclusive rights to air Dodger games, with the intention of subcontracting those rights (or something) to other Pay-Tv providers such as DirecTV for an agreed upon amount of money. 

It turns out, however, the amount Time-Warner is asking is considered so astronomically high, the Pay-Tv providers are adamantly refusing to agree to it. 

As a result, for the past year and now entering Year Two, more than seventy percent of Los Angeles viewers are unable to watch Dodger games on television.

Who’s to blame for this fiasco?

Nobody.

It is simply capitalism. 

Watch. 

The Dodgers:  “They paid us over eight billion dollars for those rights.  They have a right to make their money back.”

Time-Warner Cable:  “We shelled out over eight billion dollars for those rights.  We have a right to make our money back.”

DirecTV (and other Pay-Tv providers):  “They have a right to make their money back, but we have an obligation to prevent Time-Warner from shoving it up our…”

Is anybody wrong in what they’re saying?  No.  (Though did they have to be that graphic about it?)

It’s just business.  Three capitalistically-related decisions, all reasonable, legal and understandable. 

But more than seventy percent of Los Angeles is not getting the Dodger games.  And until somebody budges, they never will.

Capitalism, let me assert before somebody burns my house down, is not the villain here.  Why not?  Because, as a system – whether natural or humanly constructed – capitalism is a generically unfeeling enterprise. 

Like the proverbial perpetual motion machine, capitalism just goes.

As it is not an issue for a lion to feel sorry for the gazelle it is tearing to pieces, it is not in capitalism’s essential DNA to care. 

Leading to “Story Number Two”.

Josh Hamilton is a troubled, former superstar caliber ballplayer (whose abilities have seriously eroded.)  Hamilton had had drug problems in the past, and recently, rehabbing from injury-related surgery, he admitted to have reverted to his previous behavior. 

In handling matters concerning drug-taking recidivism, Major League Baseball requires an arbitration hearing.  Here’s what was at stake.

If Hamilton wasn’t suspended, he could return to the game when he was healthy.  If Hamilton was suspended, then his team, the Los Angeles Angels, would be relieved of paying Hamilton some or all of the eighty-one million dollars they still owe him on his contract.

At his arbitration hearing, it was determined that Hamilton would not be suspended. 

Here’s how the Angels responded, to that announcement.

Team president John Carpino opined that it “defies logic” that Hamilton’s behavior did not violate the drug program. 

Translation:  “We are upset that our own player did not get suspended.”

Sure, they had reasons, but capitalism always has reasons.  Though they are rarely without consequence.  Large and small.

The first example – that the Dodger games are not universally available on TV – affects people.  The second example… I mean, how do you think that guy feels?

IMAGINED JOSH HAMILTON RESPONSE:  “And they want me to play my heart out for them when I get back?”

I don’t know, it appears we have a runaway machine on our hands.  It decimated every “Main Street” in the country.  It closed local post offices, rerouted flight destinations, it played havoc with blue-collar employment.  (We watch a show called “How It’s Made”, where they demonstrate how they make products like Tootsie Rolls and Barcaloungers.  The factories have, like, eight people working in them.  The rest is adapted technology.)   

I know it’s – and always has been – about money.  And it should be.  It keeps prices down.  And it benefits shareholders, which could possibly be us.

I’m just wondering…

Does it have to be only about money?

Monday, May 4, 2015

"An Argument In Favor Of Inaction"


Via an example wherein we took action and this happened.

Our thirty-three year-old and twenty-five year old furnaces had stopped working and they needed to be replaced.  The weekend after the replacement was completed, we had no hot water in our house.  The reason?  No idea.  The furnace installers might have known, but they were either unaware that their installing efforts had cut off our hot water, or they had gone home and forgotten to tell us about it. 

Following a complaining phone call, a technician returned after the weekend, and our hot water was restored.  He would not be the last technician we would encounter.

The furnace company also installs air conditioning.  I am no expert in Climate Change; I just know it has changed in our bedroom.  (And I am not speaking metaphorically.) 

The last two Octobers, a short, not unexpected “Santa Anna Condition”-induced heat wave expanded into six weeks of blistering airlessness and difficult sleeping.  (NOTE:  We live four blocks from the Pacific Ocean, and until recently, except for those brief ”Santa Anna”-induced interruptions, our bedroom had been cooled virtually year-round by the gentle onshore breezes.)

We ordered an air conditioning unit for our upstairs bedroom.  (Heat rising, the lower floors of the house do not need it.)

Electricians arrived to connect the wiring – which for some reason had to run from the basement to the bedroom’s second floor.  Within an hour after beginning their work, the electricians blew out – the result of a power surge – the cable box for our bedroom’s TV and my bedside CD clock radio that, for years, had awoken me to the blasts of the old Hockey Night In Canada theme song.  (And had taken me weeks to figure out how to program.)

The installation of the wiring, which we were told normally takes a few hours to hook up, would wind up taking almost four days.  Apparently, the electricians informed us, we have a complicated pathway.  I have no idea if their ultimate success was a heroic achievement or monumental incompetence.   Since I liked them, I shall allow them the benefit of the doubt.

The following day, a technician arrived to turn the air conditioning system on.  Which he capably accomplished.  Cold air was immediately blasting into the bedroom. 

The problem was, hard as he tried, the technician was unable to turn our air conditioning unit off.   That night, we slept under piles of quilts and blankets, protecting ourselves from the frigidity of a service we had paid two thousand dollars to enjoy.

The next day, a technician arrived, who was able to turn our air conditioning system both on and off.  We believed that that would be, mercifully, the end of the festivities.

We were laughably incorrect.

Two weeks later, we were unable to turn on our new air conditioning.

Another technician arrived.  After a careful examination, he announced that there was a leak in the compressor.  Could he fix it?  He could not, he replied.  He was an installing technician.  What we needed was a repairing technician.  Either that, or it was the other way around.  By then, I was no longer listening.

The most recently arriving technician discovered the origin of the leak in the air conditioner’s compressor.  Hallelujah!  Our excitement abated, however, when he informed us that he was unable to repair that leak.  

For that, we would require another technician.

At this juncture, nearly a month after the original installation, I am awaiting the technician who can purportedly repair the leak.  (Update:  They just called.  Sylvester will be four hours late.)

Hopefully, there is no more of this nonsense to come.

Summary:

The action was:  We decided to order air conditioning.  The consequences, which we would not have endured if we had not decided to order air conditioning, were all of the preceding, with the exclusion of perhaps a dozen or more phone calls to report problems, make the necessary follow-up appointments for their amelioration, plus the inevitable phone calls to find out why the technicians were late and if they were actually coming at all.  (Sometimes, as with Sylvester, the technicians are running so late a subsequent appointment needs to be scheduled.)

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am extremely reluctant go to the doctors.

A perplexing non sequitor?

I don’t think so.  (For “installing air conditioning”, Read:  Any preemptive medical intervention.  Or even the kind you may actually need.)

I apologize, but I must leave you at this juncture. 

Our housekeeper has just arrived with a report:

Our clothes dryer is making a thumping noise.