Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again

“Nothing is written.”

Lawrence of Arabia, 1962

I hate to quibble with T.S. Eliot (much less T.E. Lawrence), but April is not the cruelest month – not in modern-day Hollywood, anyway. Here, May is the month of doom, gloom, weeping, wailing, and the proverbial gnashing of teeth. The networks announced the winners of their annual Spring Pilot Season Derby a few weeks back, and every crew member not lucky enough to be aboard a winner -- or a returning show -- is now desperately looking for another ride.

Count me among the losers, since my own Spring pilot finished well out of the money and is now being rendered into cat food and glue along with the rest of the three-legged nags. By now -- having had so many pilots stumble and fall coming down the stretch -- failure should hardly come as a surprise, but I really thought this show had a chance. According to all the usual (and apparently meaningless) measures, it looked like a "go." Having read the same chicken bones, the entire crew felt it; a very enthusiastic audience response on shoot night, a truly lavish Green Room for the network stooges, er executives, and -- most importantly -- a serious buzz emanating from the upper levels of production, which generally has a much firmer grasp on the mysterious machinations above-the-line. To give you an idea of the seeming certainty of these rumors... during the wrap, we were quietly informed that the sets would be rebuilt on Stage 14 (the pilot was shot on Stage 12) when the show went to series in July.

That sounded pretty solid.

The general consensus had us good for a six episode pickup, minimum, with the distinct possibility of twelve. If twelve came to pass, the “back nine” would then be in reach, leading to a successful Season One. At that point – all things being equal -- a show is generally in the running for a second season, and possibly many more. Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow.

But not this time. Turns out everybody was wrong. Again...

There is, however, a silver lining to this otherwise dark and gloomy cloud, tarnished though it may be. Remember that silly little off-season pilot I did just before Xmas last year? As luck and the Gods of Hollywood would have it, that show got picked up for a nine episode run, with the prospect of four additional episodes on the backside if the show puts up decent numbers once it hits the air.*

That’s the good news. The bad news? You guessed it -- drumroll please -- rather than riding the big beautiful Bucephalus that is a broadcast network show, I'll be throwing my leg over a flea-bitten mule of a cable show, paying the usual cheap-ass cable rate. They even paid cable rate on the pilot, reaching a new low neither I nor any of my fellow work-bots had yet experienced.**

First time for everything, I suppose.

But I’ll have to swallow it with a smile, because there’s nothing else on my radar screens -- bupkis, nil, nada, naught, zero, zilch, zippo -– and for all my endless carping about cable rate, the bottom line is as simple and harsh as a swift jerk on the choke-chain of reality; a cable rate job is better than no job at all. If, as it appears, this turn of events will send 2010 spiraling down the drain as one of the very worst, income-wise, of my entire Hollywooden career, then I’ll just have to roll with it. Things could easily be a lot worse -- and since the life of free-lancer means making the best of the given circumstances whatever they are, roll with it I shall.

That much, at least, is written.

* In this ridiculous business, all such promises are as sturdy as a sand castle built at low tide. Any number of unforeseen glitches could sink this show between the rig week and the wrap.

** Yes, I’m almost as tired of bellyaching about cable rate as you are of reading my endless litany of complaint -- but here it is again, another fresh turd floating in the punch bowl...

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