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Sunday, August 21, 2011
People come, people go, but nothing ever changes.
(Bastardized from – and with apologies to -- Grand Hotel)
Heading into the heat of late summer, good news came over the telephone: my little cable show was picked up for a second season. The re-up order of fifteen episodes is better than the ten to twelve most cable networks typically offer, and there's an option for nine additional episodes if we manage to bark, roll over, and dance on our hind legs with sufficient enthusiasm to please our masters. Should all go exceedingly well, this would pan out to a twenty-four episode season, and if that’s not quite the thirty we got last year, hey, who’s counting?
Well, me for one, but beggars can’t be choosers in today’s Hollywood, so I’ll take what I can get and be happy about it -- or at least a lot less unhappy than if the show had been cancelled, leaving me standing on the dock watching the entire fleet of new season shows sail over the horizon.
Still, ours is not a perfect world. Several of my favorite crew members from Season One (in different departments) won’t be coming back – some for reasons of their own and others who were victims of highly questionable decisions by the Powers That Be. When someone works hard, pays attention, is always there when needed, and does a terrific job that often extends well beyond the normal call of duty, they’ve fully earned their spot on the crew and in the “family” we form on stage. It never occurred to me that most of the departed wouldn't be back for another good year, and I remain stunned at the stated reasons for kicking them out the back door. What’s right is right, and this is wrong by any measure.
Trouble is, this business has never even approached being a pure meritocracy, and that's not going to change anytime soon. The Industry has been disappointing and pissing me off in that regard with some regularity for more than three decades now. I’m grateful to be returning for Season Two, but hate to see good people get screwed out of their jobs for no valid reason -- and there’s not a goddamned thing I can do about it.
Hollywood, same as it ever was.
So I’ll do what I always do -- what every Hollywood work-bot learns early on: make the best of the situation and keep going. The day I can’t manage that, for whatever reason, will be the day I’m finished in this town. Those left behind were good at their jobs, so I wasn’t surprised when they picked up new (and hopefully better) gigs on other shows. Still, that won't ease the sting of being bitch-slapped and kicked out the back door – which they certainly didn’t deserve -- nor will it restore the warm sense of “family” our show enjoyed last season. For the moment, that’s gone... but as the weeks pass, the new crew members will be assimilated and a new stage family formed. For one reason or another, a few people move on or are tossed overboard every season, and if nobody likes it, the survivors keep on rowing through the choppy seas just the same.
Television is different from the world of features, commercials, or game/reality shows, where the crew lineups typically shift from job to job depending on the production company, director, and DP. When I was working features as a juicer and Best Boy, it was typical to see a completely different cast of set dressers, props, sound, or production departments from one film to the next. But where a feature is usually shot in two to six months, a hit television show can remain in production for a decade or more with much of the core crew working the entire run. When a show like that comes to an end, everybody feels it on a gut level. I was a regular day-player over the final two seasons of “Will and Grace,” working with people who had been together for the better part of a decade. At the final wrap party -- and it was a good one -- there were a lot of tears in that crowd.
But in Hollywood (and increasingly the world beyond), the only constant is change -- willing or not -- so back to the stage I'll go to help rig and light a brand new set and do my best to make Season Two a winner.* As usual, there are no guarantees. We could be done and the show cancelled by Christmas, with the entire crew joining the ever-growing ranks of unemployed in America. The only sure thing is that we’ll be going at it hammer-and-tongs for the first few weeks before the dust begins to settle.
Anything beyond that is just wishing on a dream.
When we report on stage for our first day of work, I’ll salute the missing, wish them well on their new shows, then put my shoulder to the wheel and start pushing the big rock up the steep hill one more time. Win, lose, or draw, the show goes on.
So long Scooter, Bruce, and Justin. Good luck, Red. Take care, Dev, Brian, and Tracy. Know that you will be missed, and that -- inshallah -- we'll all meet again down the road.
* The old set was all but destroyed in the first season’s final episode.