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, August 16, 2009

A Bird in the Hand

The one that got away...

The rumors started early. Before we’d even fully rigged the stage for the first of nine scheduled episodes, Certain People were nodding their heads in a knowing way while talking in hushed tones about the “back twelve.” I didn’t understand how they could be so sure with the first broadcast (and any meaningful statistical feedback on viewership) several weeks away, but Hollywood does work in mysterious ways. A similar golden aura of sure-thing certainty surrounded “Project Gary,” a pilot I worked on in the spring of 2008 that eventually morphed into “Gary Unmarried” – a show I was promised, then lost due to circumstances beyond my control. As a network show, “Gary Unmarried” pays the crew full union scale rather than the cheap-ass cable rate, and did well enough in their first season to earn a full 22 episode pick-up for Season Two.

The one that got away always hurts the most...

Still, after pushing the rock uphill over the course of five pilots in the last year (and getting stiff-armed four times), I was glad to have any show -- even a cable-rate show -- rather than go back to playing telephone-roulette looking for work, or breaking rocks in the hot sun on the studio rigging crew. That said, I wasn’t enthusiastic in the beginning over the prospect of having an additional twelve episodes added to the scheduled nine. After thirty-plus years of putting my shoulder to the wheel, taking that 20% pay cut was a bitter pill to swallow – as far as I was concerned, nine episodes was quite enough. Following that schedule, I’d still have a chance to jump to a full-scale network show when the regular season geared up in late summer, while a back-end pickup of twelve additional episodes would keep me mired in cable-rate hell until the Christmas holidays, after which I’d be staring at the bleak winter landscape of a New Year with no job at all. Meanwhile, all those crews on network shows would be working on into March.

Let’s just say I wasn’t one of those keeping my fingers crossed for that “back twelve” pickup.

But just as the ocean can work a jagged piece of broken glass into a wonderfully smooth piece of semi-natural art, time has a way of sanding the rough edges off just about anything – and as it turned out, we’ve had a really good crew on this show. Top to bottom, every department is strong, with a wide spectrum of lively personalities that make for a very interesting mix. Despite the lousy money – and not one of us is happy about that – we’ve all had a pretty good time doing this show. That doesn’t always happen.

And oh-by-the-way, my one solid shot at landing a network show (the one I was counting on to rescue me from cable-rate Hell) vanished into the smog a few weeks ago, after which the idea of additional episodes on this show began to sound pretty good after all. It’s funny how one’s perspective can swing a full hundred and eighty degrees (especially when prompted by the prospect of imminent unemployment), but life takes place on the shifting sands of reality, and there are very few absolutes involved when grading on such a curve. So now that I’ve changed my mind completely and am actively pulling for the back twelve, what’s the deal? The show aired a few weeks ago with good numbers – numbers that went up the following week and held their own in week three. Surely all those rumors we’ve been hearing since late May should have finally morphed into something more tangible than the hot smoggy breeze of an August afternoon?

Not yet, they haven’t. The good news is we’ve been told to “fold and hold” the stage after the final episode, meaning we’ll leave all the sets and lights right where they are, then lock the doors and walk away. This is a lot better than wrapping the stage, which would be the end of the show for a long time (maybe forever), but it’s not quite what I was hoping for. “Fold and hold” means the Powers That Be are still walking the razor’s edge of indecision – they like what they see, but need something more to commit to any additional episodes. At this point, they could go either way, so I’m trying not to get my hopes up. I’ve done “fold and holds” in the past that ended a week later with a phone call to wrap the stage, and none of those shows ever came back.

Like it or not (and I don’t), “that’s the way it is,” to quote the late, great Walter Cronkite. So it goes here in Hollywood, where hopes and plans are written on the hard wet sands of low tide -- and the water is always rising.

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