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, January 1, 2012

The New Year

"You can’t always get what you want"

By Mick Jagger, with a little help from Keith Richards...

The word finally came down from on high. After three weeks of wondering and waiting -- and just nine shopping days before Christmas – it was official: there will be no “back nine” for my show. Although not officially cancelled, we’re being sent to the purgatory of indefinite hiatus. After an all-too-brief holiday break, we’ll wrap the 250 or so lamps and several thousand feet of cable used to light this show, and by the time we’re done all the sets will have been disassembled and locked away in storage. The studio will then clean the stage from top to bottom to be ready for the next show, whatever that may be.

After 45 episodes over the course of nearly two years, it’s over. So much for my fantasies of riding this sit-com wave all the way onto the sunny beach of retirement.

Our First AD put on a brave face as he dispensed the bad news. Flanked by our two main stars (who together represent one third of the executive producer corps), he insisted that we have a good chance of coming back sometime later in the year, maybe June or July... or September... but no matter how much lipstick the three of them tried to smear on this pig, it was still a squirming, stinking, shit-stained hog. If the network was truly committed to this show, they’d have ponied up the money to finish out the season, but at this point they haven’t even bothered to air any of the fifteen new episodes -- and this despite a ratings spike for the Season One finale that doubled the viewing audience. Logic would seem to dictate they keep a hot hand rolling and put the new episodes on the air before all those viewers find something else to watch.

But that’s normal, down-to-earth human logic, and thus does not apply. Network logic pulsates and hums at a rhythm and frequency inaudible to those without keys to the executive suites above-the-line.

Granted, we were never a big hit – maybe a million viewers per week – but these little multi-camera cable shows are cheap to make. With numbers good enough for the network to invest over forty million dollars in making those 45 episodes, why not keep the ball rolling and crank out another nine or ten to complete Season Two?

I really don’t know. Maybe there’s been a shift of some sort up in Mt. Olympus, where the Network Gods plot and hatch devious schemes against one another without any thought to how their Machiavellian machinations might roil the lives of those hapless mortals toiling below-the-line. It’s entirely possible that whoever backed my show up there was stabbed in the back during some high-stakes turf battle, allowing some other show to live on while we slide into oblivion. Whatever the cause, I put our odds of returning for Season Three on the far side of slim to none.

Still -- when I step back for a little perspective -- we did shoot 45 episodes over the course of two seasons, which works out to a roughly 22 episode per season schedule enjoyed by successful broadcast network sitcoms. It’s not the 100 episodes we all hoped for, but as the great English philosopher Mick Jagger once pointed out, “You can’t always get what you want.”

Ain’t that the truth – but this 45 episode run was considerably longer than any other show I’ve had the good fortune to work on.* I can’t really complain about that. Besides, the second half of Jagger’s famous lyric evokes the world-weary hope that is the voice of experience: “But if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.”


I’m not particularly worried about finding another job. With pilot season just around the corner (and I’m hearing this one is going to be a monster), something will come along – it always does – but I do hate the idea of no longer working with this crew; the grips, set dressers, prop dept, sound, camera, hair and makeup, and production staff. They’re a wonderful collection of very interesting people, all of whom now scatter to the four winds in the eternal quest for fire – paying work – that is the cross every Hollywood free-lancer must bear.

I’ll see some of them again, no doubt, but even if this show does rise from the dead like Lazarus late next year, most will have found other shows by then. That's how it is in Hollywood. Whatever happens, the next crew will likely be very different.

And so the pale sun rises from the east over a Hollywood rendered in the bleak, gray hues of winter. For the moment – and with a lump of network coal dangling in the bottom of my Christmas stocking -- I face the New Year like so many Americans these days, unemployed.


May we all get what we really need in the months to come.

Happy New Year.

* As a member of the core crew, anyway. I was a regular day-player the last two seasons on “Will and Grace,” but not part of the core crew. At Christmas, that meant watching everybody else load Apple computers, gift baskets of wine and cheese, and five hundred dollar gift cards in their cars at the end of the night. Hey, at least the DP – a great guy – gave me a bag of his wife’s homemade peanut butter candy so I didn’t go home empty-handed.


Niall said...

Sorry to hear the news. But Mr.Jagger is right. We get what we need in the end.

Lakshmi said...

Happy New Year, Michael! May 2012 bring you much happiness, fun and learning... :)

Thanks for sharing your wonderful writing.

Michael Taylor said...

Niall --

Constant change is the nature of the free-lance life. A little faith is required to make it work, though, and things will work out. Thanks, and good luck in the New Year.

Lakshmi --

And the same to you, Miss Jagad. Thanks for all your positive comments this year. Every blogger should be so lucky as to have readers like you. All the best as the New Year unfolds.

A.J. said...

It may seem short, but a two season run for a sitcom is pretty good in this reality T.V. driven world.

Here's to the next one getting you to that sunny beach. :)