The thirtysomething Journal:
the producer of the show we love to hate takes us behind the scenes and (gulp) into the psyches
by Richard Kramer
Copyright 1989 Playboy December, 1989, No. 12, Vol. 36; Pg. 154; ISSN: 0032-1478
"WOULD I LIE to you? Why would I lie to you?" Mr. Gerber asks, holding up two palms to underline the truth of what he's telling us. "This is the call I get from the network--this is an emergency call. They're worried that the footsteps sound too loud in the dailies. What a disaster!"
As we all laugh, he scores a goal on the coffee-table hockey game. "Bingo!" He's pleased with himself, with the show, even, it seems, today, with us. "Jesus, I love coming over here. This is the way it should be in this business. This is fun."
We are sitting in Marshall Herskovitz' office--Ed Zwick, Marshall, Mr. Gerber and me. Our suite, from which we produce the television series thirtysomething, is like all the others in the building--everything is brown, paneled, quasi-Miesian--the color of a good cigar. Marshall has tried to stamp his personality on the resistant space. A heraldic tapestry hangs on one wall, while on the others, he has arranged some medieval weapons, a photograph of Bodiam Castle and an oil painting. When I questioned the painting's quality, Marshall replied, "I'm glad you like it. It's by my dead father."
Mr. Gerber scores another goal. He's all smiles today, and so are we. We've survived the first season of the series, and it has been a success. Ed and Marshall are the creators and executive producers of thirtysomething, which means they formulate and supervise each of the season's 22 episodes. They are also directors and writers and, less officially, wet nurses and scourges to a large staff. I joined the show, at their invitation, soon after ABC asked them to turn the pilot into a series. My official title at the start of the season was story editor; by season's end, I had been bumped up to executive story consultant. I have written and worked on many of the first season's shows and have been involved in the development of all of them. The season was a good one for me and for the show. I have found work I enjoy with people I like, and the show has found a perch in the ratings that is both comfortable and demographically sound: Rich people who buy things watch us.
The press, which attacked us at the start as "a bunch of whining Yuppies" (People magazine gave us a D-plus), now deals with us as a phenomenon of the culture. The New York Times has done a series of "think" pieces on the show (though we still can't figure out whether it likes us or not); therapists use our episodes with patients. We're all proud of the show, willing to put in seven-day weeks and eager to get to work in the morning. Everyone is confident there will be a second season and no one is sure. If there is, Ed and Marshall are that much closer to maybe someday, possibly, becoming very rich. If there is, I will become the producer and also get to direct. So there are stakes here today, and dreams. Those who own houses are, between takes, sketching additions; those who don't are looking but not yet buying.
"So anyway," Mr. Gerber continues--his first name is David, but he is Mr. Gerber, at least to me, for he is the head of MGM/UA Television, which provides the $ 1,000,000-plus we need each week to produce the show--"I've got a feeling that we could get a pickup for next year as early as the end of next week. And let me add, I hope I'm right."
We hope he's right, too, and, needing reassurance, we choose, this afternoon, to believe his hunch.
"So what do you think that means?" Ed asks after Mr. Gerber leaves.
"That he doesn't know," Marshall says. "No one knows. Maybe we'll never know, maybe we'll just do a second year and have to pay for it out of our bar mitzvah money."
We adjourn, encouraged but as yet not picked up, left to consider this primetime version of the existential void. existential void.
One day--this is 12 years ago now, when I was living in New York and trying to make a go of it as a free-lance writer--I slipped a disc on the uptown local. I spent the next two months in bed, feeling sorry for myself and watching, through the sweet haze of muscle relaxers, a lot of TV. I decided to try writing a script, so, arranging my pillows and propping a record album up against my knees, I began. I'd watched, while in bed, several episodes of the series Family; it seemed easy enough to echo its smug, suburbanly moral voice. In a couple of weeks, I had 60 pages; I put them into an envelope, found out the names of the producers from Variety and cast it out--a script in a bottle, so to speak--to California.
That bottle was found, and bought, and I moved to L.A. and became a story editor on the series James at 15. That job was notable for one thing: It was how I met Ed Zwick and became part of the beginnings of thirtysomething. We started our first lunch as buyer and seller (me pompous, Ed eager) and ended it as friends--two nice, complicated Jewish boys who were the same age, similarly nervy and needy, both with an ironic sense of our own bullshit quotient and an appreciation of it in each other. I couldn't get them to hire Ed at James at 15--I couldn't get them to do anything at James at 15--but we had lunch again, anyway, and again after that, and we vowed one day to work together, because friends were what mattered in "this town," and how great it would be to work one day with one's network of friends.
Ed had already started to establish that network. Marshall Herskovitz --another nice, complicated Jewish boy--had been in Ed's class at the American Film Institute. Recognizing each other as the other smartest person around, they had declared a pact of mutual disarmament.
I met Marshall through Ed, shortly after that first lunch. We would play racquetball, gossiping about Ed's agressiveness, and compare notes on our analysts--concluding, over the years, that (A) the gains made in one's treatment were difficult, if not impossible, to ever put into words and (B) all analysts are short.
During those years before thirtysomething, I worked a lot, every now and then writing a script that, albeit unmade, would be well enough received by the powerless middle-management studio career women--that army of Melissas and Laurens--to assure me my next job. I spent two years writing a script for a famous producer that so pleased him that he rewarded me with a fat "advisory" deal and a promise to direct a movie. This came to an end when he fired the distinguished director with whom I'd spent the two years preparing the film, and I learned, on the same day, that he'd had a well-known hack writing a script on the same subject at the same time I was. I extricated myself from this man's employ.
Somewhere inside me, a small voice whispered, "Work with friends....Work with friends...." But that voice was still too small to be heard or understood. Meanwhile, Marshall and Ed became a team, won Emmys for their work and made a television deal with MGM/UA. One day they learned, at the height of selling season, that they'd been scheduled for a meeting at ABC in two days' time and they had nothing to sell. They panicked, of course, and then clutched; Ed traces their ultimate breakthrough to his wife, Liberty. She made reference to the Booth cartoon in which a wife takes in the sight of her blocked-writer husband and the room full of canines he inhabits and acidly tells him, "So write about dogs...."
Ed called Marshall then, both to see if he had any ideas and to mention the dogs.
"Dogs?" Marshall asked him.
"You heard me...."
Marshall decided that if the subject were dogs, he'd better get over to Ed's house, where there was a dog, Max.
"You want to do a pilot about Max?" Marshall asked when he got to Ed's. "What, is Max going to talk or something? I hate shit like that."
"Right!" Ed said. "Max! And you and me and Liberty and Susan and our friends and the kids and the house and the plumber."
"I think I get it," Marshall said. "Dogs...."
ABC got it, too. They said, "We love it, go write it." Ed and Marshall wrote a draft of an hour that could both stand on its own and serve as a style-and-substance blueprint in case (God willing, God forbid) the pilot became a series. The script was about a married couple with a baby who lived in Philadelphia (Marshall's home town) and the friends, married and otherwise, who formed their circle. Hope, the wife, had an anxiety attack about hiring a baby sitter; the crisis involved her and her husband Michael's decision not to go camping with their friends. That was all, and that was thirtysomething. Ed and Marshall handed in the script and the network said, "Make it."
Ed gave me the script to read. "It's sort of about nothing," he warned me. "Just our lives." I hated it and pretended to like it, but he knew I hated it and, as it took its steps toward production, with Marshall as the director, he never mentioned it to me again. I had, at the time, my own problems; boredom it and pretended to like it, but he knew I hated it and, as it took its steps toward production, with Marshall as the director, he never mentioned it to me again. I had, at the time, my own problems; boredom and frustration made me decide, "I'll beat this town," and I watched as I tried to turn myself from a writer into a deal maker. I came up with ideas such as Alien Pygmalion and The King and I in Space. I was lucky enough never to have to write any of these things; before I could start, Ed called me with the latest news on thirtysomething.
"I have good news and bad news," he said. "The good news is the pilot got picked up. The bad news is we have to do the series."
My official title in those early days of thirtysomething was story editor, which, two months before we shot our first show, was still a mysterious function, as there were, as yet, no stories to edit.
Ed and Marshall showed me their script in which Hope's well-meaning father and impossible mother descend for a visit. I thought the emotional landscape of this story was small; Hope was characterized as a pill, thereby giving her mother grounds for complaint. When I brought this up, Ed and Marshall brushed my concerns aside. I didn't give in; I kept saying, "But what's it about? Where's the conflict?" I remember the look of pity Marshall gave me; he tried to explain that his goal for the series was to redefine drama, to search it out in the minute emotional lacunae that television, up till then, had never been interested in. He said thirtysomething would mine that new terrain. We would the look of pity Marshall gave me; he tried to explain that his goal for the series was to redefine drama, to search it out in the minute emotional lacunae that television, up till then, had never been interested in. He said thirtysomething would mine that new terrain. We would never have a car chase, but we might have a show about the characters' feelings about a car chase.
While we were still two months away from shooting our first episode, I began writing my own first script. Through all my years as a screenwriter, the log line on me had been "Good on character, weak on structure." I always saw things in terms of detail and nuance, rather than in how the story was told.
This problem exploded during the early meetings on my first script, nearly ending my work on thirtysomething before it had even begun. Ed, Marshall and I had come up with the idea of exploring, in detail, the events of two Saturday-night dates. Hope and Michael, seeking to recapture a lost sense of romance, plan a perfect evening that turns into one disaster after another. Melissa and Gary, floating barks on the singles sea, go through their own disasters that bring them together for a doomed rekindling of their past affair. It would all end on a Sunday morning, with both couples reconciling as their stories intertwined.
We went through our planning sessions on the episode, at the end of which I was to type out a simple outline of the beats in each act. I did this and handed it in to Ed and Marshall. As I sat there, watching Ed read it, he screwed his features tighter and tighter into what many of us on the show would come to refer to as "The Face"--a look of profound and angry displeasure.
"Dickie," The Face said to me, and I knew I was in trouble. Dickie is Ed's private name for me, used only in moments of real affection or true distress. "Come outside. I want to talk."
We stood out in the hallway, Ed standing against one wall while I faced him from another. He held up the outline.
"What is this?" he asked.
"It's the outline," I told him. "The beats, the acts."
"But it's not. Didn't you take notes? You left out most of what we talked about. Listen, Richard"--he joined me now, at my wall--"it's like we said--maybe this isn't the right thing for you, which is OK. We said that would be OK, right?"
I told him I'd do it again. He said all right, and The Face unclenched a little. I went back to my office and got very depressed. For the next few days, I realized how much the prospect of this job frightened me. I was afraid to let Ed and Marshall down. I was afraid to write in my own voice, having in the
I told him I'd do it again. He said all right, and The Face unclenched a little. I went back to my office and got very depressed. For the next few days, I realized how much the prospect of this job frightened me. I was afraid to let Ed and Marshall down. I was afraid to write in my own voice, having in the past always chosen subjects that kept me at a distance to it. I was afraid to fail and, maybe most of all, I was afraid I couldn't be part of a team. One by one, these fears became clear to me. Then I faced them, told them to fuck off and sat down and did the outline right.
"Good," Ed and Marshall said when I resubmitted it. "Now go and write it."
So I did, and somehow my confrontations with both Ed and myself freed me. I decided, as I began to work, that both couples' fantasies of perfect romance were what caused their trouble; by the end, I wanted them to have learned they could adjust those fantasies to the reality of their lives. It seemed to me that all four characters were victims of song lyrics that painted a rose-tinted universe where everything was possible. So I made those lyrics a part of the show, inventing a cocktail-lounge-pianist character who, through love songs by Gershwin, Porter and Rodgers and Hart, would comment musically on Michael and Hope's and Gary and Melissa's Saturday nights in hell.
It was actually fun to write this script, which I was now calling "But Not for Me." (We would never put our titles on the screen, though each script had one. My favorite: "I'm in Love with a Wonderful Gynecologist.") It was fun because Ed and Marshall had created in the pilot the chance for me and other writers to write in our own voices. I had too many ideas, for a change, and had to throw out at least half of them. I finished the script and handed it in. Ed and Marshall loved it--and I was, while not quite yet in the clubhouse, at least aware of the password to get in.
We have made it through 21 episodes and are all exhausted, yet we've parceled enough lunatic energy to survive the 22nd and final show. When the Writer's Guild strike continues past the date that would have made it possible to produce the last show for this season, we are left with that energy and nowhere to put it. There is a rush of goodbyes, tears, thank-yous--all actorly hyperbolic yet somehow provisional, as no one knows if we're coming back. I clean out my office yet still go in most days to shmoose and try to maintain some contact with whoever's around. And then there's no one around to shmoose with; my reserve of energy backflips into the blues; everyone else says he feels the same way.
Well, I tell myself, you need a change, because this is what I always tell myself when I don't need one, and I never learn from the mistake. How about London, then Florence, then New York? As Mel Harris knows everything, I ask her if she has a good travel agent. Of course she does; just say I'm a friend of hers. So I fly to London. It takes a week for me to see I shouldn't be there and that I want to go home, and that home in the past year has redefined itself as--for better or worse--the show.
My timing is lucky. I call Ed from London, just to check in, and he suggests I return via New York, as he and Marshall and the whole cast will be there to appear on the Donahue show. When I get to New York, everyone is at the hotel. We're all thrilled to see one another.
The three days we're all together in New York provide the release I hoped to find in London. We do what we've never had time to do all year: We hang out. We go to see Mel's boyfriend in a play, then all go out to dinner. The other people in the restaurant are too hip to ask for autographs, so they simply stare at us instead. Everyone gets loaded. Mel bursts into tears, but no one knows why. Tim Busfield puts his arm around me and asks, "Can I have a dad who gets cancer next season, too?" I am seated between the pretty blonde girlfriends of two of our cast members. The one on my left leans over to the one on my right and says, downing her eighth glass of champagne, "Let's face it. You know what we are? We're muff. Big blonde muff." It's late now; we all share cabs back to the hotel and on the way, indulge in our present favorite topic of conversation, which is what shows we should put up for the Emmy.
It is almost the end of April. The Writer's Guild strike, which started at the beginning of March, still shows no signs of ending. Pessimism rules. Ken Olin's predictions for our futures are the bleakest: Tim Busfield and Peter Horton will get their own series--Tim will play a Protestant detective in Northern Ireland and Peter will do a show where all the other characters are animated. Mel Harris will become a hand model, Polly Draper will co-anchor the Today show and he, Ken, will do a brief stint as the rabbi on Dallas and then never work again. I go home one day to find a message on my machine from Peter that says, "You are worthless, we're all worthless, we have no reason to exist." So we wait, we worry, searching the showbusiness skies for bad omens.
Through all this, we find important reasons to call one another that turn out to be no reasons at all. Each actor has ideas for his character for "next season"; my answering machine is filled with such messages as "What if Ellyn had a nervous breakdown?" and "What if Gary went to El Salvador on a fact-finding mission and Hope and Michael didn't approve?" Ed, Marshall and I compare notes and decide the show we really want to do is about Hope's being rushed to the hospital because she loses touch with her feelings.
One Sunday, too many weeks after Mr. Gerber's hunch about our imminent pick-up has been proved wrong, I call Marshall for some false and desperate reason. We chat for a minute or so, then he tells me Lizzie, his five-year-old daughter, wants to speak with me.
"I want to tell you something very important," she says. ally want to do is about Hope's being rushed to the hospital because she loses touch with her feelings.
One Sunday, too many weeks after Mr. Gerber's hunch about our imminent pick-up has been proved wrong, I call Marshall for some false and desperate reason. We chat for a minute or so, then he tells me Lizzie, his five-year-old daughter, wants to speak with me.
"I want to tell you something very important," she says.
"I'm very upset today and sad."
"What's the matter?" I ask her.
"Do you know my fish Spotty?"
"No, I don't think I do, Lizzie."
She sighs. "Well, it doesn't matter. Spotty is dead."
Spotty's demise is a sign, of course. As images of fish corpses and unrenewed TV series float through my mind, I realize how much I want the series to continue, how very much I want the family I've found in the past year to stay together.
A few days later, I go out to dinner with Polly Draper. We spend this evening, as I seem to spend most of my evenings, reminiscing about the past season. As we're splitting the bill on two credit cards--neither of us is working right now, after all--John Pasquin, who directed two shows for us, comes over with his wife to say hello to Polly and me. The air around us glitters with fortune; John has just directed three pilots in a row, and he and his wife have adopted a baby. They want to get home to the kid, so there's a round of handshakes and kisses and then, tossed over John's shoulder, these farewell words: "And hey, guys--great news about the pickup!"
We look at each other, and then run together to the telephone. I slam in my change and call Ed. His line is busy.
"Call Marshall!" Polly cries.
And he's not home. Later that night, I reach Ed, who confirms that, indeed, our anxiety is over and we have been renewed by the network for another year. The next morning, I call my Realtor. He comes to my apartment and we talk about houses.
Peter Horton and I spend an afternoon hanging out. We are meeting today because he is worried. He likes to worry, as we all do, but he also has a reason. He has watched, with more than a degree of grace, the bulk of the first season's shows go to Michael. It's Michael's house, marriage, family, job; Michael has the conflict about holidays, as it's Michael's father who gets sick and dies. There's no one in the cast who is not aware of this, just as there's no one who doesn't feel that Ken deserves it. The cast members are remarkably e have been renewed by the network for another year. The next morning, I call my Realtor. He comes to my apartment and we talk about houses.
Peter Horton and I spend an afternoon hanging out. We are meeting today because he is worried. He likes to worry, as we all do, but he also has a reason. He has watched, with more than a degree of grace, the bulk of the first season's shows go to Michael. It's Michael's house, marriage, family, job; Michael has the conflict about holidays, as it's Michael's father who gets sick and dies. There's no one in the cast who is not aware of this, just as there's no one who doesn't feel that Ken deserves it. The cast members are remarkably generous, but at the same time, they all want and have asked for, as it were, a dying father of their own.
There are two reasons for Ken's first-season supremacy. The first is that he's a wonderful actor; Peter knows that, and he's also mature enough to know that, despite our relative lack of attention to Gary, we've in no way implied that his abilities strike us as any the less. The second reason is that Ken has had the good luck to become our mouthpiece. When I met him, I told Marshall I thought he was terribly bright. "Oh, yeah," Marshall said. "He's one of us."
Peter seems less direct than Ken, or it may be that we haven't given him the chance to be as direct. This is the reason we're meeting today--a sort of psychoanalytic session. We talk about our mothers and fathers, our sisters and our lives. Peter has always had a hard time smiling, as his mother always told him to smile because that is what nice people did. The more he talks about himself, the more often he asks if I want him to leave yet. This tells me how much he wants to stay, and I realize how delicate the relationships are between the actors and us. He can't hear the ticking he has set off inside me; he tells me that he wants more stories for Gary, not because we feel that we have to do them but because we feel that we need to do them. Somehow, he has cut to the quick of what, for me, the show is about and what makes it good. I ask him to keep a journal and not to write about emotions but about specifics. He leaves, ct than Ken, or it may be that we haven't given him the chance to be as direct. This is the reason we're meeting today--a sort of psychoanalytic session. We talk about our mothers and fathers, our sisters and our lives. Peter has always had a hard time smiling, as his mother always told him to smile because that is what nice people did. The more he talks about himself, the more often he asks if I want him to leave yet. This tells me how much he wants to stay, and I realize how delicate the relationships are between the actors and us. He can't hear the ticking he has set off inside me; he tells me that he wants more stories for Gary, not because we feel that we have to do them but because we feel that we need to do them. Somehow, he has cut to the quick of what, for me, the show is about and what makes it good. I ask him to keep a journal and not to write about emotions but about specifics. He leaves, promising to do that, and as soon as he has left, I run to the word processor and spew out five story ideas for Gary.
It is the end of May. We have all, for weeks, reassured one another with variations on the same cliches that, as the day approaches for the announcement of Emmy nominations, have come to seem increasingly hollow. "It's about the work, not awards." "It's a popularity contest. Nothing really good--i.e., us--is ever really popular." "We're too controversial. We shouldn't even go to the ceremony." No one, of course, buys any of this. Everyone wants to get nominated, and everyone wants to win.
I know I do. I spend the night before the announcements forcing myself to rise above it, failing and being unable to sleep. The call comes at seven A.M. The series as a whole has been nominated. Patty Wettig, Tim Busfield and Polly Draper are singled out from the cast, and we've gotten one writing nomination, for the episode we refer to as "Dead Dad," in which Michael's father informs his son he has cancer. And that's it. No directing nominations. Nothing for Mel. Nothing for Melanie. Nothing for Ken or Peter--or me. Shit. It's about the work, not awards, right?
I call Patty to congratulate her and find her in tears. She doesn't feel that she deserves to be nominated at the expense of others. Tim, calling in from the set of his movie Field of Dreams, says the same thing, as does Polly when she calls from New York. Ken is in West Virginia acting in a TV movie with Jill Eikenberry of L.A. Law and Ron Perlman of Beauty and the Beast; we learn later that he went out to the set to give them the good news that they had both been nominated. Mel Harris is in the office that day. She says she doesn't care that she hasn't been nominated (and I believe her), but she's upset about Ken.
"I mean, ultimately, it's no big deal," she says. "We all know that. I just really thought he deserved it."
Maybe it's the lack of adrenaline or the debilitating effect of the strike; I find myself endlessly circling my first script for the new season without ever quite reaching its heart. I know it's there--I can see it and at the same time calculate my distance from it. The trouble seems to be focused on Michael's feelings and behavior in the story. Every acting teacher has a different term for this--action, intention, objective, subtext, goal. The word is unimportant, but the idea is the bedrock of all acting: What does the character want?
The actors help us, and we were lucky in that all of them were used to sitting around tables, filling Styrofoam cups with cigarette butts while they worked over a scene from every angle. On the scripts I wrote, I was always astonished to learn that Patty or Tim or Melanie knew more about what I was trying to write than I did and could guide me, through their actor's questions, to where I wanted to go.
I ask Ken to come to lunch and spend a few hours with me working on this new script. He has an alchemic gift of being able to convert autobiography into fiction, so what comes out is not a glimpse into his private life but a glimpse into Michael Steadman's as interpreted by him. Ken isn't Michael, and Michael isn't Ken; at the same time, Ken is Michael and Michael is Ken, and to search out the core of that paradox would afford a glimpse of the mystery that allows one man to believably become another. All I know is that (A) Ken is smart, (B) he grows more articulate as he grows more excited and (C) if anyone can help me with this dead lump of pages on my desk, he can--and he'd better.
We greet each other, spend the next half hour worrying--about the Emmys, the ratings, the inappropriate behavior of some of his fellow cast members--and then we work. He sits down next to me at the word processor and it starts to happen. He's off and he's into it, excited by the possibilities of a new script and a new season. We had written Michael and Hope, in thirtysomething's first year, as the ideal couple. Ken's private title for the series was Father Knows Best, but He's Ambivalent About It. Still, Hope and Michael had their bourgeois ducks in a row; they were a couple who could (and would) discuss anything and everything. This new script is about things for which words can't be so easily found, impulses that can't be kissed away or cured by understanding. Michael wants another kid. Hope's not so sure. This thrills Ken--he's as bored as we all are with reconciliation scenes. He gets to work, quick and deft, with the material I present to him, carving out the conflict I have so far been unable to identify. "So, OK," he says, lighting his tenth cigarette. "Fine; we know I'm sick of advertising, and I can barely force myself to get to the office and come up with some idiot campaign for something I don't give a shit about. At the same time, Hope is at the magazine and I'm proud of her and I'm jealous, too, right? Even though maybe I don't know that I'm jealous...."
"Well, maybe you know it, but you would never admit to it."
"Of course not! I'm not that big a jerk. And also, seeing her really taking off and working again turns me on; I'm incredibly attracted to her. She's like she was when I first met her and I was totally smitten with her, right? Which is very sexy, because I sense she's not totally available to me right now. But at the same time, she's been home for the past year and a half with the baby and she has been totally available to me and I want it both ways. This is really cool. Is this helping you?"
"It's helping me."
"And what's harder, maybe, is that suddenly, she's a breadwinner, too."
I feel it starting for me; as he talks, I see scenes and bits of scenes.
"So who am I? Make me a pig! Make me real! I don't want to be the ideal little husband; that's boring, there's nothing to play there. Mel, she'll be able to do this really well. Hope loves being a mother and all that, but her self-esteem has suffered. She knows I've seen her differently, she wants it the way it was when we started, too; she wants to be able to control me and my feelings about her. What I want is to have her available to me. And, like, at the end of act two?"--he's referring to a scene I've shown him. Michael and Hope are making love when Hope interrupts it, against Michael's protests, to insert her diaphragm. When she returns to the bedroom, Michael is gone, and the rift between them has come out in the open--"What that scene is," Ken says, "is a test. 'Are you available to me? Is your womb available to me?' And she's not and it's not, and I can't deal with that. Because a deeper part of me is freaking out that if she doesn't need me anymore--then who am I?"
It's not a question he expects me to answer while we're sitting here. The script will take care of that soon enough--and, because of the time we've spent together today, I know there will be a script. I can feel the episode starting to grow. This idea of availability that Ken has so intuitively helped me pinpoint dictates both dialog and behavior. He leaves; I start writing.
A Pasadena Sunday. Four P.M. A hundred degrees, 1000 photographers, and here we are, in gowns and tuxes, on our way into the Civic Auditorium, where this year's Emmy show is to be held. I have Mel Harris on one arm. Melanie Mayron on the other; the paparazzi cry out "Hope!" and "Melissa!" instead of their real names. We meet everyone else from the show in the lobby; Ed and Marshall are both in Michael Steadman-type glooms, convinced we don't have a chance.
The Emmy show itself, produced by Lorne Michaels, is endless but entertaining, its highlight a medley of TV theme songs performed by the Sweeney Sisters, who at one point approach Mary Tyler Moore and musically ask her who can turn the world on with her smile. Early in the evening, there is a montage spanning 40 years of TV's leading men. Uncle Miltie, Desi Arnaz, Dick Van Dyke, Dennis Weaver--faces as icons, faces that summon association, and there among them are faces I know well. Ken's, Peter's, Tim's. We have become, I can see, part of the electronic cultural landscape, and I start to believe that maybe, just maybe, today's trip to Pasadena might turn out to be worth what it will cost to have the tux cleaned.
I'm right. Patty wins, as does the "Dead Dad" script, as does the series as a whole. We all troop up to the stage to collect the big one. As I've lost a few pounds since I last wore my tux, I hold Melanie's hand with one hand and my pants up with the other. Ed and Marshall say their standard few words, then we are all photographed backstage and led off for the rack of lamb and complimentary cologne. After the swirl of congratulation dies down, I join Ed at a table where, for the first time tonight, he sits alone.
"So...." he says.
"So?" I respond.
"So now what?"
"Write about dogs," I tell him.
He looks at me. "Wait a minute...."
"What if we did a whole show from the dog's point of view? It could be incredible."
"You're out of your mind," I tell him. "And I'm not writing it."
"But just think about it," he says, so I do, as, clutching our statuettes, we make our way outside, with a hug for the winners and a "Next year" for the losers, to wait for the cars that will take us home.
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