My "Simpsons" spec script
POST-OP WEEK 84
week of September 6
There was a time when I was seriously going to try to make it as a writer on TV.
I worked on Jenny Jones as a writer. I did that TV pilot for NBC. The comedy guys and I got together and wrote a couple of scripts for possible shows, shows that hadn’t been made yet, shows that were just our own little ideas. We thought, somehow, we could pitch them to somebody and they’d buy them.
So we wrote one about two porta-potty cleaners from Wisconsin who go on a quest to meet Bobby Vinton. We wrote another: a high concept, family sit-com parody idea. And we wrote the pilot episode for a morning show with an odd twist like one of those “kiddy shows” in the 60s (Howdy Doody, Ray Rayner)...
We were on a roll.
Of course, we didn’t sell them. People off the street pretty much don’t walk into studio executive’s offices for a pitch meeting. And we didn’t know anybody. I guess we probably could’ve pushed harder with the few people we did know, but we didn’t.
But it got me in the TV sit-com writing groove. I found out that what you’re supposed to do to get a writing job is to write a “spec” script of an existing show. Take a popular show (hopefully one you know and love) and write an episode they’ve never done before. Then you use that script to show agents that you can write. I wrote a Cheers script and an episode of the Simpson’s.
My daughter had already been born by this time and the three of us flew out to L.A. to visit with my wife’s sisters. I also set up a lunch meeting with a friend of a friend who was just starting as a writer out there. He had gone to college with my wife’s fellow actor friend. He had also gone to school with that friend’s sister, who was a stand-up I knew. The three of us and the friend of a friend had lunch.
He told us how he got into the business. How he never really WANTED to be a writer. He came out to L.A. for some reason or another and got a job as a grunt in a literary agent’s office. He spent his nights, he said, eating pizza and watching Cubs games on cable. After about a year, he said, one of the agents there told him: Hey, you’re kind of funny, why don’t you write a spec script? Yeah, okay, he told them.
They got him jobs on some quickly cancelled shows and then he ended up on a quite famous one with a volatile star. He, apparently, got along with her and moved up the ranks until he became an executive producer. He went on to do some other show, I think, and now does little projects from time to time. I see his name here and there.
We had lunch with him before all that, I think, or just at the beginning, so he couldn’t just GIVE me a job. But, he did help me out, I got to give him that much. Most guys who get in the door in TV-land don’t turn around and help other people through it, too. They slam it, actually, firmly behind them.
This guy called his agent and told him he was sending over a new writer for them to look at, blah, blah, blah. In advance of our meeting, I sent them a script. It was a small place in the middle of a swanky shopping section of Beverly Hills. The offices themselves were small, nothing special. But the agents sure thought they were.
My “meeting” with the agent didn’t last very long. It started with her handing my spec script back to me, holding it out with two fingers, like it gave off a really bad odor. (Over the years, I’ve begun to doubt that she actually did this, that my memory has exaggerated it, but I swear that’s what she thought of my work.) She did, however, tell me it was in the wrong font! I used Times New Roman and all professional scripts are written in Courier (the old broken typewriter font), so she could tell I wasn’t cut out for this business.
(This was right at the beginning of the computer era, 1991 or so. Almost no one had or used or even knew what a computer was. The first Mac I had ever seen or used was about 3 or 4 years earlier at the Brandmeier show. That “fifth” writer, the ex-SNL guy, knew how to use one and taught us all how. I knew this computer thing was the way to write anything, so I went out and bought one. I knew with the wave of my mouse, I could change that pesky Times into whatever font this Beverly Hills expert wanted, but she didn’t. She still figured all GOOD writers were tapping away in a darkened room on a Selectric.)
I also put it in a light folder type thing with a clear sheet in front--- the kind you could pick up at any office supply store, the thing any good student would hand in his term paper as... I didn’t know that all PROfessional scripts were three-hole punched along the left margin and held together with those copper-colored wire “brads” kindergarteners use for their homework. I only found that out later.
God! How amateurish can you get? Times New Roman in a clear, plastic folder! Newbie!
I got the distinct impression that she hadn’t even read it. In the Land of How Things Look, I completely blew it.
I left dejected; my big break gone.
I think I might’ve told the writer friend of a friend what had happened but he didn’t do anything about it, he didn’t call her and sell me to her. That was just that.
That didn’t stop me, though. I actually kept at it. But not for very much longer.
pretty groovy threads @MGR
POST-OP WEEK 85
week of September 13
My mom sometimes gave us slices of ham or turkey when we were kids, or sometimes that homemade sausage my dad made. She’d be slicing ham, maybe, in the kitchen before dinner and we’d hover around, hungry, like dogs, sniffing around for food. She’d give us a little piece to keep us happy. No bread, no mayo, just meat. And when she did she always said she was giving us “meat in the hand.” Except when she said, it came out more like: meeght-inna-han. “Here Wally, you want some meeghtinnahan?”
POST-OP WEEK 86 & 87
week of September 20 - 26
I got my first job at 20.
I hear a lot of people talk about how they babysat. They mowed lawns, paper route, lifeguard at the local pool. Not me.
My dad used to tell me: “You’ve got your whole life to work. Why work now.” Of course, when he said I had my whole life to work, he meant I had my whole life to work at his factory. So, while my friends would be sitting behind the fragrance counter at Carson’s five hours a night, I’d be home, hanging out.
I’d always gotten an allowance every week. It was like a salaried job, I guess. For a weekly sum, I was expected to do whatever chores they gave me--- mow the lawn, shovel snow. I washed dishes occasionally. I don’t know how much I got to begin with, but before it stopped, I was pulling down $20 a week! Yeah, that’s a lot, even by today’s standards.
(My kids automatically thought about getting jobs. My daughter and a friend made up business cards and passed them around the moms, after they took a babysitting course, to drum up babysitting gigs at 12 or so. She tried for a lifeguard spot at the pool we go to the next suburb over, trained, the whole shot. She’s worked in an office, filing papers; she got a job at a clothing store in the Oak Brook mall.
My son (kid #2), too. He works at the ice cream shop in town. Kid #3 is talking about trying for a caddy job this summer at the golf course. I’m not sure where they’re getting this work ethic? Maybe it’s because we don’t give them $20 a week?
We still pay for a lot of their stuff--- clothes, school stuff... But the deal is, anything they need to pay for, like movies, CDs, kitchy shoes, etc are on them. Their birthday/ Christmas money only goes so far. So, they get jobs.
Maybe I didn’t get a job because I basically didn’t ever buy anything. Twice a year, my mom took me out to buy school clothes: I’d get a couple of new pairs of pants, 3 or 4 shirts, a belt. Other than that, I never went anywhere or did anything. I never went to a movie with friends. No skating parties. I didn’t ride my bike uptown to get sodas or ice cream as a kid. There was some modeling stuff. That summer my cousin came for a visit from Seattle and talked me into buying all sorts of HO scale trucks and army guys--- then he blew them up with firecrackers.
I guess I bought records. I might’ve paid for those myself or maybe I picked them out when I was out with my parents, shopping so they picked up the tab...? But, really I never spent money.
I opened a bank account when I was around 12, I think, put in $25 of birthday money. I’d sock money away on a regular basis after that.
I thought about getting a job before I turned 20--- once. I don’t know what got into me. I was in high school. (My girlfriend at the time had a job, maybe that’s where I got the idea...?) I decided to check at the brand new North Riverside Mall. Malls were a fairly new concept back then! We had a little strip mall in Berwyn, although we called it a Shopping Center. It was just one length of stores with connecting sidewalk, outside.
There was this quaint, little, old folks home in a quiet wooded area across the street in North Riverside that developers knocked to the ground and so they could put in a Mall. I can remember going there to check it out when it was a J.C. Penney and a bunch of empty storefronts.
Eventually, they filled all the spaces and everyone went there to shop--- we loved Malls. That’s where I’d go twice a year for my wardrobe upgrade--- Just Pants or a hip, disco clothes store called Merry Go Round.
I thought that’d be a good place to work for my first job: Merry Go Round. I guess I figured I shopped there, I should work there, too. So one day after school, I drove over. I stood outside the store in the center fountain area with the ferns and benches, pacing, looking inside. Trying to get up the courage... maybe... no. Pace some more. Look inside, just go in Walter, go. Yeah, I can do this... sure I can... no.
I don’t know how long I did this before I finally just went inside. I guess I must’ve been pretty jumpy because I remember the guy there looking at me kind of funny; at least I thought so. I can’t say that I remember filling out any paperwork, so maybe, I’m thinking, he didn’t even give me an application. Now that I think about it, I think all I could get out of my mouth was: are you looking for anyone and he said no.
Years went by before I even thought about working again.
This might’ve been a girlfriend this time, too. I know I went to a bartending “class” down at college. It was all of one or two days, a crash-training program. It took place in a bar as I recall. (Seems like a natural, huh, for a kid raised in bars to go to one for training?) The teacher was a big guy who went by the name of Dirty Don. For, like, two days and 50 bucks he ran down the highlights of working behind a bar.
He wasn’t so much about: what goes in a Manhattan? He taught us which glass to use, how to pour a beer, how to free pour a perfect shot, what’s a “speed rail” and what’s the most efficient way to use it. (It’s the metal gutter between your thighs and the ice bin as you’re standing at your bartending station. It has the basic liquors in it, the cheap stuff: rum, vodka, whiskey, scotch, gin, and tequila. They were always in a certain order, too, so you could grab one without really looking down at the rail. I can’t remember what that order was anymore, but he taught us one. (These days, they just have it all on a push-button “liquor gun.” But they’re actually still in the same order.)
It was invaluable training as bartending goes.
I thought that’d be the end of it after our two days but Dirty Don knew the soon-to-be managers of a bar that was re-opening in town called TJ McFly’s and he suggested I go over there and apply. This was when my college girlfriend at the time, dropped out, moved out, and went back home. So, yeah, hey, she and I trained together, I only went there because she went and now she dumped me, but, what the heck, I went in and they gave me a job.
I was supposed to start in August of that next semester; they had me on the schedule. Then that whole pesky mom-dying thing happened--- I had to call them and say I’d need a few days off. Tending bar at Southern was pretty easy: a lot of beer, maybe a Jack and coke, gin and tonic. The biggest thing you had to do was watch that your tip jar wouldn’t get stolen or anything else of interest from right in front of your nose.
The drinking age was 18 or 19 at the time, so the place was full of my fellow students. I had 2 classes that semester, my last 8 hours--- one class was taking color photos of whatever and the other was editing the movie I shot before Labor Day. I was pretty bummed about my mom dying, depressed I suppose. I probably should’ve seen a doctor at the school clinic, I’m sure they had one, but I didn’t. I just sat and watched TV, crying at CHiPs episodes, and worked at the bar. (During the day, sometimes, I’d do school stuff.)
What was supposed to be a part time job soon became 20, 30 hours a week. I liked it there. Behind the bar you’re sort of on a stage, I guess. And you have power. You’re the only thing between the customer dying for a drink and the drink. I was “out” at a bar, listening to the music, looking at the people, without actually having to make friends to go to the bar with me or go out alone. And to a minor extent, the other bartenders were a circle of friends, sort of. Though I didn’t hang out with them other than during and sometimes after our shifts.
The managers liked me, I guess, because they put me on the day shift. (Or maybe I didn’t have as many classes as the rest of the students, so I was the only one to say yes to a day position?) The outdoor beer garden opened at 12:30, though not a lot of people came there to drink, bikers mostly, it was enough to justify having me open up. Again, I think I liked it because I was outside, it was warm. I “mingled” with people without actually having to be with people. Every once in a while, after working six, eight hours all day, my boss would ask if I wanted to work a double. I’d always said yes, so I’d be at the bar from noon until 2:30 in the morning!
Yeah, Good Ol’ Steve’s (Dear Ol’ Dad) kid working in a bar... Makes perfect sense. Seems natural.
I don’t know if that place was the best first job to have had, come to think of it. It was a fun job. It didn’t seem like work. I had two managers, total. The owners showed up once or twice but then stayed away. I had responsibility and autonomy. No corporate food chain. No HR department. It was mostly a night job. I made a minimal hourly wage and almost never any tips (my best night was during parents’ weekend when I made $20 total).
A lot of kids, by the time they’re 20 have had any number of jobs, grunt positions, that maybe give them a better picture of what work is? My daughter’s 19 and she’s been a babysitter, lifeguard, filing “clerk” in an office, salesperson at a clothing store, and a restaurant hostess.
I sometimes think a lot of people have a better attitude about their jobs than I do. I expect a lot from my job. I guess I was always under the impression that my job, the thing I give 8 to 10 hours of my life to 5 days a week should be something I don’t mind giving 8 to 10 hours of my life to.
I know a lot of people who treat whatever job they have, whatever level in whatever field treat it like any other grunt job. They’re favorite phrase: “it is what it is.” They don’t care if the thing they produce is good or bad, they just care if it’s done.
The thing is: this attitude seems to make them happy. Their expectations are pretty low so they’re not disappointed when the job sucks. Or maybe these menial, repetitive jobs are challenging to them. Maybe they’re working at their peak so they’re having a grand ol’ time...
Me? I struggle.
I liked working when it was the comedy group we started... When I was working “for myself.” I would do anything, no matter how long it took--- writing, recording, editing ‘til all hours of the night, happy.
I think about my dad’s story--- getting out of the Army after WWII and going to work at General Electric for just a short time, then quitting because he couldn’t stand working for other people, people he thought were stupid, didn’t know what they were doing, etc. So he started his own business--- he called it The Shop. Maybe not liking to work for other people is genetic. Maybe I saw him working for himself while I was growing up so I wanted that, too.
I have no snappy ending for this entry, I’m just rambling on about the subject, so I’m going to stop now and move on...
diary continues October 2010...