Let me state right up front that I am not anti-television. The fact that I was cable-free for five years post-divorce had more to do with my crack-like addition to television than any moral stance against or disdain for the medium. I just assumed that if more than two and a half channels were viewable on my TV set, I’d do little else save watch it. The good news? I know myself really, really well. The bad news? I know myself really, really well.
Of course, I am now justifying my increased television viewing with my newfound desire to transform #1 & #2, the stage play (with music!) that I wrote with my partner, L.A. Jan, into a television series, a desire born out of a dream to tell our truth to the widest possible audience with the greatest possible efficiency. (When you’re perpetually zonked by chronic illness, you quickly attune yourself to the fine art of maximizing efficiency.)
Given that dream, logic would dictate that, in addition to re-familiarizing myself with the medium as a consumer, I’d also be angling to learn the business from the inside out: i.e., getting a staff job on an existing television show. Any television show.
Only I’m not. And neither is Jan. And if we were on the fence about it before, which maybe I was, since, let’s face it, TV is a really well-paying gig and I really understand the freedom that money provides, all it took was one day in the Quaalude of a sitcom spec-writing class we’re taking to convince me that writing on someone else’s show is not something I can pursue with the laser-like focus one needs to in order to obtain such a cush gig.
Again, please understand: I am no TV snob. I both love my TV, free, basic and premium, and I fully recognize and honor the very real skills required to write for a pre-existing show. I can even understand how it might be fun…sometimes. After all, in addition to fat residual checks, you’re surrounded by smart, funny people all day and usually, there’s really good lunch. It’s a lot like advertising used to be back in the 1980’s, only you’re writing the stuff in between the commercials instead of the commercials themselves.
But it’s just not me; I was in advertising (which I fell into and then fell asleep in) and that wasn’t me, either. Writing copy and shooting commercials, even great copy and terrific commercials, felt like a simulacrum of the life I was supposed to lead, like being alive, versus really living.
If I fell into it, if I was plucked from amongst millions, if the smoked glass window of the limo rolled down and a long, well-manicured finger pointed at me me me to be lifted from obscurity to the high-profile, well-heeled life of a sitcom writer, well, hell, yeah, I’d do it. For a while, anyway. I may be crazy, but I’m not nuts.
But as for what I’ll hurl myself into? What I’ll go out on a limb for, contort myself for, put away childish things for? I’m afraid that for me, I’m looking at the big, nasty enchilada: my Truth. And it’s all, in this case, the creation of my own work, saleable or not, or nothing. You’re in or you’re out. Live free or die.
Because that soporific sitcom spec-writing class? It now follows hard on the heels of a pilot-writing class, the most kick-ass, off-the-charts-caffeinated class it’s been my pleasure to take for a long, long time. Same teacher, same room, totally different vibe. We’re a ragtag crew, this small mess of us with dreams of disseminating our dreams, but we are plugged into the juice and we will not take “no” for an answer. And man, oh, man, is that ever exciting to be around.
Will we all make it? Doubtful. Will any of us make it? Hard to say. The odds are certainly against us; each of us, I’m sure, has had no end of helpful advisors telling us that our time would be better spent traversing the traditional routes. But that’s not for us: the few…the proud…the insane. Keep your overhead low and your sights sky-high.
I may never again know what it’s like to stay in a great hotel or sign a mortgage stub or even order off a menu with impunity. I may be forever relegated to a boho lifestyle of purloined treats consumed off the premises with fellow losers.
But it’s okay. Because I’ve been alive and done those things.
And believe me, living is better…