September 16, 2007
Is it better to have had a shot and failed, or never to have had a shot at all? A few weeks ago, I went out to LA to pitch a TV show called Worst Case Scenario. Dan, the producer, had set up meetings with all the leading TV networks. "When you get in the room," he advised, "just be yourself."
Whenever I'm told to be myself, I can't be. I'm too self-conscious. Also, I've never been in a room with half a dozen comedy executives where everyone is looking at me, waiting to laugh. When I explained this to Dan, he thought for a second. He was already starting to look exhausted and the pitching hadn't even begun.
When I arrived at the hotel, a package was waiting for me. Dan's PA had printed out maps and an itinerary of where I was going. Just then I knew the most stressful part of the trip wasn't going to be pitching the show - it would be driving there. If I could figure out the directions and navigate the parking, I would be thrilled.
But Dan was worried. So the following morning, he picked me up in his Turbo. He'd offered to drive me himself to the NBC meeting in Burbank. Or, as I saw it, three pages of Google maps away.
I was standing in my bathrobe when the phone rang. It was Dan: "They've moved the meeting forwards. I'm downstairs!" Then he paused. "Just kidding. I'm trying to loosen you up."
I got in the car and began to study the pages I'd written, hoping to remember what to say. "Some writers use a highlighter," Dan said. "You want one?" I nodded. In seconds Ling-Ling from the production office was on the phone. "What colour?" he asked. I replied: Yellow. "Fat or thin?" Within minutes, we were outside his office, where Ling-Ling was waiting with a fat yellow highlight pen.
It was like magic. Instantaneous packets and pens and free mineral water. Everything was managed and handled, yet, in the back of my mind, I knew soon it would all evaporate.
I tried not to think about it. I tried to tell myself that, no matter what the outcome of my pitch was, it was an experience. Dan had assembled a team for me. And having a group of people to hang out with - lingering afterwards and discussing how things went - was the best part of it. It was a built-in social life. Plus, never before had I known what it was like to have so many people interested in what I had to say. Getting a show would be a bonus.
When it came time to pitch, I think I did well except that I noticed a few of the women began to look depressed. One of them made a sad face at me. Making a comedy executive frown can't be a good thing.
What I love most about the TV business is that when they reject you, it happens quickly. There's not a lot of waiting around. So far, everyone has passed on it. Except one network, which is still considering the show.
The night before I left, I had dinner with my friend Tamara. The car park didn't have floors as in 1st, 2nd or 3rd - they were named after movies. After dinner Tamara told me she was parked on "Stuart Little". We tried to work out if the higher floors were the higher-grossing movies. I couldn't remember where I'd parked. If there was a floor for Sahara, that's where I'd be.