Darrell Vickers: How I Got Really, Really Good Rolling Stones Tickets

darrell-vickersWorking in show business is like dating a girl that is clinically insane.  Sometimes it can be absolutely mind blowing and amazing and sometimes it can be like having your eyes eaten out by fire ants.  I shall now recount one such ocular bug buffet that would have given Leiningen himself, the cold shits.

The Beginning:

Andrew and I just been hired as co-executive producers on a so-so series about a genie (No, it wasn’t “I Dream of Jeannie” – I’m not that fucking old.).  These types of alt crazy womanfictional endeavors are problematic from the get-go.  You have a mythical creature that can solve any problem by crossing his arms and nodding, so you spend 90% of your time trying to figure out the reason why he doesn’t.  On this show, that was the least of our worries.

How Sitcoms are Produced:

Writing a sitcom is a Sisyphean task and each week they hand you another bright, shiny boulder.

The work week begins on Monday with a table read by the assembled thespians and an episode is taped/filmed on the following Friday.  In between, the scribes spend 60 possibly even 70-plus sweaty, badly-fed hours (not unlike “Lockdown”) rewriting and restructuring that script (which had already gone through an approved outline and several drafts).  First the network Writer's Roomhas its say.  I’ve been present at a few hundred of these dog and pony shows and I’ve never ever seen the Network not have a raft of complaints and cavils.  Now, what are the chances that every script, written by every writer over all those years has been utter crap?  There’s always a compelling reason that a vast majority or all of the teleplay in question must be radically altered or the very walls of entertainment as we know it will come crashing down and forever taint our souls.  Then the studio takes their scythe to this already battered field of whimsical wheat.

The actors go off to the stage to rehearse and the writers go to their wretched hovel to pick up the pieces.  On Tuesday you see a run through and the actors complain and the director complains and you radically re-write the script again.  Come Wednesday, the studio and the network are back and (surprise, surprise) they don’t like it.  Another fun evening with lousy take-out food and the building janitors ensues.

sitcom- being shotThursday is a little lighter – only because the actors could not possibly learn an entirely new script overnight, otherwise it would be exactly like Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

It’s not unusual for the creative geniuses at the Network to ask for additional changes between large bites of show-provided spare ribs and pastries, as the fucker is being taped.

Is Friday’s product a vast improvement on Monday’s (especially considering the back-breaking amount of misery and toil that was spent on it in the interim)?  Nope.  In a small minority of cases the teleplay is marginally spruced up – but the original script has to be a genuine stinkpot.  Generally, the better the script is on Monday, the worse it is on Friday.

kid and prize winning chickenThink about it.   Say you have a prize-winning chicken.  Gallus Gallus Domesticus’s finest egg-laying flower.  But on Monday, after displaying its fine plumage and enviable wattle structure, you’re ordered to start ripping vital organs out of the screaming bird.  So, you spend all night feverishly trying to shove replacement body parts back into the ravaged creature and patch it us as best you can.  Tuesday, you fluff up its feathers and wash a little of the blood off and send it limping back to the stage.  Alas, other ligaments and entrails now need to be jettisoned and they want a bunch of new bits added.  Well, you’ve only got so much chicken so you have to start tearing out bones and giblets to make room for these unnecessary anatomical addenda.  A valiant attempt is made to keep as much of the fowl’s facade as humanly a man removing chicken partspossible but the internals of the hen have been so brutishly compromised that it’s about as steady on its feet as Charlie Sheen after a stag party.  By Wednesday, the feathers, head and legs have to be discarded and you end up with a big wheezing pile of malformed skin with a beak stuck on top of it.  Thursday, you glue a couple of feathers and an eyeball back onto the unsightly Frankenbird and hope for the best.  Come Friday, you wheel out the oozing dismembered corpse before a hungry audience but there isn’t enough Colonel Sanders secret recipe in the universe to make this turgid, sickly monstrosity look appetizing.

And should the laughter prove paltry for your poultry, the cock-sure hands that guided you so assiduously in its transmogrification will turn purple-faced with rage and Jimcomplain, “You call that a chicken?!”

But, this is every sitcom – whether it be a classic for the comical ages or “According to Fucking Jim”.  Your job is to pour vast swaths of your own life down a bottomless toilet of futility.  To write amusing little tales about a funny happy family while never getting to see your own.

Back to the Genie show:

MikeyOur executive producer was a middling talent – so unremarkable and non-creative that it made him perfect for primetime television.  Let’s call him “Michael”.  Now, Mikey was as rich as he was short so he could afford to buy the biggest Napoleon complex they had in the shop.  He had two shows on the air at the time.  A long running piece of pap and the masterpiece we’d eeyore-1been hired on.  The “Piece of Long Running Pap” was in the same building as ours and separated by a wall which we suspected the staff of the other show had erected themselves.  He was a mutated Eeyore, walking around with a murky cloud of despond floating over his stubby little frame.  Only Mikey was as cheerful as Dick Cheney kicking the poor.  The cloud only infected others who were unfortunate enough to inhale his lugubrious pother.

The first thing we learned on the show was that Mike preferred to spend all day on set cuddling up to the actors (well who wouldn’t) leaving his wretched staff to fend for themselves up in their dreary, non-celebrity-filled offices.  At around five o’clock, the “glorious ones” would all toddle off home and Mikey would then return to the bosom of our humble company and immediately throw out everything we’d spent all day writing.

Was what we penned any good?  It didn’t matter.  Again, working on sitcoms is all about wasted effort.  So, at about 5:30 every day, we’d start from scratch with Mr. Shorty Pants one finger on keyboardleading the noble charge.  We’d call out jokes and he would tap it into the computer with one finger.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  He didn’t use the mouse and he didn’t use the “Home” or “End” key.  If he needed to go to the end of the line, it was tap, tap, tap – moving the cursor one space at a time.  This delightfully primitive approach to technology guaranteed that any hope of a soft warm bed that evening was about as far away as Mikey’s lucrative NBA contract.

Around three o’clock in the morning, he would get all dramatic on us – “I’m blind here guys.  Just tell me what to type.”

TVGuideIt was as if his self-imposed suffering made what he was doing seem more important.  He was the wounded and weary pilot guiding his crippled plane, carrying starving Romanian orphans, onto the deck of a cargo ship full of Romanian orphan food.  In reality, the show was mindless fluff with a few widely scattered half-smiles that posed as jokes (TV Guide called the series ‘Hammy, artificial, and altogether excruciating).   Our days were spent jerking-off into the computer (this is not nearly as much fun as it sounds) and our nights were spent waiting for the Fred Flinstone of showrunners to locate the comma on his keyboard.  This went on for month after soul draining month, without rest or variation.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

But it got even worse:

Mikey was also a fireman who liked to start his own fires.  We had one particular episode that needed a page one rewrite (It was no better or worse than episodes we’d already shot but…we hadn’t wasted a sufficient amount of our lives that week.  What choice did he have?).  It was an all-nighter.  We punched-up that script till 8 o’clock in the morning.  It had some pretty good jokes in it.  We all went home to shower and Mike and his detestable second in command stayed behind and removed every single molecule of levity we’d spent all night putting in.

BismarckYou can imagine our delighted surprise at 11 o’clock when the now jokeless tome sank like the Bismark before our baggy, bloodshot eyes.  There wasn’t a titter left in the offending pages.  Watching that read-through was like witnessing Biz Markie and Sally Struthers having sex.  Actors were begging to be put down by the first act break.  After the very last dry, mirthless word had been coughed up to paralyzing silence, Michael confidently turned to the horrified studio and network people and said, “I know it’s a fucking disaster.  Mike - super hero - mighty mouseLuckily, I know just how to fix it.”

Now, Mikey got to play the hero!  He alone possessed the knowledge and skill to resuscitate a script that he alone had just savagely beaten into a coma.

On another wondrous occasion – our diminutive leader so needed to be on-set to cavort with the “glittery people” – that he dumped the network on us.  We had just filmed an episode about robots and now we were doing a script featuring mannequins that moved.  ABC was concerned that the two scripts were too similar to be done in the same season.  Networks aren’t usually right about anything and our present corporate chaperones had already ordered up their fair share of chicken eviscerations but in this case, they were absolutely correct.  Mikey, on his way out the door, tossed us our assignment, “Go convince them to let us to do the episode, fellas.”

unconvinced network executivesSo, like good little soldiers, Andrew, I and Mark sat in a room across from the assembled executives and lied and tap-danced.  This went on for 45 excruciating minutes and the network, despite our paper-thin arguments were still unreasonably convinced that these two exceedingly similar scripts were too similar.  That’s when our compact commander waltzed into the room.  “What seems to be the problem?” he disingenuously queried.

The network explained their rock solid reservations vis-à-vis mannequins and robots.

“Then fine, we’ll just change it.”  He then turned to his foolish writers.  “That’s okay with you guys, right?”

writers celecrating altSon of a gun if Mikey hadn’t saved the day again!  Mission accomplished, he then scooted back to the stage to frolic with the fabulous people and left us to admire him as a man and as a god.

About ten shows into the 13 episode order, ABC mercifully cancelled our undulating lump of unfunny.  I noted at the time the irony of the situation.  All the writers on the Genie show were celebrating their luck.  Dancing in the aisles and making such merry as could scarcely be writers of Mikes uncancelled howcountenanced.  We were free!  The staff on his “other show” were walking around like they’d just been diagnosed with severe trigeminal neuralgia.  They had realized to their horror that L’il Duce was now free to devote all of his time to piloting their stricken aircraft of peckish and parentless Eastern Europeans.

The Happy Ending:

rolling stones on tourTo make myself feel slightly better about my harrowing months with the mediocre munchkin, I purchased tickets to see the Rolling Stones on the Bridges to Babylon tour at the Coliseum.  They were 4th row, dead center.  I invited my beloved sister and my wife’s best friend to come join us and we quaffed imported champagne in a super-stretch limo on the way to the stadium – all paid for by Genie-show dollars.

pantoufleAnd as we sat comfortably in our mega-expensive seats, a scant few feet from Mick’s grinning wrinkles and bopped to the infectious rock ‘n’ roll beat of Jumpin’ Jack Flash, the many arduous miles I had trod to get to that spot slowly hopped away like Anouk’s imaginary kangaroo Pantoufle and were lost to a strong north wind.

Epilogue:

Chinese foodMini-Mike, after spending a considerable period wandering around lost in the show business wilderness, has found his way back to prime time with a revamping of one of his long running shows.

So, as you are turning out your bedside light this evening and summoning sweet Morpheus to whisk you away to a blissful world of golden slumbers, think about a small group of enervated, pitiable scribes – who at that very moment are still sitting around an old wooden table strewn with Chinese food containers and waiting oh-so-patiently for the cursor to reach the beginning of the line.  Tap. Tap. Tap….Tap…Tap…Tap.

=DV=

If you like the writing, then check out my serial novel at the link below.

There is a new chapter every Monday.

Chapter 6 is now available.

http://chateaudietrich.blogspot.com/

Darrell Vickers appears here every 4th Monday 

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.co

DBAWIS_ButtonDarrell Vickers started out as one half of Toronto area band, Nobby Clegg.  CFNY fans may remember the cheery song “Me Dad” which still gets airplay.  From there, he valiantly ventured to L.A. and eventually became head writer for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  Since then, he’s created numerous sitcoms and animation shows in Canada and the U.S.  He still writes music and has an internet band called Death of the Author Brigade (members in Croatia, Canada and the U.S.)   Mr. Vickers also had a private music mailing-list where he features new and pre-loved music.  Anyone who would like to be added to his daily mailing list, just write him at Radiovickers1@gmail.com .

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