Hollywood is known for horrible executives. But some are way worse than others. 1,697 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Jeff Sterling, the President of America’s pre-eminent TV network, GBN, bought Lincoln HIgh in the room. Or to be more specific, in his cavernous Hollywood office. He liked the synopsis and had listened raptly to my proposal. He said yes before I even finished. Sterling was legendary for trusting his gut, for making split second decisions based on his instincts.
"This is just what I’ve been looking for," he exclaimed.
In our youth, we had worked together for the legendary Hollywood mogul, Len Richmond, and I had shamelessly exploited that connection so as to pitch the project directly to him.
But by going over the head of Conrad Cadwallader, the Global Broadcasting Network’s V.P. Of Movies, turns out I had unwittingly raised Cadwallader’s ire.
"There’s nothing like it on TV," Jeff Sterling pronounced as he escorted me down the hall to Cadwallader’s office. "I bought it," he bellowed when we entered unannounced. "I love it."
Audaciously dressed in a red Tom Ford cashmere suit, possessing outsized features and a sour grin, Cadwallader was, as presaged, imperious, crass and irascible.
"He’s all yours," Sterling said to him while pointing at me. "It’s going to be a great movie."
Sterling flashed us a thumbs up, then fled, leaving me standing in front of Cadwallader’s desk where he sat stone-faced, glaring at me through bejeweled horn rimmed glasses.
"I hate this project," he declared.
"I want you to know right from the start that I don’t give two shits for this sentimental piece of adolescent hooyah. I told Jeff as much after I’d read the screenplay. I can’t for the life of me figure out what he sees in it."
"That’s very encouraging."
"You won’t find encouragement here, Mr. Granger. I like action movies. Cops and robbers. Space invaders. Zombies, even. What I don’t like is mawkish drivel. I don’t like pre-pubescent homunculi. And from all I’ve heard, I don’t think I’m going to much like you, either."
"Wow. Aren’t we off to a great start."
By way of introduction, my name is Harry Granger and I’m a TV and Motion Picture hyphenate, a writer-producer with a handful of successful films under my belt. LIncoln HIgh is a saga of millennials and the baby boomer educators assigned to instruct them, a tale of generational dissension set in the multicultural city of New Orleans. Although I’d love to take full credit for developing LIncoln HIgh, in actuality I had early on presented the idea to TV icon, Tobias Gable whom, as I had hoped he would, jumped on board immediately and collaborated with me both on the screenplay and on shaping his starring role in it.
The project took flight when Tobias introduced the prospect of having his daughter, the red hot teen-idol, Taylor Gable, co-star in it with him.
Just as her father had entered the national consciousness as U.S. Marshal Frank Button in the long running TV series Lawmen, so had Taylor when her album MIllennial Heart went double platinum, thereby paving her way to sold out appearances in arenas and stadiums worldwide.
Tobias and Taylor together held the promise of ratings gold.
The film was in pre-production, rapidly approaching the start of principal photography when I received twelve pages of script notes from Cadwallader.
"Surely you have no intention of addressing this pile of steaming gibberish," Tobias Gable ranted.
"Not in this lifetime."
"Even though he speaks for the network?"
"Listen to me, Tobias. I wasn’t mentored by Len Richmond for nothing. His most cherished axiom was, ‘IF THEY DON’T HAVE THEIR NAME ON IT, FUCK ‘EM!'"
"You don’t see his name on it, do you?
I was ushered into Cadwallader’s office by his churlish assistant, Roberto, whose sullen demeanor reflected that of his boss, who barely looked up when I entered. Cadwallader, decked out in shredded jeans and a purple collarless John Varvatos jacket, pointed me to the guest chair. "What is it you want?"
I was determined to play nice with him. To acquiesce. "I’m sorry you don’t like LIncoln HIgh, Conrad. We’re hopeful we can change your mind. Tobias and I have discussed your notes and we think they’re good."
He eyed me warily but said nothing.
"We hope that by executing them to your satisfaction, you’ll develop a different opinion of the material."
"And keep in mind that the presence of both Gables, father and daughter, is a casting coup. We’re confident we have a ratings winner."
"You think the notes are good?"
"You think they’ll help the narrative?"
"We do. And we acknowledge your vast experience with dramatic material."
Seduced by the flattery, he softened. "I worked hard on those notes."
"They’re good notes."
"I worked hard on them."
"And we’re very grateful."
He shifted position and unceremoniously cleared his throat several times. "In the spirit of this conversation, let me say that I know of your association with Jeff and I respect it. But this is my department. I run it my way. If I were unhappy with a project or those responsible for that project, I wouldn’t hesitate to cancel it. Jeff or no Jeff."
"I hope so."
Ten days later I re-submitted the exact same screenplay. Not a word had been changed.
Cadwallader phoned the next day and gushed, "It’s a hundred per cent better."
Afterward I told Tobias what happened.
"Do you think he even read it?"
"Who knows? He says it’s a hundred per cent better. Who cares whether or not he read it."
"You didn’t change anything?"
"Not a word."
"And you got away with it?"
"Too soon to tell. I’m guessing we haven’t heard the last from him. He’s bound to find something he doesn’t like and then make us pay for it."
"You’re a very cynical person, Harry."
"When in Rome…"
We didn’t have long to wait.
"It’s too dark," Cadwallader screamed into the phone.
"I thought we addressed that issue in the re-write."
"Not the screenplay. The dailies. They’re too dark. Totally unacceptable. GBN would never air anything that looks like this."
"What are you talking about?"
"I can hardly see the actors."
"You realize you’re looking at a one light transfer."
"One light. Ten lights. I still can’t see shit."
"You do know we shot on film, not digital, and printed the selected takes directly from the negative. We’ve made no technical adjustments whatsoever. It’s not even close to a finished product."
"It’s too dark. Fix it or I won’t air it."
"May I say something, Conrad? Something genuinely heartfelt. Rendered with all due respect."
"You’re dead wrong."
"That’s one opinion," he said and slammed down the phone.
It wasn’t until weeks later, when we submitted the rough cut, that we heard from him again. "The music stinks."
"The music. It’s awful."
"It’s a temp track. Randomly selected music that the editor inserted as a placeholder for the score."
"It still stinks. Plus I can’t make out what they’re saying. They might as well be speaking Greek for all I can hear."
"It’s an un-mixed sound track. It’s undergone no quality control."
"Did you try turning up the volume?"
"It’s still garbled."
"Isn’t there a techie somewhere who could help you with your Ludditism?"
"Don’t demean me, Harry. It’s dreadful. Period."
I hung up on him in an effort to stop myself from going berserk.
He called back.
"I wasn’t finished," he yelled.
"How could I have missed that?"
"I don’t like the title."
"The movie title."
"It’s always been LIncoln HIgh. What don’t you like about it?"
"It’s too wordy."
"You’re kidding, right?"
"I don’t kid. It’s too wordy."
He hung up before I could respond.
A week later he stormed out of the network screening of the producer’s cut loudly protesting that nothing had been changed… The title still stank, the picture was still too dark, the dialogue still unintelligible.
That was when I lost it. I chased him into the lobby.
He whirled to face me, his lime green Issey Miyake sport coat aflap. "It’s over, Granger. GBN will never broadcast it. It’s below our standards."
"In case you didn’t get the memo, GBN made an exception to the rule."
"The air date rule."
"What are you, nuts?"
"The movie airs on June tenth."
"In your dreams it does."
"As per the contractual concessions made to Taylor Gable. Her reps insisted it be released coincident with the start of her upcoming American tour. She’s the hottest act in the world just now and this will be her first TV appearance. Dovetailing both premieres means huge publicity. And ratings. GBN ‘s Business Affairs department couldn’t sign on fast enough. They’d have handed her your head on a platter if that’s what it took to close the deal."
Cadwallader was clearly taken aback, shaken that he had no knowledge of this development. "We’ll see about this," he said weakly.
"Rest assured it’s already been seen to. And come to think of it, your head on a platter isn’t such a bad idea."
He glared at me.
"I wish I could say it’s been a pleasure working with you, Conrad," I exclaimed, making tracks for the door. "But you know what? I can’t."
LIncoln HIgh, its title unchanged, won the night and the week. Highest demographic and largest numbers.
Jeff Sterling called a press conference, and with the two Gables in tow, proudly announced he had ordered a sequel.
Both Tobias and Taylor were being touted for Emmy consideration. As was the movie.
During a celebratory dinner at Spago, Jeff casually let it be known that Conrad Cadwallader had left the network for a position elsewhere. "He must have seen the writing on the wall," Jeff said.
"’Find new employment’."
"Perhaps there’s a God after all."
The Hollywood Reporter released the story that Cadwallader had hooked up with Granville TV, the international production company, as a Development Executive.
I couldn’t text him fast enough."Development Executive? Too wordy."