Writers on a new TV series love everything about their job. Well, almost everything. 1,983 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
It’s a dream job. I imagine Disorderly running for years. A guaranteed job. No more jumping from show to show to show. I’m working on a TV series with smart, funny, non-asshole people, a production company that buys us lunch, a pilot plus ten order guaranteed, and a show that’s fun to write. It’s about crazy attorneys and cops. Imagine an amped up, whacked out Law & Order. The showrunner/creator, Stefan, is amazing. No ego, a nice guy who insists on sane hours, thinks writers get burned out by being in the room too long. The first week of the show, he invited us over to his house for a barbeque. He didn’t hire a caterer, either. He did the grilling himself. His wife made cupcakes.
Like I said, dream job.
The rest of the Disorderly staff is great, too. And I’m back with my friend Lisa from Ghombie (aka piece of shit). Thank God, it got canceled. “Pinch me, Kyle,” Lisa says on the job every day. “This is way too good to be true.”
“Don’t jinx it,” I tell her.
Stefan wants us to meet the cast so the actors and actresses stop by the office. It’s mostly an ensemble show, but there are two big guy parts. Matthew Roth is the arrogant attorney. He’s done a ton of TV and a couple of indie films. The first thing he says is how blessed he is to be doing a show like this. Blessed.
Becca Drake plays the pretty young attorney. This is her first big job and she’s super grateful. “I hope I don’t mess anything up. Disorderly is everything I’ve dreamed about,” she says. I think she might be the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Dimples. Liz Taylor violet eyes. She smells like vanilla, like cookies. She shakes our hands when she leaves.
I feel an elbow in my side. Lisa whispers, “Put your tongue back in your mouth.”
The other male lead, Daniel Hobbes, arrives late. Suddenly, the air in the room feels charged. He has movie star presence. He’s not as big as he looks in his films, but he radiates tall. He’s wearing sunglasses and we can’t see his eyes. Daniel nods, but doesn’t shake hands. “Hobbes,” he says. “That’s what you can call me.”
Stefan introduces him and says how excited we are to be working with him. Hobbes adjusts his sunglasses and walks out.
Everyone is quiet for a minute. “It’s incredible Hobbes would do Disorderly,” Stefan apologizes to us.
“He just divorced his second wife,” Lisa whispers to me. “Spends a lot of time in Vegas. Fathered at least two kids. Drugs. Maserati collection. His next career move either was Disorderly or Dancing With The Stars.”
“We’re lucky,” Stefan tells us, sounding as if he’s trying to convince himself.
In the series, Matthew (“Call me Matt”) and Daniel (“Hobbes”) are adversaries. Hobbes plays a rogue cop who’s constantly butting heads with Matt’s arrogant but brilliant D.A.. “Play by the rules,” the brilliant D.A. warns the rogue cop. “Rules, schmules,” Hobbes says.
The original line was better, a lot better, but Hobbes changed it. He changes most of his lines. Stefan, on the set for the pilot, takes Hobbes aside. Stefan has told us to spend time on the set because, by watching the process of filmmaking, we’ll become better writers. By now our writing staff would follow Stefan to the edge of a cliff and, if he asked us to jump off, we’d do it. So if anyone can convince Hobbes to say the lines as written, it would be Stefan.
But Hobbes doesn’t want to play by the rules. Or, as he so brilliantly put it, “Rules, schmules.”
Hobbes won’t listen to the director, a pilot veteran who is known for his patience. With the exception of Matt, the other actors seem afraid of Hobbes. They watch as he changes his lines, their lines, everyone’s blocking, but no one will speak up against him, including Becca.
Lisa says the reason I’m on the set so much is because of Becca, and I tell Lisa that’s not true — which is a lie because all I do is think about Becc. The way she laughs, how she brushes her hair out of her eyes, her friendliness with the crew. When she mentions her favorite color is green, the next day every crew member is wearing green. Does she notice? Of course. She gives everyone a hug.
I’m waiting for my Becca hug. For now I’ll settle for talking to her about baseball. It figures. She’s beautiful, she loves baseball, and she’s a Mets fan like me. She grew up going to the games, and even now she can rattle off pitcher and batter stats. When we realize we attended the same game once (Matt Harvey threw a four-hit shutout), she giggles. “Pinkie swear?” she says, and we lock our little fingers. “Mets bond, Kyle. For life.”
Back at the office, Lisa says my face is bright red and asks if Becca saw my hard-on. I look down in a moment of panic and realize Lisa is kidding.
“Kyle, she’s an actress,” Lisa warns. “Trust me, she’s full of bullshit.”
“No, she’s not. She told me, ‘My craft, it’s everything.’”
Lisa makes a pity face. “C’mon, let’s work on your outline.”
We sit in Lisa’s office and I imagine Becca’s character falling in love with a New York City playwright who’s now a TV writer. But that doesn’t work in the story, so instead I concentrate on a sex trafficking ring that involves people who meet on pet dating sites.
I watch dailies and the show looks great. Matt is super. He underplays everything and, as a result, steals every scene he’s in. Especially scenes with Hobbes, who is chewing and spitting out scenery, shouting his lines, and sometimes whispering. I’ve seen the sound guy shake his head as if he knows Hobbes is fucking with him. We can’t deny Hobbes’s star quality, but we’re anxious for him to exit a scene so the other characters, the ones you care about, can get showcased. And that’s translated into our scripts. When we’re in the writer’s room, everybody pitches story ideas for Matt and Becca. But no one wants to write anything for Hobbes.
“Can’t you fire him?” Lisa asks Stefan.
“He’s got a two-year deal,” Stefan says. “We could let him go, but we’d bite the money. And the network thinks he’s going to bring in a big audience. Which is probably true.”
“So what happens?” It’s the obvious question, but I ask it anyway.
“We keep going,” Stefan says. “We can give him less to do. But since he’s counting lines, I’m sure that’ll piss him off even more. Maybe things will change once the show airs and it’s a hit.”
The writers nod. How hard will it be for us to put up with Hobbes?
He is fairly well behaved at the pilot table read. At least he reads the lines on the page. Although we watch as he frowns and makes notes beside his lines. At the second table read, he shows up late and then glowers at Matt whenever his character gets a laugh. When the table read is done and the cast lingers to talk with Stefan, Hobbes walks out without a word to anyone.
It gets harder. Hobbes doesn’t like the costumes for an episode and wears his own black leather jacket. Then he wants to be paid for using his own jacket. On location he doesn’t think an alley seems realistically dirty enough, so he pisses on a prop trash can. One day on set when the hair lady is trying to tame his cowlick, he calls her a cunt and runs his fingers through his hair so it stands straight up as if he’s been electrocuted.
I’m there that day, standing near Becca. “Wow,” I comment.
Becca is silent. For a second, I consider telling her my agent gave me Dugout Club seats to a Dodger game and asking if she’d like to go with me. But I don’t say anything.
The next week, we’re shooting Lisa’s episode so she’s spending a lot of time on the set, texting us Hobbes’ latest bad behavior anecdotes. I’m in my office, working on my script, hoping Becca will be so impressed with the baseball lines I’ve written that she’ll reward me with a hug.
So I’m surprised when Lisa texts me, YOUR GIRLFRIEND NOT BACK FROM LUNCH. CREW PISSED. Becca missed her call after lunch? That doesn’t sound like her. I go to the set and there’s no activity, except for the AD on his phone, frantically trying to track down Becca. Stefan paces beside him. I join Lisa who has earbuds around her neck and a lav transmitter clipped to her belt.
“Have they called local hospitals yet?” I ask. “Suppose she was in a car accident?”
“I’m going out on a limb here, Kyle. No car accident,” Lisa says.
“Becca would never be late. Not on purpose,” I reply. “Becca is a professional. She might be new, but she cares. I know.”
When Becca arrives on the set, her face is flushed and she runs directly to the AD and aplogizes. “I’m sorry. My phone died. I didn’t realize I was so late.” She looks as if she’s about to cry. She notices Stefan. “Oh my God, Stefan. I feel terrible.”
I can see tears in her eyes. Behind me, I hear Lisa snort.
“No worries, Becca,” Stefan says. “Why don’t you go run the scene with Hobbes?”
“Okay.” Becca’s voice sounds very small. She runs over to Hobbes who’s in the next scene, wearing the infamous black leather jacket, and I can see her saying to him, “Sorry, sorry, I’m so sorry.”
The director is talking to the DP as Becca continues to apologize to Hobbes. He puts his arms on her shoulders. Good for him, I think. He’s telling her not to worry. I feel a tug on my arm. and Lisa is pulling at me. She puts one of her earbuds in my ear and suddenly I hear Becca. Becca and Hobbes.
“I can’t believe it. How did I lose track of time?,” Becca tells him, sounding weepy. “I kept everybody waiting. It makes me sick.”
“It doesn’t matter. You’re the star. You can keep people waiting as long as you want.” Hobbes sounds like… Hobbes.
“No, when you have a call time, you need to be here. That’s our job. What we do. My craft, it’s everything.”
Hobbes is shaking his head. “Nobody cares about the rest of the people. We’re the ones on TV. We can do anything we want. Nobody’s going to watch this show because of those fuckers.” He nods in the direction of the crew. “They’re nobodies. It’s all about us. Got it?”
“Dan,” she says, her voice very soft. For a minute I forget that Dan is Hobbes’s first name.
“Shhh, baby.” Hobbes puts his hand on her cheek. “We can talk more tonight about these fuckers when we’re fucking. Fucking the fuckers.” He laughs an ugly laugh. Fingernails on a chalkboard.
He’s miked. I look over at the sound guy who’s hearing all of this. So is the boom guy. So is anybody who’s wearing a headset. I never registered that Hobbes and Becca are a couple. Now he’s giving her a kiss on the lips.
“Let’s get a mike on you, Becca,” the assistant sound girl says. And if Hobbes weren’t so intent on examining a potential stain on his black leather jacket, he might realize that he’s just given his girlfriend a push, a shove, over to the dark side.
So much for craft.
Television Fiction Package for Emmy Season