TV FICTION PACKAGE: An agent and writer find an executive in a compromising position. 1,834 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
“She’ll buy it in the room, Kyle,” Chad says as we’re riding up the elevator on our way to the pitch meeting. “Melina Mullen already loves the one-liner.” He looks closer at me. “Did you take a Xanax? I always tell my clients to take a Xanax before they pitch.”
Melina Mullen, the network exec, is tall and blonde and more rounded-body sexy than the usual Jack Skellington-figured Hollywood female. There’s another woman in the office. We’re introduced and I immediately forget her name. She types on her iPad and never looks up.
Melina Mullen says she loved my play. I ask if she saw it in New York and she shakes her head no and tells me, “But I heard great things.” We talk about my first TV writing job on the series Melancholy, an updated version of Hamlet. I say I was super-lucky to have an experience like that with so many talented people, and I learned a lot.
And then there’s a pause. She’s waiting for me to start my pitch. I take a deep breath. And damn, I wish I’d taken a Xanax.
So I’m a playwright in New York, but I moved out to L.A. to work on Melancholy and it aired twice before the network pulled the plug. The reviews were awful and it got hammered in the ratings. More people watched a competing show, Kitty’s Krime, about a talking cat that helped solve mysteries. The showrunner, Logan, was unusually arrogant and mostly insufferable, but he did teach me how a TV series works. Another writer, Brett, was a dick and tried to screw me over, but that was a learning experience, too. After Melancholy was canceled, Logan sold a series to Showtime and Brett the dick got hired as a consulting producer on Kitty’s Krime.
And me? I was toast.
My play agent in New York told me everything would be fine and I should continue living in Hollywood, at least through network staffing season, and get help from my L.A. TV agent.
Except the TV agent didn’t return my phone calls. Or texts. Or emails. The minute Melancholy was dead, so was I.
Turned out my TV agent was cracking up – meth or coke, or meth and coke. There was some ultimate meltdown at a Clippers game involving a pair of Spirit girls and iced nipples that ended up on the Jumbotron. So the next thing I knew, I got a call from a new TV agent, Chad, who wanted to grab coffee at Peet’s and go over strategy.
Chad sounded about ten on the phone. But when I met him, I was surprised he was older than me with a round belly and chubby fingers and bowl haircut but an amazing suit. (Does every L.A. agent go to the same place for clothes?)
“Great to meet you, Kyle. I have real respect for playwrights,” Chad says.
“Did you see my play?” I ask him.
“Let’s talk TV,” he says quickly. “I can get you in to fastball pitch to Melina Mullen next week. A network pitch. Melina and I were at Brown together. She’s a big fan.”
“I’ve never pitched before.”
Chad stops sipping his iced latte. “Really? Huh. You don’t have a stammer, do you? Or freeze up when you talk?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Great. So… pitch me now.”
Okay, I keep a list of notes and ideas in my Moleskine. But ideas for plays. TV, I’m still trying to learn the language. What should I say? My first and only TV job was an updated, crappy Hamlet. What a bullshit idea.
“So,” I pause, “how about The Tempest set in the world of a home shopping network?”
Chad shakes his head no. “Home shopping network viewers skew too old.”
“The Tempest set at a pre-school?”
“Why do you keep talking about The Tempest?” Chad whines. “It’s Shakespeare. Isn’t it about people marooned somewhere?”
“Sort of. This sorcerer has been exiled to an island with his daughter Miranda. He’s got a creepy brother Antonio who shows up. Ariel is a spirit and there’s Caliban, the son of a witch. It’s got lots of famous lines like… ‘We are such stuff As dreams are made on.’ And… ‘Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.’”
Chad stops me and grunts. “I like the island part. Bathing suits. Tits.”
“How about Lord Of The Flies with adults? But not like Lost. No supernatural element.”
“Interesting,” Chad says. “Except – maybe it would be better with kids. Teens. YA audiences.”
“Then it really would be Lord Of The Flies.”
“Awesome. Run with it.”
“But isn’t that plagiarism?”
I run through a bunch of play ideas I’ve been working on. One is about a college English professor who finds out he’s dying. How to cram everything he ever wanted to do into one year? All the great books he was going to read. The monumental novel he was going to write. The wonderful or exotic places he was going to visit. A wife and children. The things that matter.
“He could be a homicide detective,” Chad says. “Yeah, a rogue detective. And now that he’s got a death sentence, nothing matters anymore. So he kills really bad people.”
“No,” I say. “It’s about his bucket list. Going to the Uffizi and seeing ‘La Primavera’ by Botticelli. Climbing K2. Learning how to make the perfect chocolate soufflé.”
“He suffocates a child molester. With a Tempur-Pedic pillow,” Chad says. “It’s about no limits. We could call it No Limits.”
“I’m not really sure… ”
Chad isn’t listening to me. “And he has sex with everybody – maybe even guys and transgenders. Because he’s got nothing to lose. Whoa, that’s an even better title. Nothing To Lose.”
“Chad – ”
“I’ll call Melina and set it up. Do you think Jude Law would do American TV?”
Chad explains to me how to prepare for the pitch. Come up with the main characters, their arcs, then a loose overview of the first season. (“Our dying detective obviously isn’t going to croak for a while. We want 100 episodes, minimum,” Chad says.) The need to make sure the detective has one of those “good” cancers. (“He can cough and stuff. But nothing that makes him unattractive,” Chad says. “Hey, is there a cancer that makes you super horny?”)
I’ll be pitching to Melina Mullen. Chad says she’s beautiful, brilliant, boobalicious. The guys at Brown used to call her “3B.” Chad asked her out once, but she had a boyfriend at the time.
And now I’m in a room pitching to Melina Mullen. I’ve gone through the teaser, trying to do it in a dramatic way with pauses like I’d practiced with Chad. I talk about our main character, Grant Sheridan. Silent, brooding, a secret sensitive side. Multi-layered, but relatable. I wonder how I’m doing.
Melina Mullen is smiling. It seems like a genuine smile. I talk about Grant’s divorce from Vicki and their teenage daughter who hates her father. Will Grant finally have a relationship with her? We’ve decided to set the show in San Francisco because the fog and the moodiness makes it more detective-friendly.
“Like The Maltese Falcon,” Melina Mullen says.
“Exactly,” I say.
I’m finishing the character arcs and ready to move to the sample stories when I notice Melina Mullen’s smile starting to fade. I talk about Grant’s ex-partner Amy and her investigation into Grant’s illness which he’s trying to hide. Amy wants to help him, but he’s a loner and doesn’t want anybody to know.
At that moment, I realize Melina Mullen has fallen asleep.
I pause. The woman whose name I don’t remember is busy on her iPad and seems unaware or else she doesn’t care.
I turn to Chad and silently mouth, “What do I do?”
Melina Mullen’s eyes are closed. Her chin is sinking to her chest. I think about clearing my throat. Or faking a sneeze.
“Five o’clock meetings can be brutal,” Chad whispers back.
No one says anything. The woman without a name is concentrating on her email. Chad leans over to me.
“One time this asshole exec fell asleep during a pitch at NBCUniversal. My writer was pissed. He wanted to put narcoleptic guy’s hand in a glass of warm water to make him pee his pants.” Chad laughs.
We look at Melina Mullen. Still sleeping. “When I asked Melina out at Brown, I told her we shared Hollywood dreams. ‘But you’ll only be an agent. Me, I’m studio exec material.’ What a cunty thing to say. I found that she lied to me about having a boyfriend. I wasn’t good enough. She was always a snob. Well, look at her now.”
Melina Mullen is snoring. Her mouth is open and I can see a spot of drool in the corner ready to drip. It starts sliding down her chin, like a snail trail.
“She’s hired a few clients and bought a couple things from me. But she always has to make sure I remember that she’s the one with the power. On your knees, Chad, how badly do you want it? Beg for it. Go on, beg.”
I hope Chad doesn’t put Melina Mullen’s hand in a glass of warm water. I worry when Chad starts to pull something out of his pocket. “It might be fun to make her beg for a change,” he whispers. I notice he has his cell in his hand. And I understand.
Chad takes a photo of sleeping Melina Mullen, no flash. The phone goes back in his pocket.
About a minute later, Melina Mullen’s head snaps up and she grins at me. “The ex-partner who’s worried about Grant’s health… I’m guessing she’s a potential love interest?”
“Absolutely,” I say, picking up exactly where we’d left off.
“Do you have sample episodes?” she asks.
“How many do you want?” Chad says, tapping my knee encouragingly. “My boy Kyle can give as many as you’d like.”
The rest of the meeting goes fine, even normally, and Melina thanks us for coming. She promises to get back to us right away after she talks to her people. We’re walking out the door, when Chad turns back. “I forgot one thing,” he says to Melina Mullen. And then to me, he says, “Catch you at the elevator.”
I notice him pulling the cell from his pocket.
The door closes and I’m left with the iPad woman. “They’ll validate your parking at reception,” she says and walks away.
Chad comes back and waits until the elevator doors close before he brofists me. “Told you we’d sell it in the room. Your first pilot, Kyle. How’s that feel?”
I don’t say anything. Wow. I sold a pilot today. But there’s a line that keeps coming back to me… We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.
Television Fiction Package for Emmy Season