Anna pitched The Streaming Service what she was told no one should ever, ever, do. 1,501 words. Part One. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Anna had been forced into participating. In terms of any successes prior, she didn’t really have any because she was basically still in high school when she was drafted by The Streaming Service. For years she had thought that The Streaming Service was a laudable institution. Who didn’t love to binge-watch mindless entertainment? It was simply part of being American. In fact, she remembered being fascinated by it when she was younger, watching with her family, enjoying herself whenever a new series would come along.
She even fantasized what it would be like to be one of those creators. Imagine: making money by thinking up stories, a sweet deal generating a high net worth based on simply writing bibles and treatments and screenplays and the like. It was everyone’s dream. The Service became a driver for new online colleges devoted to turning out the next generation’s writers and producers. Student loan debt inflated in this particular area at a higher rate than monies doled out for more traditional curriculums such as the ubiquitous MBA.
But when the drafting process came along, even she knew as a young person that something was not as it seemed. Volunteering to make content for a YouTube channel was one thing, as was submitting a screenplay for consideration to an agent. These were opportunities you chose to seek. Once it became a potentially mandatory career, Anna’s thinking on the subject changed 180 degrees. It amazed her how the public went along with it, or at least it seemed that way to her. When single-payer health care was put before the electorate, there would be nonsensical screaming devoted to freedoms being abridged. But being forced to write entertainment for a company that was already rich beyond all measure? Sign everyone up. What did it matter if someone couldn’t afford surgery so long as the sitcom was ensured?
What if a streaming service took over the country, and maybe the world? 1,740 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Anna walked into the Pitching Room. She was nervous. Perspiring. It was a pretty normal reaction. Seated before her were three Evaluators. It was like a parole board. Or an appellate court bench. Except she wasn’t accused of a crime. She was valedictorian of her high school class. She was a good girl. It was simply her time. Her lottery number was called up in the draft. She was selected by The Streaming Service. And she needed to hit a home run in this pitching session.
“I have an idea for something called Unboxing.”
The Evaluators were stone. They were among the most powerful individuals. Their time was not to be wasted.
From The Streaming Service: A History: “Consolidation in the media industry was rampant for many years until all major studios were placed under one corporate roof. All the tech companies also were gathered together. All the FANG stocks were taken off the public markets. AT&T, with Warner Bros., was a hard one to swallow, but it finally got the memo. Apple eventually bought it all, and then acquired Disney, the latter having never ceased its incessant mission of becoming bigger and bigger, even after Robert Iger finally retired and became POTUS.
Was the casting director promoting a sexist and racist business model? Or just finding roles for underserved actresses? 2,149 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Look, I’m not blind. Or stupid. Even back then, I knew there were a few black women who slipped past the gates to become legitimate stars, including Academy Award winner Halle Berry. (I admire her so much that I’ve granted my husband blanket permission to sleep with her if she ever happens to ask him. I can bed Mahershala Ali.) Now it’s even better, with blazing talents like Viola Davis, Jennifer Hudson and Lupita N’yongo walking away with Oscar statuettes.
No, my role in the industry was not to build the careers of those special few but to champion the right for my SBGs to make a decent living off supporting parts in substandard material, just like any white actor of middling talent in Hollywood. Time’s up on waiting for our right to cash in on being mediocre, just like everybody else.
Time to get sassy! My assistant Cherie and I began watching the video.
The actress’s smile disappeared instantly. The earrings stopped moving and hung immobile for one long alarming moment. Then she spoke in a voice devoid of any dialect. I would never have represented this blandness.
“Hello, Sassy Black Girlfriend Agency Inc. I submitted this video not in hopes of signing with your agency, but to tell you in a very digital way that I am one of a new coalition of Hollywood actors of color who object to your very existence in 2018. Time’s up on limiting your clientele to women — even worse, specifically black women — and reinforcing negative stereotypes by sending them out for this very limited segment of available roles.
“We’re calling you out on your sexist and racist business model and demanding that you cease and desist immediately.“
African American film and TV roles are all the rage right now. But it wasn’t always that way. 2,135 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
I opened the photo attachment to full screen. The 23-inch monitor was sitting on my mid-century modern desk, positioned in feng shui perfection beneath a classic wooden ceiling fan in a Spanish-style apartment complex turned office building just off Cahuenga and Santa Monica Boulevards in Hollywood.
Too much detail? Deal with it. That’s just the kind of person I am.
I also like to be able to see things clearly, hence the big screen attached to my MacBook Air at the office. I’m too old to watch Netflix on an iPhone, thank you very much. My Gen Z assistant, Cherie, peered anxiously over my shoulder, standing stork-like on one small bootie-clad foot.
“What do you think?” she asked, nervously stretching the cuffs of her pink cotton H&M sweater down over her tiny hands.
Visually, this actress was just right. Black, mid-30s, with too-tight clothes, at least one hundred long braids, sky-high heels and three-inch gold-painted nails bearing so many jewels they looked like they had clawed open the royal gates of Versailles. Stunning.
Still, there remained one important test she had to pass.
A hit TV show set in Hawai’i is ending an eight-season run. Then disaster strikes. 2,874 words. Excerpted from the 2018 novel Waimea: Uprising by Gordy Grundy. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
"I didn’t tell you that Sanders tried to recruit me for his posse party," said Amanda. There was no way in hell she was going to jeopardize her career.
"Equal opportunity," Waimea laughed.
"I’m always up for a new experience." She shook her head and whistled. "But raiding a hippie commune seems highly unadvisable." The TV actress’s star was rising and she wanted to keep the trajectory into the clear smooth blue.
"Heard any word about it on the set grapevine?" asked Wai. His job as second Associate Producer on the Hawaii cowboy epic Paniolo had been waylaid by a favor for his boss. "Any gossip?"
She thought about it and was surprised, "No."
Hollywood may have too many award shows but everyone still wants to be a winner. 1,929 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Hollywood – 1978
"And the winner is," heralded Artie Edgar, hesitating a beat in an effort to heighten the suspense.
Known mainly for his role in the made-for-cable comedy series, Geezers, Edgar had been tapped to emcee history’s first cable TV awards program, the Inter-Connected-Networks awards, or simply, the ICONs.
The program was being televised nationally on every cable channel, a joint effort to elevate awareness of the non-conventional fare now being offered by a myriad of new programming services.
The year was 1978, fifteen years before the cable industry’s first Emmy nomination. For its time, however, the ICON awards were the symbol of excellence in cable programming.
"The ICON goes to Burlesque Heaven," Artie Edgar gleefully announced.
She invited him into her palatial Hollywood home so he could comfort her at this next catastrophe. 2,378 words. Part One. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Jill Racine, television’s biggest star, observed the vehicle full of old people pointing, chattering, struggling to take photos of her. Still smiling, she urged me to go fuck myself, then skipped over to the tour group, leaned into the nearest elderly man and asked perkily, “You guys thirsty?”
I helped the tourists out of the minivan and watched Jill usher them toward her mansion. Hot, exhausted and angry as they were, my people were frantic with excitement. Ruthie had removed the handkerchief from her forehead, revealing a small abrasion. The German, expressionless, was the last to disembark. I didn’t know whether he had the faintest idea who our hostess was.
Stepping inside, the folks luxuriated in the air conditioning and begged for selfies with Jill, which she promised them “after you’ve cooled off and had something to drink. You guys like chocolate chip cookies? I made some with Daisy.”
Damn she’s a good actor, I thought.
There were three types of homes I’d point out during my first tour of duty driving Starlight Tours to the “Homes Of The Stars” when I’d just moved here: homes where I knew the star lived because I’d seen the star, homes where I knew the star didn’t live because I’d made it up, and homes where I didn’t know if the star lived because the drivers I’d observed during training had told their customers the star lived there but maybe they’d made it up.
A dozen years later, I was encouraged to reach the point where this ridiculous job was providing an emotional release. I could forget about my dying sitcom-writing career and resultant financial woes and make actual human contact. And I could tell jokes for two hours at a time, or an hour and a half with shortcuts if my group was a bunch of stiffs. I was even blessed with brief moments when I could break through the fog of anxiety over my son’s cerebral palsy and the debilitating loneliness stemming from my wife’s long-term hospitalization and her doctors’ refusal to let me see her.
My customers’ biggest thrill, now as then, came from seeing a star in the flesh. It didn’t happen often but it happened. Mel Brooks, wearing a robe and slippers, politely told us it was okay to drive by his place but please don’t stop the car. Cameron Diaz ambled over in a striped blue bikini to say hi. Michael Jackson Himself once hopped out of his limo near his Carolwood Lane home and happily shook hands with my awestruck customers.
She never thought a dog’s Hollywood career would be better than hers. 1,710 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Maura Downing was waiting to hear what her former employer had to say, and when it came, the last 25 years of their relationship of professional and emotional gymnastics snapped into focus.
“I’ll give you a $6,500 vintage Hermes Jane Birkin handbag…”
‘Subcontract rate for a couple of months’ work is a designer handbag? Seriously?’
The rest of the conversation was a muddle of Maura refusing showbiz work for the first time ever. While she had been underpaid for years, never had she been offered an empty purse for writing services rendered. It seemed almost funny, ironic in a tragic bad novel sort of way.
“What else are you going to do? Work at CVS?,” the Boss taunted.
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."
A narcissistic actress meets the one man she can’t have. 2,546 words. Illustration by John David Carlucci.
When Jacqui decides to rent a house, the most important item on her wish list is the position of the pool. The wrong exposure, too much shade – deal breaker. No tanning beds or crfeams, Jacqui enjoys the sun. She has zero interest in people who obsess about skin cancer. God created sun, didn’t he? But did he create dihydroxyacetone, the creepy stinky chemical in self-tanners that does who knows what to your immune system? She visits her dermatologist once a year to get checked out and she’s doing just fine, thanks. SPF? Not for Jacqui.
Jacqui never wanted to be an actress. She moved to L.A. with a high school girlfriend who had the acting bug. Jacqui figured she’d get a job, then marry a nice man. Enough of a reason to leave Fresno. The girlfriend took acting classes and one night, after a showcase, Jacqui was approached in the lobby by an agent who said he admired her performance.
“I wasn’t in the show,” Jacqui told him.
“You should’ve been,” the agent told her, not missing a beat.
Jacqui married the agent, did some guest spots on TV shows. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Quantum Leap. She learned her lines, got along with everybody, became known for her pretty face and nice body. But L.A. was filled with actresses like Jacqui. Fortunately, there also were plenty of men who admired them. Divorce, alimony. Another marriage, another divorce. Alimony again. Star Trek: Voyager, NCIS, a couple Lifetime movies. She was aware of getting older, of losing roles to younger women. But Jacqui didn’t care. She had money – not a huge amount, but enough. She still worked. Other actresses talked about their plastic surgeons and line fillers and boob lifts, but Jacqui was oblivious. Because, no matter what, Jacqui always had the best tan.
A prominent TV producer’s death is both mourned and celebrated simultaneously. 3,192 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
Melody Grant observed life through a writer’s eyes, composing on a laptop in her head. That way she could imagine her husband’s recent death — ninety-five per cent factual, with dabs of embellishment for color and drama — as a passage in one of her novels:
On the eve of his greatest glory, Arnold Chafis was not merely upset, he was thunderbolt-shaken and enraged, Vesuvius about to blow. He had tried to remain calm while continuing to read, grinding his teeth as his volcanic anger built, until pain erupted in the middle of his chest. Then his arms, then his jaw. Suddenly, eyes clouding and brain swimming, he felt faint — then fear. Arnold, a prominent TV producer, was 63 when he died in Hancock Park. His wife, the mystery novelist Melody Grant, found him in the evening, slumped over his banquet table-sized desk in front of an open laptop. He’d been reading reviews for Remorse, his highly anticipated weekly TV drama about a young doctor accused of malpractice. It was to premiere the next night on ABC.
Notices for the series had been blurb-ready and glowing:
Congenitally glum Val Steinway of The New York Times cheered: “Hats off to a brilliant and vibrant new feather in TV’s cap!” Roger Kale of the Wall Street Journal, famously unkind to anything attached to a broadcast network, toasted “this HBO-worthy Chafisian work of genius.” Politico’s resident skeptic Carrie Rice-Wentworth rated the new series “many times smarter than ABC’s Shondaland and — no exaggeration — nearly equal to The Sopranos and Breaking Bad.” And in Variety, difficult-to-please Vince Nichols forecast “a ton of Emmys for this stunningly boffo TV.”
Only one major critic panned. It was this scathing review — by usually-measured, never-shrill, bordering-on-dull Dean Formento of the Los Angeles Times — that Arnold had been reading when his heart stopped.
A newly hired channel executive thinks up the best for the worst. 1,195 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
To: FRN Staff
CC: Skip Delicious, Executive Consultant
From: Jack Ahze, President, Fake Reality Network
I am proud to welcome Mr. John “Skip” Delicious, Executive Consultant, to our FRN family. Mr. Delicious will be responsible for reimagining Fake Reality Network’s programming and turning it into a premiere niche network in at least 17 of the 48 continental United States and maybe Guam.
Mr. Delicious has had a long and storied career as an Executive Consultant in a variety of industries, from medical technology (The Ouchless Catheter) to fast food (Ox ‘n’ Brew). And his rate of success as an Executive Consultant is unparalleled in the annals of consulting. In fact, he was born to be a consultant. When he was seven years old, he used to walk down the street and stop random passersby and say things like, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” and “Might I suggest you diversify?”
I first became aware of Mr. Delicious in 1994, when he was working as a Executive Consultant in the field of Public Relations, and he advised Al Cowlings to “drive slower and put O.J. on the phone – you’ll get more face time.” I knew, even way back then, he and I would work together some day. And today is that day.
In the coming weeks you’ll all get to know and work with Mr. Delicious, and together we’ll make FRN destination viewing!
To: Jack Ahse & FRN Staff
From: Skip Delicious, Executive Consultant
First of all, CALL ME SKIP!!! I am happy to be a part of the FRN team and make us the best fake reality network we can be. Let’s hit the ground running!
The agony and the ecstasy of one man’s experience working in the TV writing biz. 1,449 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
There are many dreaded words a father can hear from their child. “Dad, I wrecked the car.” “Dad, I’m in a Tijuana jail.” “Dad, the pee stick has a plus sign.”
But none of those words could ever compare to the sheer horror of hearing a child of mine say, “Dad, I want to work in showbiz.”
Perhaps I should elaborate…
I am a husband and father of three kids. My career has been spent bouncing back and forth between life as a writer and life producing promos for a TV network. It’s been an occasionally pleasant but also frequently demoralizing. The highs are way too high and the lows are way too low. It’s career crack. Addicting, unhealthy and way too much suffering has to incur before receiving those rare tastes of joy. All those years of stories that started out with, "There’s a producer who seems to like my script…” “A big agent is going to read my script this weekend, I hope…” “The producer said if I give him a free option, he’ll try to sell it…" and then inevitably end with, "I haven’t heard back from him/her yet."
This is a profession I’ve regretted pursuing for a lot of years. And a profession I have adamantly tried to steer my children away from pursuing. You want your children to be both successful and happy, not just getting by and miserable. So I tell them my war stories to make it easy for them to reach their own conclusions.
A humongous Hollywood merger has unforeseen consequences for all involved. 2,559 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Margaret Sewell sighed as she sat across from her friend, Lou Delray, at the Fox studio commissary’s outdoor patio. She had little appetite and barely touched her salad. “My boss said, ‘I wish I could take you with me.’ And he didn’t even bother to try and sound sincere. Then he gave me a holiday gift card to Neiman-Marcus. As if that was supposed to make me feel better. ‘Hey, clown,’ I wanted to say, ‘how about a gift card to Ralphs, so’s I can buy some food after I start collecting unemployment in 2018.’”
Lou was only half-listening. He hadn’t filed for unemployment since losing his first job right after college. For the past twenty years he’d been a teamster driver on a succession of studio TV and film projects. The studio facilities would remain and his boss, Henry, claimed Lou had “nothing to worry about.” But when your boss tells you not to worry, that’s precisely the time to start making other plans.
With the departure of the television and movie production units, sooner or later, probably sooner, something was bound to give. And that usually meant the older and more expensive workers.
“They’re saying that, after the merger, ten thousand jobs are going to be lost in all. Screw Murdoch and screw Iger twice,” Margaret said as she threw her salad into the trash. A number of heads turned and nodded, some eyes rolled, and a couple of mouths uttered sarcastic laughs.
Buoyed by the reaction, Margaret added, “I might as well tattoo ‘Roadkill’ on my forehead. Am I right?”
A showrunner’s fired assistant looks for a new job as a writer. Good luck with that. 3,027 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
Caleb was glad when the show was canceled. He felt guilty about his schadenfreude for about five minutes. Now he wouldn’t have to make up a lie about why he wasn’t returning or, worse, tell the truth: that he “hadn’t been invited back,” which was code for being fired.
He had done his best to make amends for his wrap party meltdown – going off on his boss for sleeping with a young female staff writer and not promoting Caleb, dissing the TV community’s push for diversity which meant young white wannabes like himself had a tougher time getting hired. After a few weeks, he’d asked the showrunner Bryan to lunch so they could bury the hatchet. Bryan downgraded the lunch to coffee.
Caleb had worked for Bryan for four years, and that hopefully counted for something now. The showrunner came through. He gave Caleb a signed letter of recommendation and a business card with the number of an agent at CAA. “I sent your writing samples to Terri at the agency. She used to be my agent Bob’s assistant. She just got promoted and she’s hungry for clients. I told her to make you a priority read. And she will. Lord knows I’ve made that company enough money.”
It was a whole lot more than most showrunners in town would have done for an ex-assistant, and Caleb felt pretty grateful.
Caleb didn’t even wait until he got home to call Terri. He texted her from his car. Surprisingly, he got an immediate reply: Will call in 45.
That was at 11 a.m. For the rest of the day, Caleb’s heart skipped a beat every time his cell vibrated.