The Writing Disorder



New Nonfiction


by Sy Rosen

       Like many slightly older (okay, older) sitcom writers, I’m finding work scarce these days so I decided to broaden out and asked (cajoled, demanded, bribed, stalked, begged) my agent to set up a meeting for me to pitch an idea I had for a new reality show. I know, I know. I usually get in on a trend about ten years after everybody else.
       I kept thinking to myself, if I could just hit it big one time people would call me, people would ask me to lunch, people would ... be jealous of me. I know that’s not the most altruistic goal, but it keeps me going.
       Anyway, since I hadn’t pitched in a while, there were a few things I should have known but apparently slipped my mind. One, your agent sometimes exaggerates(duh), two: The length of someone’s title is directly inverse to the size of his penis(oops, I mean the amount of his authority), and most important, number three: never pitch right before lunchtime (especially if you’re pitching to an extremely large man)!
      My agent arranged a meeting for me with a Senior Vice President for Development of Reality Shows, Game Shows and Docudramas for Television and the Internet (see rule #2). When I asked what the Vice President had developed my agent brusquely replied, in a tone that suggested I was lucky to get this meeting, that the VP was very important and then my agent vaguely added that the man had some kind of a connection to Family Feud.
       In my unemployed, fevered state, that’s all I had to hear—the Feud was big and I was excited. Okay maybe the game show is a little cheesy but I had followed it through Richard Dawson, Ray Coomes, Louie Anderson, Richard Karn, John O’Hurley and now, Steve Harvey (that’s better than naming Santa’s reindeers).
       I practiced in front of my mirror for hours, refining and honing my pitch. Okay, most of the time I was trying to decide what shirt to wear. Two weeks ago I wore this purple shirt and the guy at the Subway didn’t think I was old enough to get a senior discount. So naturally I chose that one. It’s very important to look youthful at these meetings.
       Execs are not dumb enough to say out loud that they won’t hire you because of your age, but they definitely want young, “hip” people on their shows ... people who actually know what the Kardashians are up to and what Snooki drank for lunch. Unfortunately, sometimes they look at me and think I know the theme song to Petticoat Junction. Not to get too trite or clichéd, but Hollywood is a tough city where the young would eat the old if they weren’t afraid of gaining weight.
       My idea for a reality show was relatively simple. Most of us have at least one thing in our life that we wish we could have done differently ... “Well,” I said to my mirror as I practiced my pitch, “now you can. Woulda’ Coulda’ Shoulda’ extends the classic do-over to anybody willing to show up and confess their deepest, darkest regrets on national television...From the poignant to the pathetic.”
       Still staring at my mirror I repeated, “From the poignant to the pathetic,” and then nodded my head for emphasis. Then I went into my example s ... “If you’re thirty years old and always regretted not trying out for your high school basketball team, we will arrange a tryout.”
       I, of course, then added something from my own life. It’s very important to include a personal touch when pitching ... “When I was 16 I somehow got a date with a slightly nasty, very pretty cheerleader. I had crossed boundaries, and was going out with a girl from the cool table in the cafeteria. This could change my high school life. I fantasized about being invited to sit at the popular table. I would be the funny but wise friend who they’d go to for advice. They’d even give me a nickname—The Dancer. I’m not sure why I liked The Dancer, but I thought it would indicate that I knew my way around and that I had ‘moves’. And it was a lot better than my then current nickname, The Nose.
       The date was going surprisingly well. At the pizza parlor she went to the bathroom and actually came back, which I considered a major victory. I was getting kind of confident. The Graduate had come out recently and in the right light, with your eyes squinted; I looked like I could be Dustin Hoffman’s goofy brother. It wouldn’t be long before I would be known as The Dancer.
       After pizza I took her to the lake and unfortunately that’s when my troubles began. You see, just when I got up the courage to put my arm around her, we were attacked by a gaggle of vicious pecking geese. And I ran like a coward, leaving my date behind as the geese closed in on her. You probably think this sounds ridiculous, but those geese were scary.
       She, of course, told all her friends about this. The rest of the school year, when I walked down the high school corridor, some of the cool kids would throw bread crumbs at me while making geese noises. Needless to say, they didn’t call me The Dancer.”
       I wanted a do-over, a chance to be a hero, and as I practiced my pitch I threw in a joke saying, “If we can’t arrange for the geese to attack us then maybe we can get an angry dog, but not too big a dog and maybe one with bad teeth.” I then chuckled, but not too much – people shouldn’t laugh at their own jokes—there’s always the danger you’ll be the only one laughing.
       The meeting started promptly at 11:30. I got there at 10:30 and hid in the bathroom for an hour so as not to appear too anxious.
       The VP was very tan, very bald, and very heavy. I don’t want to make a fat joke here (I’m trying to give up the demons of my sitcom life), but let’s just say he was one Big Mac away from being a contestant on the Biggest Loser.
       The first thing the VP said to me in his confident, booming voice—a voice that was too loud for his smallish office—was that looking at my resume he could see that I was a real sitcom vet.
       “Vet” was code for old fart but I didn’t say anything. I almost mentioned that I was turned down for a senior discount at the Subway but I realized that would be inappropriate.
      The VP then said that although I was a sitcom vet (he just couldn’t get off the “vet” train), I didn’t have any reality show experience. As I was doing my sweaty best to spin this negative into a positive (my inexperience would make my ideas more unique, blah, blah, blah) the VP started to sniff. It began subtly, but the sniffing became more and more pronounced. I thought maybe he had a cold or a coke habit or I was exuding some foul odor (maybe from hiding in the bathroom), but he explained that he smelled food. He then opened his office door to the large adjacent room and sure enough, several workers were converting it into a buffet area.
       The VP said wistfully, “They’re setting up for lunch.” He then added that his company shared the caterer with the people who did Family Feud. Ahh, that was his connection to the Feud—food (see rule #1).
      He then returned to his seat, leaving the door slightly ajar so he could keep an eye on the buffet. Of course I was disappointed by his Feudlessness, but I pressed on, hoping desperately that I could still make a sale.
       I began my pitch saying Woulda’ Coulda’ Shoulda’ was the classic do-over show but just as I was about to repeat my “from the poignant to the pathetic” phrase, the two competing families from the Feud entered the large room and started going down opposite ends of the buffet line.
       I guess one of the families was trying to keep their competitive edge because as they were getting their lunch a member yelled out, “Meat” and his fellow family members quickly responded, naming famous meats ... “pork chops” ... “steak” ... “brisket” ... “lamb chops.” The VP actually started to drool a little. I did my best not to stare at the little drop of saliva that landed on his desk.
       I now tried to get the VP involved, asking him if there was anything he regretted not doing. He started to ponder the question, maybe thinking about the time he passed up that third dessert (sorry, I am a sitcom writer).
       However just as he was about to answer, a member of the second family decided that they too needed to practice and one of them yelled out, “Potatoes.” His relatives chimed in with, “french fries” ... “roasted” ... “curly-cues” ... “mashed.” The VP’s focus was clearly divided between me and curly-cues. And I’m pretty sure the curly-cues were winning.
       Trying to regain his interest, I then hurried into my pecking geese story, but just as I was about to tell him that I ran away, leaving the cheerleader behind, the VP interrupted me, saying that the best goose dinner he ever had was at a small inn just outside of Hartford, Connecticut. He then went on to explain that a goose was a difficult bird to cook properly, more difficult that a duck, but this one was very succulent. When he said “succulent” he started to drool again and another small drop landed on his desk. The two puddles of saliva were next to each other, staring up at me like two opaque eyeballs.
       I knew I was losing his interest and desperately started to wave my hands wildly as I pitched. However, his eyes again wandered to the buffet line. I frantically and incoherently skipped a section of my pitch and went straight to the joke, yelling out the words “angry dog ... bad teeth” and then chuckled like a madman. The VP didn’t seem to notice me or my breakdown; he had other things on his mind.
       I saw my big chance slipping away. I wanted him to know that I had to be taken seriously, that maybe I was a vet, but I was still hip, and then, for some insane reason, I blurted out, “I like Lady Gaga.” This at least got the VP’s attention. He stared me for a second and then said, “I really liked her meat dress.” He then again drooled slightly as his mind went back to the buffet line.
       At this point the VP said the one thing you don’t want to hear a heavyset man who you are pitching to say, “I hope they don’t run out of food.”
       I wanted to stand up to him. Okay, maybe I ran from the pecking geese, but here was a chance for a re-do ... to be a hero. I could tell him that he has to treat people with respect and dignity. And then maybe I would end my impassioned speech by saying years from now when he thinks of this meeting and his missed opportunity, he should know that the person sitting across the desk from him was The Dancer.
       Instead I meekly said that I understood and he should go get lunch. And with that the meeting was over. We said our goodbyes and the VP, moving with the grace of a hungry rhino, disappeared deep into the buffet line (see rule #3).
      Not to get too profound here (after all, I am at heart a sitcom writer), but I think as you get older and colder in Hollywood you start dealing with sketchier and sketchier people – as you desperately try to stay in the game. Oh well. I went home feeling sad ... dejected ... unhappy ... sorrowful ... dispirited ... despondent. And pissed.

Sy Rosen has written for several TV shows, as well as numerous personal essays, short stories and plays. Currently, he is trying to become a reality TV star but has been told that he is not real enough.

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