(Years Three/Four of Robb’s Illustrious Career)
My third/fourth year in the business I worked for this show-runner who was a real piece of work. He was the most hated figure I’ve ever worked for. He made The Weasel look like a normal, well-adjusted human being. From the writers room to the production office to the stage, everybody hated him.
This guy was a harsh dictator. I’ve never seen anybody better at shutting down creativity in a room. Writers pitching jokes or brainstorming ideas would be cut off and dismissed mid-sentence, mid-pitch. Nice. The in-joke in the writers room was that if he was looking for an integer between 2 and 4 and you pitched 3, you would get shot down.
Strangely, this guy was also helpless. He couldn’t do anything by himself. He had no personal assistant, so we were ALL his personal assistant. I was personally called by the guy on a weekend and compelled to help him out with something personal. Let me repeat, I was NOT his personal assistant. My son was an infant at the time, but apparently the guy didn’t think I had anything more important to do on a Sunday morning than get in the car and go help him out. The in-joke in the production office was that you might get a call from the guy in the toilet demanding that you come help him with the paperwork.
One day Mr. Sunday Morning said his computer monitor “flickered.” I was called into his office and yelled at when I could see no flickering. Well, actually, he didn’t yell, he rolled his eyes condescendingly and told me to go find somebody else – anybody else – to come in his office to confirm the flickering. No matter how many assistants and then producers were called in, NO ONE else could see any flickering. The line producer called the computer rental company and had the non-flickering computer and monitor replaced. Twice. Guess what? Mr. Sunday Morning said it still flickered. I will never forget this: I was personally in his office, along with the line producer and all the writers and some of the cast, when Mr. Sunday Morning became enraged and literally shouted to the heavens, “Why does no one else see this flickering?!”. Everybody in the room was acutely aware of the obvious reason. Everybody except him.
He was fired. Well, I got ahead of myself. First the executive producer was told – by everyone – about this guy. Producers were running around in circles wasting time and money on crap for him. The executive producer’s hand-picked writers were not being allowed to write or even contribute, and were threatening to quit. Nobody was happy. A few shows in, production was shut down and Mr. Sunday Morning was given a serious talking-to. After that, he was on his best behavior. At considerable expense, we spent weeks retooling. An additional writer was brought in to clear the air and “reset” the writers room. Writers’ contributions were welcomed and accepted. Everything was back on track, and everyone was happy.
Until we started taping again. With the stress of production, the dictatorial prima donna control freak jerk returned and everything went back to the way it was. A few shows into this second part of the season, the executive producer unexpectedly appeared on the lot, went into Mr. Sunday Morning’s office, and fired him. Security escorted him off the lot.
It was wonderful. It was… justice.
For weeks afterward it was like the laws of gravity did not apply in our little world. As my Uncle Bernard used to say, “When you hit your thumb with a hammer as hard as you can over and over and over… it feels so good when you stop.” The rest of the season was filled with sweetness and light. And with cruel, unrelenting jokes from everyone about the disgraced, fired jerk. The satisfaction was overwhelming. The world is fair after all.
Or is it?
Four years later, I saw Mr. Sunday Morning’s name on a movie poster. And I about lost my lunch. He wrote a movie – a big, successful, $100+ million Hollywood blockbuster. And later that same year, he did it again. He wrote ANOTHER big, successful, $100+ million Hollywood blockbuster. Movies with BIG HUGE stars. And prominent, beloved, cult-following directors. I am not making this up. The guy made it big. Twice in one year. The disgraced jerk hadn’t faded away, he just moved… into movies. And looking at imdb, his plate is still quite full. This guy is a huge success. We got cancelled, but he made it big.
He sure showed us.
In the years since, I have tried to figure out the true meaning of these events. You know, the big, cosmic truth. Was Mr. Sunday Morning really a jerk? Yes. Is he really a successful writer? Yes. Is he successful BECAUSE he is a jerk? Or in spite of this? Or is there any relationship between these whatsoever? For me, this is the question. Young P.A.s and assistants often ponder this issue, because the vast majority of the time in the business the people in charge (like Mr. Sunday Morning and The Weasel) are dictatorial prima donna control freak jerks. So do people become dictatorial prima donna control freak jerks BECAUSE they are successful and are allowed to get away with anything? Or do they become successful BECAUSE they are dictatorial prima donna control freak jerks to begin with? Is one a prerequisite for the other? If so, which one? Can you really be successful if you are NOT a dictatorial prima donna control freak jerk? Or will all normal, nice, well-adjusted writers become dictatorial prima donna control freak jerks once they become successful?
And which one am I?