Evil Gal Productions

Mere Smith
is a recovering Southerner,
longtime TV writer,
author and blogger.
June 4th, 2012 by Mere Smith

The Pilot Season Experiment — JUNKPUNCHED

 This blog entry is the seventh and last part of a continuing series.

If you don’t know what’s going on, click here to catch up.

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Resolution

A JOB?

 

It’s taken me a while to figure out how to write this entry, and while I love a good surprise as much as the next killer clown, I’ve decided not to bury the lead.  Thus, after all the effort that went into The Pilot Season Experiment, the result is:

I did not get staffed on a show this year.

In therapyspeak, now is when somebody asks, But how does that make you feel?

And in the spirit of TPSE, I’ll be real with you:

It feels like shit.

Shit on toast.  Shit on a snowflake.  Shit on a stick.

Shit shit shit shit shit shit.

In fact, when I got the final thumbs-down from my manager last week, I had to take a day away from the internetz just to go fetal on the couch and mainline episodes of “Sherlock,” all the while telling myself, “I could write this show.  I could SO write this show.  I’m smart.  I’m funny.  I’m nearly sociopathic.  I could write the tits off this show.”

Meanwhile that wretched you-suck-bitch whisper inside my head was needling, but could you?  could you really?  do you have a single ounce of talent, you ancient slag?  a half-ounce?  do you even possess a DIME BAG of talent, you poor, silly cow?

Luckily I’m far too egotistical to let my doubts and fears keep me fetal for long.

For which I thank… myself.

But that recovery only came after the grieving period.

Because at the time, hearing that in spite of your utmost exertions you are not getting the job – a job – any kind of job – I’m pretty sure the experience is akin to getting junkpunched.

POW! Right in the nibblets!

.

At least, this is how my guy friends have described junkpunchery.  One solid jab straight to the nads can fold your diaphragm in half, make your vision go blurry, and instill the urge to throw up for a couple hours.

That sounds about right to me, though my nausea lasted a couple days, was somewhat more existential, and I needed some serious reaffirmation from friends and family in order to keep from ejecting my bile duct – ptew! – right out of my mouth and onto the floor.

**

So what went wrong?

Ah, this town’s eternal paradox.

Because the answer is: nothing.

Absolutely nothing went wrong.  The meetings were great, I got along with everyone, and no one even called me a cunt to my face.  (I always leave the “behind the back” option open.  This is Hollywood, after all.)

I realize “nothing” can seem a bit unsatisfying at first, but it becomes clearer when you consider how many factors go into staffing a show to begin with.

For besides the superficiality of The Pilot Season Experiment (since, let’s face it, kids – it was a lot more Extreme Makeover than it was est), I did everything of substance within my power: read every script, took thorough notes, researched the showrunners, went to every meeting offered, showed up with enthusiasm and ideas, tried to be as funny and friendly as possible – all while wearing SPANX.  Fuck, dude.  If that ain’t commitment, I don’t know what the hell is.

But then there are the things I can’t control, such as:

My title (think of it as my “rank” in the Scrivener Army).  Given my years of experience, technically at this point my title is “Co-Executive Producer,” which is just one notch under the top slot of “Executive Producer.”  WGA union rules – thank god – prevent studios and networks from forcing us veterans to accept noob titles… and noob paychecks (in a sense, “demoting” us), which, given their druthers, they’d do in 1/88th of a heartbeat.  While this makes getting a job tougher for me (vet titles come with vet paychecks, and studios/networks are notoriously tight-sphinctered), these rules are absolutely vital for lower- to mid-level Writers, since most of us in this town are weak and fearful and would probably blow the first person to guarantee us a job.   Correction: blow that person AND their pet ferrets.  However, if there are only two upper-level “slots” open, it’s generally a good bet that…

…the showrunner’s friends will get them.  Having attained the rank of showrunner, it’s likely that the Writer has been in the business long enough to cultivate friends who’ve been around just as long as he has.  Those friends need jobs, too.  And it’s always easier to hire someone you’ve worked with before rather than take a chance on someone new, because that new person could turn out to be either a) useless, b) insane, or c) a complete fuckhead.  If the showrunner still has a slot left open after offering it up to his friends, then come…

…the Suits’ friends.  Studio and network executives also have friends.  (I know.  It’s so weird.)  And because they’ve helped the showrunner get his show running, in the Versailles-like protocols of Hollywood, they’re due a modicum of quid pro quo.  If they suggest one of their Writer friends, and that friend isn’t immediately and obviously a), b), or c), the showrunner may feel obligated to hire said friend.  However, if even the Suits don’t prevail, there are always…

…the overall deals.  Overalls (not the Osh Kosh kind) are exclusive contracts that Writers sign with studios or networks in which they’re paid a certain amount of money regardless of whether they’re actively working on a show or not.  (This is basically just a way for studios/networks to say to other studios/networks, “Neener neener, wiener!  This is MY toy and YOU can’t play with it!”)  So naturally, when it comes hiring time, the studios/networks will push the showrunner to hire an overall-dealer to work on the show, so that the overall-dealer earns that money the studios/networks are already shelling out.  It’s as close as they come to getting a “free” Writer.

There are about forty other considerations that have nothing to do with me, too, but this is starting to sound like sour grapes —

Not this kind. Unfortunately.

— when all I really wanted to say was, Despite getting punched in the junk, I’m not taking it too personally, because almost nothing in this business is personal.

It feels personal, sure (what junkpunch doesn’t?), but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my many years of slaving away over a hot Final Draft, it’s that there are so many variables involved, it’s a miracle that any show gets made, that anyone gets hired, and that anything gets done.

**

But what about the impact of The Pilot Season Experiment in regards to my rounds of meetings?  Wasn’t that what this whole series was all about?

Like all of my fellow faux-scientists, I’d love to say that I got definitive results: that it either made an ENORMOUS DIFFERENCE!!! or, conversely, ZERO DIFFERENCE!!!  But I think the truth hovers somewhere in between – and has more to do with how I felt – than how I was perceived.

See, before going into this year’s round of monkeydancing, I was feeling kind of low.

Not so much “What’s it all about, Alfie?” as “Ohhhhh, balls.  The expiration date stamped on my ass is getting closer.”  And yes, I can assure you: every person in Hollywood has an expiration date stamped on their ass.

Hold on, wait – let me rephrase that.  Some of us have expiration dates, and some of us (sorry to steamroll a dead horse here, but you can’t untrue a truism) – namely, straight white men – have a much more elastic Sell By date.  You know, a sort of suggested idea of when you’ll start to get E. coli if you hire them – but then again, maybe they don’t have E. coli at all, and you can risk it.  For example, Clint Eastwood has been officially and universally declared E. Coli-Free In Perpetuity.  You can hire Clint ‘til the day he dies – and probably after – without so much as a tummyache.

Dead? Not dead? Doesn’t matter. Still E. coli-free.

The rest of us – y’know, the vaginas, the ethnics, the ethnic vaginas – get a damn-near definitive stamp slapped on our rumps on Day One.  The gay white guys get a stamp, too, but it’s not in indelible ink, and can be switched to a Sell By date at any time, depending on how much money they rake in for a studio/network.

So the question is, when is that expiration date?

Well, unless you’re extremely, extremely fortunate (like Robin Green of “Sopranos” fame – though it should be non-judgmentally noted, she partners with her husband, the straight-white-male Mitchell Burgess), you top out in your early fifties, if not before.  And no, I’m not speaking anecdotally.  Check out the 2011 WGA Executive Report (Figure 13), where you’ll find that TV writers’ salaries peak between the ages of 41–50, before dropping drastically in the next demographic.

And that’s including straight white guys.

So you can imagine the vaginal expiration.

As a matter of fact, aging – or in other words, my starting to nudge up against the 41-side of that 41-50 demographic – is one of the reasons I undertook The Pilot Season Experiment to begin with (not to mention the reason I shot poison into my face).  Women in their late 20’s and early 30’s – those chicks to whom the years have yet to be unkind – are mostly lower- to mid-level writers.  As I explained above, it’s much easier to get a job at that level; between the ages of 25-35, I wrote for five different shows, almost continuously.  But once you’ve reached a certain “rank,” you’re either lucky as a motherfucker to get on a show, or lingering like a wraith in Development Hell (posts to come on that topic soon).

Hollywood says it wants veteran Writers, people who’ve had experience, people who’ve gained wisdom and insight into how to do the job well.  But when they say “people,” what they really mean is “the white folks with schlongs.”  (Come to think of it, that’s what “people” has meant since the founding of America, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.)  Considering I have no intention of chopping off my boobs or sewing on a dick, this makes me… what?  A greater risk?  A poorer Writer?  A non-person?  A total fucking alien?  All I know is, this:

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…is so much not a joke in Hollywood that it makes me want to punch someone else in the junk.

**

Alongside my expiration date, my main impetus for trying The Pilot Season Experiment was that women – regardless of their experience, and much more so than men – are judged on their looks.  (I feel like I just wrote, “Oh and by the way, water is wet and dirt is dirty.  Just so you know.”)  Thus for this year’s Merry Go Round O’Pain, I tended to my appearance much more than I did when I was younger.

When I was in my late 20’s, all I had to do before a meeting was read the script, throw on a tank top, and make sure I wasn’t actively bleeding from the eyes.  This year: I got Botox, bought Spanx, cut my hair, wore make-up, dressed in clothes that made me look “responsible” and “together”…

…and still didn’t get hired.

So what was it?

My looks, my age, my personality, my connections, my reputation, my writing?

(Did you even notice that writing came in last on that list?)

As I said before, it could be all of those things, it could be none of those things.  Hollywood is a fickle beast – actually, it’s just an enormous hairy asshole with tiny ephemeral moments of joy tucked up inside it – so I’ll never truly know for sure.

What I can tell you absolutely is how I felt during it.  And that is…

Dude, this sucks.

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I felt stressed (more than the usual for pilot season).  Uncomfortable.  Fake.  Frustrated.  Inadequate.  I was resentful that I had to do any of this shit at all.  Often I felt like the battle was lost before I even got out of the shower, since I knew I was about to kowtow to societal expectations.

Basically, trying to play the game made me miserable.

And maybe that’s why I didn’t get hired.

All I know is, before I started all this nonsense, I was pretty goddamned happy with myself.  Not happy with being unemployed, of course – though the dress code of “pajamas” is nice – but happy in my own skin?  I think I can say yes with almost 97% of my being.  (That self-loathing 3% is because I don’t call my family often enough, I spend too much time on Twitter, I don’t drink as much water a day as they say you should…)  I was just fine being me — being Mere, the regular old Mere – until I started dissecting the nature and implication of appearance, then striving to “keep up with the Rashida Joneses,” so to speak.

Then I felt terrible about myself.

Having Botox made me think about how old I was getting.  Chopping my hair off and dying it crimson made me wonder if I was too old to be doing that at all.  Wearing Spanx made me confront (and intensely dislike) my generous Hips and Ass.  Buying new clothes made me think about how skinny I used to be, but am no longer.  Applying eight different kinds of make-up made me wonder what was wrong with my real face.

What I’m saying is, for every step I took to “improve” my looks, it was one more step down the spiral staircase of self-hatred.

And seriously, girls, how fucked up is that?

That all those activities deemed “necessary” to appear more competent (no exaggeration: read this) could make at least one woman (me) feel worse and worse… it’s a vicious circle whence the only escape is to do one of two things:

1) Either totally succumb and go full-on Aspiring Miss America

2) Tell the Normies to fuck off.

Guess which option I chose?

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So if The Pilot Season Experiment has had any definitive result, it is this:

I will never again try to be anyone but myself.

Because goddammit, I’m pretty fucking cool.

Granted, I may have a filthy mouth, creases between my brows, weird hair, oily skin, a fat ass, and a preference for clothing that, in a pinch, can double as a medieval tent…

…but I’m also happy that way.

Besides, I’ve been pitching a new show around town lately, and I may be employed (and out of my pajamas) quicker than I want to be, anyway.

Cross your fingers.

And fuck your SPANX.

Wanna keep reading The Pilot Season Experiment?

Comments

35 Responses to “The Pilot Season Experiment — JUNKPUNCHED”
  1. QuoterGal says

    “I will never again try to be anyone but myself.”

    Yes. Yes. I love you, Mere-lady. Yes!

    Sorry you didn’t get hired this round for an already-extant staff – but I look waaay forward to your own new show getting picked up.

    Hollywood needs you, they just don’t know it at the moment. The Normies need The Talent. That’s you.

    • Just shows you what I get for trying to “blend in”. I’ve never blended in in my life. It’s like trying to make a platypus “blend in” with a bunch of otters. Oh, and by the way? Platypi are way fucking cooler.

  2. Lioness says

    You are a brave talented woman and I am proud of you. I am very upset that you didn’t get hired. For you, sure. But more because I don’t get to watch the result of your skill on my TV.
    So you can bet I’m crossing my fingers.

    • Thanks, lady! I’ve got my fingers crossed, too. And toes. And other anatomical parts it would be inappropriate to discuss. Then again, being “inappropriate” has never stopped me before, so…. yes. Yes, my lymph nodes are crossed.

  3. Harmalicious says

    I’m sorry I’m just now weighing in. They (whomever they may be) suck ass for not hiring you. And also Spanx are ridiculous. No thanks. I love you for you and fuck the rest.

    • Thanks for the love, Harm! And yes, Spanx are ridiculous. Of course, some of us don’t run 923 miles a week… 😉

  4. Soooo … since you’re not working (YET! the stupid shits), any chance of meeting us (me, QG, possibly samatwitch) for coffee two weeks from Friday? QG promised to intro me to Urth cafe to get an idea of what Javista will be like and that’s one promise I’m holding her to. 😉

    • Two weeks from Friday is… what, the 22nd? Hell yeah I’ll meet y’all! Only thing that could possibly monkeywrench it is having a pitch meeting, but so far nothing’s scheduled. We’ll have to reconvene when we get closer to the date…

  5. Rejection is horrible. Rejection of one of the ways you define yourself is bloody brutal. Writing about it, making sense of that rejection in public, is unbelievably fucking difficult and brave, even if it ultimately helps.

    I’m trying to think of something intelligent to say that isn’t “FUCKING PUNCH YOU DUMB FUCKS!”, and what I’m coming up with is a strong gut feeling that goes something like…

    …someone just kept you from going down a dead end, because you’re going to claw out something so much more worthy of your abilities. And I think it’s going to happen soon.

    I’ll still go shout at some motherfuckers, though. I’m good at that.

    • I am totally down with the idea that the Universe has saved me from being someone else’s wordwench so that I can be my own wordwench. And go shout at them, would you? I could use a good laugh… =D

  6. As Eric says, what a brave post. The whole series has been but this one especially so. It still amazes me how open you are.

    Since I DO believe that things happen for a reason, I agree that better things are ahead for you; crossing my fingers for YOUR new show.

    • I’m only open ’cause I suck at being discreet. Or tactful. Or, y’know, “keeping my big yap shut.” Thanks for the good wishes!

  7. Modwild says

    Remember, it was and “experiment.” If you hadn’t done it and failed, you would have wondered what if you had done it and gotten the job. Now you know and don’t have to play dress up and wear someone else’s skin any more. Whew. Breathe easy.

    BTW, you’re never to old to do any of that stuff if you’re doing it for you, and not for someone else.

    You won’t be without TV for long. TV needs you. The right show is just waiting for your talent. *mwuah*

    • Very true. I did learn something from the Experiment, so it wasn’t a total loss. Also, I feel much more assured about who I really am at this point in my life, and to my mind, you can only come across better that way than pretending to be someone else. I think people can sense it when you’re faking. Okay, maybe not men, but… In all seriousness, though, thank you — not only for reading the whole series, but for bucking me up when I felt down. <3

  8. Saismaat says

    Man, that sucks. FWIW, I find it really hard not to take rejection personally, even as much as I know that it’s all a rich tapestry and I am but one thread. Well, I’m a lot of threads. But there are so many more making up the cloth.

    Good luck with the show you’re pitching!

    • I suppose you get repeatedly rejected so much in Hollywood — not just for jobs, but even within jobs (re: stories, scripts, editing, etc.) — that you either stop taking it personally, or you collapse into a puddle of low self-esteem. And I am no puddler, thus… onward! Ever onward! (And thanks for the luck!)

  9. You are one brave badass, Mere. I’m sorry you didn’t get a spot this time around but you sure are showing off how awesome you are with this series of posts on the experiment. I’m proud of you.

    • Awwww, Mox! Don’t make me fucking cry! I hate fucking crying! This is ::sob:: ALL YOUR ::sob:: FAULT!

  10. I think that when it comes to makeup, there are a few kinds of women: those who like makeup as something to play with but tend to be happy presenting themselves to the world as they are, those who feel that makeup makes them more themselves, and those that feel that makeup makes them less themselves. and these aren’t mutually exclusive categories (you seem to be both the first and the last, for example) And there’s nothing wrong with any of these categories.

    so git down wit’cho bad self, girl. Because you are awesome. (and note to hollywood execs: I WANT MERE’S TV PILOT ON MY TELEVISION ASAP)

    • Oh, I’ma gettin’ down, girl, you best believe! The very first guy I worked for in Hollywood, when our show finally got canceled, gave me a parting gift: a book in which he inscribed, “You’re a great assistant. Though I recommend you stop being an assistant and start being a boss as soon as possible.” Now what do you think he meant by that? 😉

  11. You should feel grateful cause most shows on TV suck, so all it means is you don’t fit in with “suck”. You should keep the new hair, very super villianish

    • I don’t fit in with “suck.” This might be the nicest thing you’ve said to me since you learned to talk.

  12. Sorry you didn’t get hired. I’ll never forget seeing you come out of Greenie’s office, not only not having been fired but shaking having been staffed as a writer for season 2. That Sopranos script was that good.

    Men get junkpunched, non-personally, more than we like to admit. This generally involves a small child of unfortunate height and aim, or a dog. And you can’t fight back. Bastards!

    I always laugh when you talk about your prefered clothing of leasr constriction since the first time we met involved a see through top and bra (bra not see through). Thankfully for all, not on me.

    So very much of this business is about who you know. I can definitely see the jobs having gone to people they know first. Or with all else being equal if I liked one writer’s last show more than the other’s show, I’d choose the favorite show as the tie breaker.

    Break a…pen…(?)…with your original show. If you sell it, I know an underemployed guy with some experience as a writer’s PA. 😉

    Be yourself. You are the only one of you I know. :)

    • Oh, god, I’d nearly forgotten how totally shaken I was after that meeting. I kept feeling like at any moment someone would go, “PSYCH!” and I’d fall apart. Also, I miss the days of see-through clothing. Everything felt so much cooler… temperature-wise, I mean.

  13. Oh well fuck, Mere. Sorry that happened.
    The so-called normies write for who? Oh right, not most of us.
    I am really hoping you get your your exec pro/showrunner thang on and get super immensely powerful(power mad if you wish). Then you could change Hollywood and boot the OWLS(old white little-schlongos) in their wee willie winkies. MerePower!

    • “Old white little-schlongos” made me laugh. Do you think if I started calling them “owls” to their faces, it’d get me ahead in this business? Yyyyyeah. Me, either. But no one can stop me from thinking it… Thanks for reading, Carole, as always!

  14. I feel with you. I went through something similar recently again although I don´t work as I writer ( I wish and so far I´m still trying to make that true and therefore have my strange “talks” stories as well on this one) but also on TV as an assistant or contributing editor for X Factor , German Idol and the like. But no matter which type of show or series one quickly learns that the whole business is bonkers and pretty hard. And yet we still love it, don´t we?

    Thing is even when you are top notch and get your own show you can still can get cancelled and end up unemployed again but I think you probably know that. I´m sure next season will work out better for you and maybe you´ll get your pilot sold in the mean time. As for the whole shannigans like dressing up etc … one can never know what they look out for. I once didn’t get a job cause I was overdressed when I went for the talk. Talk about awkward.

    Btw are you allowed to talk for which shows you went into talks? I´m a bit curious to be honest.

    So yep, don’t give up and walk on with your head held high.. one day you´ll be on TV again, I´m sure.

    • Hollywood is a funny town. It’s entirely self-aggrandizing, and yet at the same time, maintains a level of secrecy the NSA would envy. So while technically, yes, I could tell you the names of the shows I met on, I won’t actually do it. I’m not trying to be a bitchbag, I swear, it’s just that folks in these parts like to know you won’t blab about them all over your blog. At least, not recognizably so, anyway. Thus considering I’d really like to keep working here, I can divulge no names or titles. Sorry to appear coy (and we all know it’s appearance only), but the mortgage won’t pay itself. Goddamned selfish mortgage.

      • No I understand fully. Here in Germany its not much different while there are companies which play a bit more loose on the rules most of them would sue my pants off when I´d give details of the TV jobs I´ve had. And I was just curious anyway.

  15. My condolences on staffing season.

    For what it’s worth, I thought this series was ballsy, smart, funny and honest as hell. You might’ve felt like a dick for trying to be someone else to “get the gig,” but you remained totally you in this blog, and that just goes to show that Hyde can’t keep Jekyll down. (Or is it the other way around? Point being: the REAL you can’t be tamped down.)

    • I really appreciate the pep [talk? comment?], Jose. This gig is so solitary that at times you feel like screaming, “HEY! AM I INVISIBLE? CAN ANYONE, ANYONE AT ALL SEE ME?” The good thing about the Experiment is that I no longer feel the temptation to conform in order to get a job, because you’re right — who I am on this blog? Is the real me. And it may be a little Hyde-ier than the Normies are used to, but Jekyll was a scared, boring, dull-as-all-hell Normie himself. To put a finer point on it: fuck THAT anymore!

  16. Mere, I have never heard it expressed quite so well. Thank you for the insight and the quite wonderful advice.

  17. peridot2 says

    It blows that you didn’t get a gig this past season. It also explains a great deal about the reasons why television sucks so hard this year.

    Reality television drains vital IQ points with every episode watched. I can’t bear them. Reality series show humanity at their worst. Well, except for THE DOG WHISPERER. It’s on NATGEO Wild, does it count as a reality series?

    In other words, you rock. They suck.

  18. […] THE OUTRO – The story is resolved. Some important lessons are learned. And there’s a moral. Yeah, I said i… […]

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