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The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Ranter

Self-Exiled Hollywood Whiz Kid David Rosenthal Thinks He Knows the Truth. The Question Is, Does Anyone Care?

May 05, 2002|JANET REITMAN

"Here's the thing," says David Rosenthal, former television writer and self-styled Hollywood whistleblower. "When you give up a job that's paying $2.5 million a year, and you write a play that's full of very foul language, and you do it without preparing your parents for it, some people are going to freak out."

Rosenthal laughs, picking at his fruit plate over breakfast at the trendy Mercer Kitchen restaurant in New York, where he now lives.

He's no stranger to freakouts. It has been almost two years since Rosenthal, a member of Hollywood's inner circle of hot young sitcom writers (his credits include "Ellen" and "Spin City") deep-sixed his 13-year television career by walking out on a lucrative development deal at 20th Century Fox Television. Since then, the story of his crash and burn--his divorce, his infatuation with supermodels, his disastrous foray as a playwright, his decision to give huge sums of money to women he barely knows--has been repeated so often in both L.A. and New York that it has become something of an urban legend.

"I'm under no illusions," he says. "I knew when I did this that people were going to think I was crazy. But ultimately they're going to discover that I'm not. And they're going to have to look at themselves and think, 'Huh! Why was I so quick to judge David? What was so threatening about what David did?' And the answer is because the men who run Hollywood are incredibly greedy people. To them, life is a zero-sum game.

"I remember an agent telling me once, 'I will stab that guy in the back in a minute for you.' Well, A) that's creepy; B) if he'd stab that guy in the back in a minute for me, well, guess what, he'd stab me in the back in a minute for that guy. And I thought, wow, I cannot trust these agents, I will not trust them--they aren't interested in me, they aren't interested in what I think or feel, they are only interested in their own ego and their own power."

Rosenthal pauses to take a breath. "It's appalling what goes on in Hollywood, it really is. . . . I defy you to get people to disagree with me."

So begins a three-hour discourse on the evils of Hollywood. David Rosenthal, in case you haven't guessed, is angry. He's also willing, eager, to tell you about his anger. In depth. With gusto. It's a lonely rant, and it probably won't matter very much in the long run, given that most of Rosenthal's former colleagues have long since dismissed him as troubled and irrelevant.

Nevertheless, Rosenthal believes that after 13 years in the trenches, he is uniquely qualified to tell us a few hard truths about the TV business.

Truth #1: Hollywood is a cesspool of white male sharks.

Truth #2: Agents are, by and large, "leeches." They care mostly about money and prostitutes. Truth #3: TV writers can be coarse and horrifyingly misogynistic. They tell bawdy and derogatory jokes at the expense of female colleagues, and sink even lower when it's boys only. Truth #4: Most executives couldn't care less about the interests of minorities, which explains the dearth of Asian American or Latino sitcoms on television. Overall, the entire town is riddled with terrible, awful people. Loathsome, in fact.

That's Rosenthal's Truth. The question is, do we care? Unsavory though it may be, the hurly-burly world of entertainment bigwigs isn't exactly Big News in Hollywood. Nor are the number of disaffected writers, directors, actors, you-name-its who have fled the shark tank for safer waters. Some, including the late Julia Phillips, have exorcised their show-biz demons in books; others, such as Robert Altman, work it out through their films. Rosenthal simply wants to talk about it.

Rosenthal's former colleagues aren't interested in anything Rosenthal has to say. Most are unwilling to discuss him at all, in fact. The few who are willing to talk do so largely on the condition of anonymity.

From an anonymous agent at the Endeavor Agency: "Why are you even writing this? It's an old, tiring story. Nobody cares."

From a former associate at Dreamworks Television: "It's sad what happened to David, it really is. He was smart. Really, really smart. Maybe too smart."

From Richard Weitz, one of Rosenthal's former agents: "I wish him the best of luck."

From Ari Emanuel, Rosenthal's other former agent: [Silence] So, then, this is a story about wild success and total failure. And redemption. Sort of.

Rosenthal is a rabbi's son from suburban lawrenceville, n.j.,whose biggest dream in life was to write successful sitcoms. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in the spring of 1989 and soon afterward bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles. Through family friends, he landed a job as a production assistant on the ABC sitcom "Anything but Love."

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