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When Things Get Retch-ed, Head for the Door

April 09, 2006|Trish Soodik | Trish Soodik has written for stage, screen and television. Her play "The 60s" will open at the Pacific Resident Theater next month.

Years ago, I was writing for a show produced by Castle Rock. Another show by the same company was starting up just down the hall. It was called "Seinfeld." Ours was supposed to be the hit.

Right there is the story of my life. But that's not what I want to talk about.

As it turned out, the person who created our show--the "show runner"--was a really nice guy. Always a bad sign. Nice guys get murdered in this business. Or, even worse, replaced. And that's what happened here.

He was replaced by a "team" of show runners. A team is two people who together can make your life twice as miserable. Our writers' room was all abuzz about these guys. We knew that they were Hollywood veterans; one had worked on "MASH" for years, and the other had written a couple of successful movies. So we were cautiously excited. Then the plumber arrived.

A day before they were to take over the show, a plumber came in to alter all of the hardware in the executive bathroom. He brought everything one needed for handicap access. A special toilet, some safety bars for the shower. And we all thought that was great. Great that the studio did not discriminate against people with disabilities.

We were all aflutter when our new show runners arrived the next day. As they walked by, we sat in our chairs in jaw-dropping silence and watched them slowly, and I mean sloooooooowly, make their way to their offices. It was frightening. We had been told that they were old, but it was now quite obvious that this had been a polite way of saying they might die any minute.

The tall, skinny one seemed to have no idea where he was or what he was doing. The other was in a wheelchair and had emerged from the elevator vomiting into a paper sack.

I am going to stop here to tell you that all of this is true. And all that I am about to tell you is also true. It feels even to me that I am making this up as I relate this story, but there were other people in the room and you know who you are.

It seems that our vomiting show runner had been a very fat man who could not stop eating, so he had his stomach stapled. Apparently the stapling did not go very well. He was having complications. Like vomiting and not being able to walk. The poor man spent most of the day throwing up or on the toilet. In between, we tried to write comedy. We never really saw the other guy because he was always in his office trying to figure out what he was doing there.

The guy in the wheelchair seemed to have good ideas. But he could barely speak. His throat was irritated from his complications. I cannot explain what it was like to sit there day after day watching a man regurgitate over and over into a paper sack. And trying to be funny at the same time.

Well, obviously, we failed. "Seinfeld" went on to be "Seinfeld," and our show was unfunny and watched by practically no one. The show runners tired easily, and that was a good thing because they would go home early, giving us few assignments. We would sit in the writers' room and either laugh or cry, depending on our mood.

Big Important Rule: Always find out the history of your show runner before you sign on. Ask around. IMDb them. Find out everything you can about them, even if it means calling their ex-husbands or wives. And if your show runner is switched midstream, leave. Just walk out of that writers' room as fast as you can. There is always a better job right around the corner.

At least that's what I was told.

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