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THE RULES OF HOLLYWOOD

Before Pitching Mr. Big, Study His Desk Drawer

December 17, 2006|Chuck Harris | Chuck Harris is a producer and manager of variety and novelty acts.

Twenty-five years ago, I was a struggling actor and nightclub comic with a hell of an idea for a new and exciting kind of TV game show. In fact, it's still such a great idea that I won't describe it except to say that it involves brothers and sisters competing against each other with their parents acting as judges and referees--and if you're a network or production company, please get in touch with me. I was such a nonproduced nobody back then that I couldn't get anyone to return my call, much less take my pitch. So I kept calling. And calling. And finally--success! No less than the head of new acquisitions for 20th-Century Fox Television would be happy to see me.

I was thrilled. I walked onto the lot, past the outer secretary, and was welcomed by the personal secretary to "Mr. Big Shot." Showtime!

I walked in. Mr. Big was somewhere between 55 and 62, expensively dressed in pinstripe suit, eyelet collar shirt, great tie. We shook hands, and I handed him my treatment for the whole series. As I pitched he read my treatment, following me nearly word for word. When I finished he looked at me and asked:

"Did you write this all by yourself?"

"Yes," I said.

He said: "Your writing is very good."

"Thank you."

He said, "I have to be very honest with you. I like it very much."

The hairs on the back of my head went up. My heart was racing.

I said, "You really mean it?"

He said, "It's one of the greatest ideas I've seen in a long time, and I've seen a lot of ideas."

I took a deep breath. I wanted to appear as cool as possible. I sat back, waiting for him to pitch me.

And then he said, "But I'm not going to buy it."

I know timing, and his was impeccable. When I could talk again, I squeaked out: "Excuse me?"

He said, "You may have a hit show here, but I'm not going to buy it."

I said, "Do you mind if I ask--"

"Not at all!" he said. "It's because I never buy anything."

Long pause.

"Isn't that your job?" I said.

He leaned forward and smiled. "Now, young man, you need to understand why I have a job. Let me explain it to you. This show is very good. You'll have no problem selling it. But you've got to understand--and if you repeat this to anyone I'll deny it vehemently--I never buy anything. I've got about a year and a half until I retire. I get a package. Why the hell should I buy anything? If the show bombs, I'm out of a job. If it hits, I'm gonna get a pat on the back. I'm not gonna get a raise.

"So, I'm going to take this project and put it in the drawer with all the other projects. Most of them are no good--but see, I'm putting yours on top because it's one of the best. If you sell it, and if your show is successful, I burn it. But if it bombs--and it'll probably bomb, because 98% of everything that's on television bombs--I'll show it to my boss and show him how I kept this piece of crap off our air. And my boss is going to say: 'You're the best.'"

I felt beat up like I'd never been beat up before, but Mr. Big Shot was still smiling. He stood up, thanked me for coming, and showed me the door. These were the last words I remember as he pushed me gently toward the street:

"If you have any other great projects, bring them right over."

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