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THE RULES OF HOLLYWOOD

Mock Not Lest Ye Be Overheard and Canned

February 11, 2007|Kathy Ebel | Kathy Ebel, a writer and producer, is working on a collection of short stories.

My first gig was writing scripts for a soap opera. I was a young thing with a new Guild membership, an inspired shoe collection and a meager savings account. A year into my contract, the Big Boss who'd delivered my big break was replaced. My services were no longer needed. I'd been fired.

After an impressive crying jag, I realized soap operas weren't my thing. But being chronically broke got old fast, so I was receptive when an established soap producer had an exciting new project. Not a standard-issue daytime-drama-for-the-rest-home-and-prison-lounge demographic, but an edgy nighttime series set in New Orleans. They wanted a hip young woman to round out the staff. Hallelujah, it was nice to be asked. I longed to write for a living again. I took the meeting in pricey high-heeled red patent loafers purchased for the occasion.

I did my best work in that room, feigning enthusiasm while inwardly cringing at the bad puns, comb-over hair and acrylic chevron-patterned sweaters. I signed a confidentiality agreement in exchange for the show's bible, agreeing to a test deal: A contract would commence if my sample script passed muster.

Reading the bible, I was disappointed. A kimono-clad drag queen running a bordello from her tumble-down Victorian manse? A voodoo priestess swinging around a chicken? Puhleease. Every Delta cliche had been hosed off and drenched in Aqua Net.

I called the producers the next day, a Thursday, gushing. The script breakdown would be sent to my apartment Monday morning; I'd execute it by Friday.

That night, a friend took me out for my birthday. We got wasted, then stood in line at a nightclub in the wee hours. "So . . . what's going on with the test deal?" he asked. I described the tragic outfits of the dumpy executives I'd met. I laughed at their fuss over my red shoes. I mocked the confidential bible with which I'd been trusted. The more he laughed, the louder I got.

Monday morning I was caffeinated early, waiting for my network paperwork, but no messenger. Finally, I called the production office and was transferred to business affairs. A steely assistant told me to expect a call from my attorney, who was handling negotiations between me and the production company. "I have bad news," my attorney said. "Your deal has been canceled. You were overheard trashing the show at a nightclub with a guy friend with spiky hair."

The executive producer's best friend had been standing right behind us. He'd overheard every word. I'd been fired again--but this time before I even started. "Stay by the phone," my attorney advised. "The executive producer's calling you any minute to rip you a new one."

Miserably, I called her first. "I was so nervous about this amazing opportunity, so I shrunk it down to size with comedy. It's what everybody does after a stressful day at work--only I chose the worst possible place." The executive producer understood, complimented my talent, even accepted my apology--but she didn't want somebody who hated her show writing for it.

Dish is a prized commodity in Hollywood, but when somebody I know wants to go there, I tell them my story. "Trust me," I say, "I have the worst gossip karma of anybody you know." I look left, I look right, and I zip my lip.

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