Irwin's Office Was Packed with Network Suits. And when I say Suits, I mean guys who looked like zillion-dollar-an-hour lawyers, with eyes glinting through steel-rimmed glasses, even if they didn't wear glasses. It was apparent from the get-go that there wasn't a creative bone in their collective bodies and at times I doubted if there were enough brain cells distributed among them to rub two together.
These boyos were from the Anything But Class (ABC) network, after all.
One guy, who looked like an accountant, complete with dandruff on his shoulders, leaned in and with great sincerity said: "We're concerned that our show is danger of becoming too gritty." (The show he was talking about was Code Red, which Chris had taken to calling, Code Dead.)
His colleagues of The Suit muttered agreement.
Irwin, who sat at the head of the conference table, black toupee perched precariously on his head, frowned then said, "Anyone who has ever worked with me, and knows my track record, will tell you that 'gritty' is something that I just don't do."
He lifted his hands in appeal. "Was the Towering Inferno gritty? No. Was the Poseidon Adventure gritty? Not one bit. Lost In Space, Land Of The Giants? No and no."
Our story exec, Larry Heath, who sat at Irwin's right, asked, "What's the cause this sudden concern?"
Dandruff Shoulders tapped the script in front of him. It was the episode I mentioned before where Adam (The Beach Ball) Rich is falsely accused of setting fire to the school gym. Although, with budget cuts, the fire had been reduced to a wastebasket and some charred curtains in the principal's office.
"In this story Adam joins a gang," he said, voice quivering indignantly. "The Hawks. Who are a clearly delinquent group of young toughs."
"He doesn't join them," Larry pointed out. "They try to woo him into joining the gang. In the end he not only refuses, but convinces the leader of the gang to see the error of his ways."
Irwin broke in: "Your own Program Practices... uh, person... loved this episode," he said, not mentioning Susan (The Censor) Futterman by name because he hated her so much that his stomach would rebel. (More on Irwin's rebellious stomach later). As for Ms Futterman, she wasn't at this gathering, which made it the usual all-male enclave of that era. If Suits can be called male, that is. Chris said they were all "smooth between the legs, like Barbie's boyfriend."
Irwin smiled with satisfaction, and added: "This... umm... umm... Person said it was an excellent example of the kind of moral lessons we want to impress on our young audience."
Dandruff Shoulders replied, "Possibly, possibly... But Adam's mother thinks it is bad for his image. All this gang business."
Now it was all out in the open. It was the Beach Ball's stage mother who was behind it all. A Hollywood Force Of Nature that is hard to resist.
"But that's the character he plays," Larry argued. "He's an orphan, a street kid rescued by Lorne and Julie who raise him as if he were their own. A troubled boy, who finds his way, thanks to the embrace of a warm family atmosphere, with real heroes as role models."
Chris groaned and I kicked him under the table. Thankfully, nobody heard. I knew what Chris was thinking: Poor little Adam Rich clearly had troubles, but they weren't of the street variety.
Just the other day, our tech advisor, Joe Weber, a retired LA County Fire Department Chief, had presented the Beach Ball with an actual fire department helmet, cut down to fit. In the series, the kid joins the Fire Scouts, and gets to wear a cool uniform and hat while riding around on the fire trucks. Never mind every kid in America would be envious, Chris and I were jealous. A real fireman's helmet. Damn! Could we have one too?
What does the kid do? He gingerly accepts the gift, glances at his mother who has a dangerous look in her eyes, then offers polite but chilly thanks.
But - and get this - he doesn't don the helmet. Instead, he touches his perfectly shaped Prince Valliant hair-do and says, "I won't be able to wear it much because it'll mess up my hair. And it takes an hour for them to fix it." His mother smiled in approval.
Back at the meeting - A balding Suit with an expensive comb-over jumped in: "If we do this story at all, we'll have to be very careful with the casting."
Irwin turned green. Put a hand to his mouth and went, "umph,umph!" Then excused himself and rushed into his private bathroom, where we shortly heard sounds of upchucking.
Larry covered for Irwin, saying, "Sorry. He's got that... uh... thing that's going around."
There were murmurs of false sympathy, sure, everybody's getting it, awful bug, etc.
Larry shrugged, saying, "We've committed all the money in the script budget." He tapped the script in front of him. "If you scrap this one, which, I might add, was previously approved by all of you, including Ms Futterman, we'll need you to okay the fee for another one."
There were gasps of protest. A chorus of: "More money? No, no. Not necessary. We think it's a wonderful script." It was like Larry was asking them to offer up their wives, or mistresses, instead of a few thousand bucks.
Comb Over came to their rescue. "We talked it over and concluded it's just a matter of casting," he said.
"Yes, casting," was Dandruff Shoulders' contribution.
He pulled a manila envelope from his expensive briefcase. Got out some 8X 10 color photos from it and dropped them in the center of the table like the flop in a game of Texas Hold'em.
"My son," he said proudly.
We all looked respectfully at the pictures. They showed a very handsome, very clean, very preppy, Jewish American prince of about 13 with a head of very blond curls. I looked closer to see if he had inherited his father's dandruff genes, but so far he appeared safe.
Irwin had returned by now, wiping his face. He looked at one of the pictures, then turned to Dandruff Shoulders.
"You want us to hire your son?" he said. Not waiting for an answer, he turned to Larry, "Remind me to ask Tanya to put the young man on the casting call list."
"No, no. That's not what I meant," protested Dandruff Shoulders. Although I noticed from the look in his eye that he wasn't adverse to a bit of casting bribery. Thinking, screw his son, maybe whisper something in Irwin's ear about his mistress, who would then make him a very happy man on black silk sheets, sprinkled with dandruff.
He continued, "This picture is just an example of what we are talking about. When you cast for the gang, get clean cut young American boys like this."
"That way Adam will look like he's in good company, even if in the script he's in bad company," added Comb Over."
"It'll make his mother so happy," somebody said, but when we all looked we couldn't tell who, except for one kid Suit who was staring at the table.
Ignoring the interruption, Dandruff Shoulders said, "Not gritty kids. Not kids who will loom over Adam, acting like a threat. He's a very vulnerable boy, you know. And looks it."
Chris barely buried a snort. I knew what he was thinking. The Beach Ball was not just 'vulnerable looking,' but so short, we'd have to cast midget kids to avoid the looming business. On the other hand, I could partly see the point, which scared hell out of me, because when you agree with a Suit's point, it's time to check your IQ levels.
However, now that the deed was done - firing the kid who played the Adam Rich's role in the pilot, who at least looked like he could act bad ass and replacing him with the Beach Ball - the script we were looking at was totally out of whack. As were most of the others on the burner.
Adam Rich just wasn't believable as a kid from the streets. Unless you were talking about the runaways who hung out on Melrose looking for "dates." So we would have to hire a bunch of Beverly Hills delinquent wannabes. Short ones.
Irwin picked up one of the pictures, pretended to study it closely, then said, "Gentlemen, I'm in complete agreement with you. We'll take this to heart when we are casting." He showed Larry the picture. "Won't we, Larry?"
Larry said, "Absolutely."
The tension in the room eased. Suits shuffled papers, snapped briefcases open and closed, while Irwin regaled one and all with tales of his adventures with Groucho Marx.
As he talked, he picked up a pencil, and absently pushed it UNDER his toupee. And SCRATCHED his bald head leisurely, and with infinite pleasure.
I lost it. Desperately covering my mouth to keep from bursting into laughter, I turned to the left to hide my face. Only to find myself looking into the eyes of one of the Suits, who was doing the same thing. Mouth covered with a hand. Barely controlled laughter.
We both almost erupted with loud guffaws, and quickly turned the other way.
I had a hard time getting myself together and when we all rose to leave, Chris gave me a strange, what the fuck, look.
I shook my head. "Don't ask," I whispered. "If you do I'll lose it and we'll both be fired on the spot."
Somehow I got out of the meeting without looking at Irwin - studying my boots when I shook his hand. Chris covered by making noises about the nice meeting.
Back in our office - and fueled by a shot of Metaxa - I told Chris the story. I started giggling uncontrollably before I was done. Chris caught my giggles, then we were both laughing so hard that the tiles threatened to come loose from the ceiling.
Our secretary - a super lady named Genevieve - stuck her head in the door. "What so funny, boys?" she wanted to know.
This only made us laugh harder. We couldn't get a word out to explain. Gasping. Pounding the table.
Genevieve nodded knowingly. "You boys have been upstairs visiting Cheech and Chong again, haven't you."