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Friday, August 12, 2011

THE CURSE OF THE BLACK TOWER

In Hollywood... they don't throw their garbage away. They make it into television shows. 
(Woody Allen) 
*****
As we crept from beneath the scary shadow of the Black Tower and headed for the Studio gates, Chris said, "I think we've just been royally screwed, Cole."

No disagreement here. But I said nothing until we had waved goodbye to Scotty, everyone's favorite gate guard, and Chris pointed the car toward home.

As he negotiated his way onto the freeway, I said, "We've been screwed not just once, partner mine - or even twice. We are screwed seven times over."

Chris' eyes cut to me, then back to the traffic. "How so?" he asked in a dread-laden voice.

I sighed. "While you were in the Head, Larry told me that was the standard deal Universal requires of its writers. Seven years. Renewable each year on Universal's option, not ours."

It is a testament to Chris' driving skills that he didn't lose it right there and pile into a big damned Shell Oil tanker truck that had jumped lanes in front of us.

"Well, we won't fucking sign it," Chris said.

"Do you really think we have a choice?" I asked.

Chris' brows furrowed. Thinking over what had just happened.

FLASHBACK - ONE HOUR BEFORE

Mr. Thompson Will See You Now
The three of us - Chris, me, and our agent, Larry Grossman - followed the silk-clad posterior of Peter's lovely executive assistant into his office.

Peter waited behind his incredibly expensive antique desk, framed by a huge window that looked out on a significant portion of the World Of Entertainment. (Lest you forget, Gentle Reader, Peter Thompson was head of production for MCA/Universal, prince of the Studios' Black Tower, and one of the el primo Guys With The Big Telephones.)

He watched us enter, smiling that Highwayman's smile and when we were settled, and he'd asked his assistant to bring us refreshment, he waited until she closed the door then let the smile dissolve into a gleam of sharp teeth.

And he said, “Now what’s this bloody shit about you boys not coming on board at Galactica 1980?”

Our agent, a really, really nice guy, said, “I’m sure it’s just a little misunderstanding, Peter. Something we can clear up in no time.”

It was no misunderstanding. Jeff (The EatAnter) Freilich had asked us to write an episode for GL80. A show we had no liking for whatsoever and only agreed to the script deal because Jeff was a "friend." At the meeting he'd asked us to join him on GL80 as story editors, but claimed to take no offense after we refused as politely as we possibly could. Obviously, this was bullshit and he'd gone and did his EatAnter whine to Peter that we were badly needed, but were bull-headedly ignoring his entreaties.

Private Doberman
Of course, we couldn't say any of that. And when Chris nearly slipped and opened his mouth, Larry shot him a warning look. Then he was all beatific smiles again, doing his best to charm Peter back into good humor. Our agent always reminded me a little of Private Doberman of Sgt. Bilko fame. Larry was a chubby little cherub with a lust for chocolate turtles and a passion for small carvings of elephants. His specialty was comedy. How he came to represent us is a whole story in itself, which I will tell down the road.

After the executive assistant had delivered the refreshments, Peter made with a sigh of great sorrow. Disappointment, even. “My dear boys,” he said. “What have I done that you would treat me this way?”

Chris and I hastened to assure him that we were the best of pals, owed him our very lives and intended to name our grandchildren after him, if we ever had any.

“It’s not that we don’t want to work for the show,” I lied. On the face of it, Galactica 1980 was many levels below abysmal. “But we have a novel due. Soon it will be overdue. And, frankly, Peter, we’re making more money freelancing than you could ever pay us on staff.”

Peter snorted. “You have no idea,” he said, “what staff money is.”

In our partnership it was my role to beard the beast, so I continued on with our well-planned (ha) defense. “We’re not trying to be difficult, Peter,” I said. “But we really like working on a smorgasbord of shows. We’re learning so much, jumping from one show to the other.

"It’s like the old days when magazines were king and writers served up short stories to dozens of different publications. It’s a real learning experience, Peter. Besides, we’re already agreed to write a script for Galactica… a really dynamite idea about earthquakes… and we’ll write as many more as Jeff and Frank want.”

(Frank was Frank Lupo, who shared Showrunner duties with Jeff. He was the boy genius on the lot. A former cab driver, he’d risen quickly through the ranks to co-helm his first show. Though GL80 failed miserably, it wasn’t Frank’s fault. And he was so damned good that nobody tried to blame him.)

Peter took my statement in. Nodding in gentle (was it agreement?) as I made point after point.

When I paused for breath, he said: “Are you quite finished, my dear boy?”

I admitted I was.

Peter inquired, “So, you’ll agree to write more than one episode for us on Galactica 1980?”

“As many as you want,” Chris put in. “We’re ready.”

“How kind of you,” Peter said, but he said it in a way that we knew he didn’t really think we were being kind one damn bit.

Shit.

This was not going well.

Peter said, “Allan... Chris... In the time I’ve come to know you two, I like think that I’ve become an uncle to you. A wise uncle.”

He gestured for agreement, or disagreement.

We did not disagree.

“Since we met during those first days at Quincy, I’ve also thought of myself as your mentor. I saw talent.” He paused and looked at both of us. Then at Larry. Then added, “Great talent. Rare talent.”

Our agent nodded vigorously. Larry wasn’t bullshitting, by the way. He really thought well of us. And was trying to bring us along in Larry’s very personal way. In later days we screwed up big time and traded Larry for some sweet-talking devils. It was the second worst mistake we ever made.

“I was the first producer to buy one of your scripts,” Peter said. More nods of agreement. (Although, actually our break came courtesy of Jack Klugman, star of Quincy M.E., and friend to writers everywhere. But this was no time to quibble.) “And since then,” he continued, “I’ve done my best for you.”

He laid his hand across the phone positioned before him. “Many a time I have picked up this phone in your behalf,” he said.

My mouth went dry. I knew what he was going to do next.

“And many times I spoke your names into the receiver…” He picked up the phone and whispered into it: “Bunch and Cole.”

Then he lowered the phone. Replaced it in its cradle.

“Now, my dear boys,” he went on, “it would be just as easy for me to..… well… ” He patted the phone… “Well, you know…. There are some who are my friends… and some who are….”

He let the rest slide. But we certainly got his point.

Larry said, “I’m sure the guys are eager to help you out on this, Peter.” He turned to us. His eyes saying it all: Blow this and you are dead. “Aren’t you, boys?”

“Damn straight,” Chris said.

“It was our intention all along,” I added.

"When would they start?" our agent asked.

Peter looked us over. First me. Then Chris. Making certain his victory was assured.

And he said, "Monday wouldn't be too soon."

RETURN TO CHRIS' MOMENT OF STARTLING REALIZATION

"I won't fucking do it," my partner said, maneuvering the car around the Shell Oil tanker. "I will not - Capital N-O-T, NOT - bend 'em and spread 'em for the likes of Peter Thompson and fucking Universal Studios."

"You're right," I said. "Fuck him. We'll tell Larry to have Peter stick his contract where the sun don't shine."

Later - after we'd had a couple of soothing Scotch and waters -  we thought we'd best seek the advice of someone who didn't have a dog in the fight. Larry was on our side, of course. But, he also got ten percent of our action, so we weren't sure how unbiased his opinion would be.

Story? What story?
We got our producer/mentor, Al Godfrey, on the line and told him our sad story. Godfrey, you may recall, succeeded Peter as Showrunner at Quincy and had bailed us out of a jam Peter has stuck us well into. (See, Episode #5: What's The Story Boys?)

Godfrey said, "You do realize, don't you, that you guys have only been in the business for a few months and you are already being tapped as story editors on the most expensive show in TV history?"

"It's a shit show," Chris said.

"So what?" Godfrey said. "Shitty is the definition of television. Comes with the cost of admission, which is Free."

"Yeah, but this is really shitty, Al," I said. "We don't want our names associated with it."

Godfrey sighed a weary sigh. "Boys," he said, "do you really think anybody ever looks at the 'Written By' part of the End Credits? Shit, by that time they're taking a bathroom break, grabbing a snack, or onto the next lousy show."

"It's a total loser," Chris said. "It's gonna be cancelled."

"Everything's eventually cancelled," Godfrey said. "The good news is - then you can go home."

"What about the seven-year contract?" I asked.

There was a long silence from Godfrey.

"Al?" Chris pressed. "Al?"

Finally Godfrey said, "Better buy some KY, boys. You're fucked."

I said, "Is it really for seven years? That's like being indentured servants."

Godfrey said, "The way it works, is that your first contract period will probably be for ten weeks, or twenty weeks."

"That's not so bad," Chris said. "We can handle a couple of months. The show will be kicked off the air, and they won't need us anymore."

A Seven-Year Sentence
Godfrey grunted. "Yeah, but that's not how it goes. Cancelled or not, when that time is up it is Peter's choice on whether to pick up your deal for whatever is left of the first 52 weeks. If he does that, then you are on the hook for the full seven years. And you'll have to work on whatever show they want you on. Shit, they can even loan you out to another studio, if they so fucking desire."

"What if we refuse to sign the contract? I asked.

Godfrey said, "Right now Universal is just about the only game in town when it comes to television. If Peter blackballs you - and he will - then you've just lost over eighty percent of your freelance market."

"Well, shit and fall back in it," Chris said. "Guess we've got no choice."

Godfrey said, "Look on the bright side, boys. Think of it as an adventure."

Chris said. "Last time I had an adventure some little guys in black pajamas kept trying to kill my ass."

NEXT: THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN 


THE COMPLETE MISADVENTURES: IT'S A BOOK!


THE VITAL LINKS:
The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 (we're now knocking at the door of 110,000) I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort. However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out. Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think? And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Amazon.com. Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!

THE STEN COOKBOOK & KILGOUR JOKEBOOK





Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.    




EMPIRE DAY 2012 - A COMMEMORATIVE EDITION

Relive the fabulous four-day Stregg-laced celebration.  Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever. New recipes from the Eternal Emperor's kitchen. Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever. Sten's thrill-packed exploits at the Emp's castle. How to make your own Stregg. And, did I mention, Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever?




2 comments:

  1. GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Mitch. And it is all true!

    ReplyDelete