Liar Liar Pants on Fire

The vast majority of execs I’ve worked with in TV and publishing during my career have been terrific people who I count as friends. But I’ve had several situations in recent years where I’ve caught a few executives lying about me or the work that I’ve done. When I’ve confronted them with their dishonesty, they freely admitted it without shame or apology.

In one case, I accidentally found out about some damaging untruths about me from a friend and quickly contradicted the story, figuring there had been some unfortunate, but innocent, mis-understanding somewhere along the line. It never occurred to me that the exec I was working with had intentionally lied about me…until I heard from him.

"Why did you tell X the truth?" he demanded.

"Because someone gave X the impression that I’d fucked up." 

"That was me," he yelled.

I was astonished.

"But I didn’t fuck up," I said. "I’ve never done anything like that."

"I know."

"Then why did you tell X that I did?"

"Because I was the one who fucked up," he said. "Now you’ve made me look like a liar!"

"You are!" I yelled back.

"They don’t have to know that," he said.

"You lied about me to hide your own fuck-up. You made yourself look good and me look bad."

"So? You should have gone along with it," he said. "You’ve deeply hurt my feelings."

No matter how much I tried to explain that it was his fault, and that the injured party was me, he just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) understand. Nor did he seem to care about the damage he’d caused to our business relationship.

In another case, an executive told me how happy he was with my work writing/producing a TV series, how much he loved being in business with me, and how he hoped we’d enjoy a long professional relationship together. Which would be nice, except that I knew for a fact that earlier that same day he’d told another producer how much he hated me and offered him my job for the following season. What the exec didn’t know was that the producer was an old friend of mine and immediately called me.

When I confronted the exec with this, he simply said "So what? That’s business. Grow up."

Another exec we worked with took credit with the network, right in front of us (and in conference calls), for creating and developing stories and scripts he not only didn’t come up with or work on, but that he didn’t even see until roughly the same moment the network did.

We never confronted him about this, nor revealed it to the network of course, because it would have made him and the show (and us) look bad. But the exec had no problem whatsoever lying to our faces or, apparently,  any fear that we’d contradict him. I guess he was right on that score. I didn’t know how he could do it without feeling deeply embarrassed and ashamed every time he saw us. That said, we are team players and we thought that establishing that was more important to us and our careers than speaking up to him or anyone else. In the end, this came back to haunt us, but if we had it to do over again, even knowing what I know now, we’d make the same choice.

Lying isn’t new…but I think the complete lack of shame some execs are showing when they get caught in the act is a new wrinkle. I mean, they aren’t even bothering to make excuses or dodge blame or cover up…

Hmm. Come to think of it, I may have discovered a new kind of honesty: being honest about your dishonesty. Pretty soon, if we aren’t vigilant, that may become the new definition of integrity in Hollywood…

15 thoughts on “Liar Liar Pants on Fire”

  1. A pretty disturbing post. I think this exists everywhere, unfortunately, but to be so blatant about it is kind of bizarre. I mean, psychopaths are masters at “acting” normal, but what do you call somebody who is so straightforward about, “yes, I’m dishonest, backstabbing, and venal–get over it, it’s business.” Guess I’d better go rent “Greed” again. Seems like the ’80s might be coming back.

  2. I can’t imagine anyone doing that, being so brazen about it. I’d probably smack them in the face. Or, you could spread rumours about them, like, say, that they’re child molesters. When they confront you, act incredibly hurt and offended that they would insult you by telling people you’re a liar…

  3. Clearly these are people who either consider themselves higher on the food chain than you, or who actually are higher on the food chain. They expect you to be good little minions and cover for the “boss.” Assholes.

  4. I’ve never had much of a hankering to write screenplays, but I always wondered if the Hollywood business climate was as venal and vicious as it was portrayed. It seems that it is.

  5. Most of the stories didn’t shock me too much. Saddened, but not shocked.
    The one that got me was the guy who was mad at you for telling the truth and acting like he was the injured party. Simply unbelievable!

  6. Lee, I admire you a great deal for being able to navigate a business like this, especially since you strike me as such a rational, thoughtful, and balanced guy. I wouldn’t be able to hack it in a bazillion years–probably burst into tears and implode before lunch the first day, if not outright freaking to the point of slamming back a bottle of tequila and hijacking a studio golf cart to make a doomed-from-the-get-go solo Thelma/Louise break for Tijuana, or Malibu.
    There are certainly crazy-making jerks to be found in every professional milieu–from restaurants to railroads, in my experience–but the money/fame/power potential of TV and film work seems to attract not a few nightmare co-workers of a particularly egregious and Machiavellian stripe.
    On the other hand, those extreme buttheads *could* make the decent people in your biz an even greater pleasure to hang out with, by contrast. I’d like to think that’s the case, perhaps even that the sane contingent bonds in the face of fucktard-ity to form its own network of coolness, like an underground railroad of straight-shooters.
    More power to you for being one of the good guys, in TV AND publishing!

  7. Lee-
    Hats off to you for even discussing this in public. Incidents such as you described led me to literally walk away from Hollywood and screenwriting almost 20 years ago, only recently edging back into writing at all. It also strikes me as VERY commonplace in the two “major corporations” I spent a lot of my adult life working for. Sadly,I consider you a fortunate individual in that you’ve only recently run into this kind of behavior.

  8. Way to go soft for writers everywhere.
    Not sure if you are a victim or an enabler
    If a boss grabs credit for your story ideas in a conference call or meeting, you follow up immediately with something like “yeah, [insert boss name here] really championed my idea when I brought it to him. It was really great that when I explained it to him, he let me work on it without hanging over my shoulder or interfering with my creative process, that is why it is so great to work with him. He’s excellent at supporting my work.”
    So you give him the strongest left-handed compliment in the world, since you are offering praise, he can’t screech the meeting to a halt by nitpicking who came up with what, you get your credit, he gets a compliment from a “team player” and everyone else knows that you are the brains of the outfit.
    I wish you had the balls (or enough “f you” money) to name names, but I can understand why you are protecting the guilty– that way you can work with him again in the future… or something…

  9. Hey – I like Michael’s suggestion.
    But there is a flip side to all of this. If it is true that lying is an acceptable part of the business, then you did a big favour to the executive by publically showing that he is a liar.
    After all – you just showed everyone that the executive uses common, accepted techniques to run their business – so why is that hurtful ???

  10. the only thing more shocking to me than what you describe is that i am shocked by it at all – chalk it up to still having a soul, which you clearly do.
    by the way, thanks for linking to my pilots entry last month, much appreciated!

  11. I read this post…and like others, was totally shocked.
    I can’t believe…these execs act this way.
    And yet obviously they do.
    I want to thank you for taking a stand like you’ve done.
    You have a soul, a conscience and integrity.
    And these asshole execs?
    They truly don’t have anything..and I truly believe…their karma will come back to them on their actions.
    Thank you again. for being just.

  12. After reading this blog, I was reminded of the things my husband is currently going through in his job. He is in sales, and his boss will lie to him straight-faced about why he isn’t getting paid his commissions or why the numbers are off when he does get paid. It is ridiculous. If my husband confronts them, they just nod and smile and pat him on his little head…telling him one bullcrap story after another. His boss even stole a customer right out from under him…one he had been working with for two weeks and would have made a HUGE commission on…they sent him to another location, and sold to the customer when he wasn’t there, so that he would have no commission coming.
    So where you are may be hollywood, but a snake is a snake no matter where he lives.


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