Suck Ups

There was an essay in the LA Times magazine this weekend by Sharon Bordas, an aspiring sitcom writer talking about "staffing season," that hectic period after the series pick-ups in May when shows hire all their writers. But the essay wasn’t really about that. It was about sucking up. Her first interview didn’t go well, so she lavished praise  on the next showrunner she met with.

I prostrated myself before him, calling him the best writer
of his generation. Without a trace of irony. It worked. My agent called
to give me the good news: Boy Wonder Two (BW2) loved me.

She didn’t get hired as a writer, though. She got hired as a writer’s assistant. Not surprisingly, she lost the job on her first day when she pitched story ideas to the co-exec producer.

The next day I was fired. "It’s not going to happen," my agent told me,
explaining that showrunner-for-a-day had found me presumptuous and

She’s at a loss to understand why they got this impression of her and goes on and on blaming her career troubles on the inflated egos and duplicity of the showrunners she meets.

I didn’t even try to eat the day of my meeting with my third Boy
Wonder. I complimented everything from his writing to his shoes. Soon,
an offer was on its way, and my agent was thrilled…
The next day, one of the show’s producers announced that he had promised my job to the son of a friend. I was out. Again.

It never occurs to her that maybe the third Boy Wonder called around about her and didn’t like what he heard — so came up with a lame excuse for backing out before compounding his mistake. The whole point of the essay is that TV shows are run by assholes and talented, good-hearted people like her don’t get a break.  (She clearly thinks she’s coming off as lovable, funny, and sympathetic in her essay. She’s not).

She looked down her nose at each showrunner before she even stepped in the door for her  interviews. Each prospective employer was a "Boy Wonder," implying she thinks they got their show on the air not because of any talent or smarts,  but because they kissed the right asses and sold out. They don’t deserve her respect, honesty, or good-will. They are frauds. She is the real deal. (Even the co-exec producer is shrugged off as "showrunner for the day" when he should have prostrated himself in front of her awesome talent).

What was her interview strategy? To be a manipulative, lying little weasel, lavishing false praise on showrunners to hide her contempt for them. And when she finally snares an assistant position,  she has the gall on her first day to suggest story ideas to the co-exec producer when, in fact, her job is to answer the phones, type scripts, and get everybody lunch.

And she wonders why she was fired? Hollywood isn’t the problem, lady. It’s you.

18 thoughts on “Suck Ups”

  1. Big fan of the blog, Lee and I have absolutely no TV aspirations, whatsoever, but I think you might be protesting a bit too loudly on this post.
    As your two previous posts show, irrational behavior often does make the world go round, in Hollywood and elsewhere. To suggest with 100% certainty that the lady’s style was to blame for her failings is to ignore the same irrantional behavior you just poked fun of.
    PS… Is it me, or is THE SHIELD even better this season than it was in previous years?

  2. Hey Lee,
    I agree with you in general about the writer of the article in question, but she must have some ability and talent as a writer, don’t you think? Otherwise, how did she get hired in the first place? And can I say iit seems a bit odd to hear you speak ill of her for thinking ” Each prospective employer was a “Boy Wonder,” implying she thinks they got their show on the air not because of any talent or smarts, but because they kissed the right asses and sold out” after reading the post you wrote previous to this one, don’t you think?
    But I loved the “Pitching” post, don’t get me wrong. Classic.

  3. I’m not in Hollywood, but I have dreams… Anyway, how can this woman have an agent without actual writing credits? What does an agent get if you get hired as a writer’s assistant? If she can get an agent, maybe one day, I too can…

  4. I wonder what her bosses at her current show think of her. When you’ve outed yourself as an insincere suck-up (and being a sincere suck-up, I know the difference), why would anyone trust anything you say?
    Although I do remember a story about a study in which a person’s reputation improved even though the recipient knew that person didn’t mean it, so maybe brown-nosing is a survival skill that works no matter what.
    Eddie Haskell lives!

  5. Talent is important, good writing is critical, and people skills are a must….but let’s be honest, LUCK has a lot to do with it. Look at Anthony Zuicker. One movie (THE RUNNER, which came and went faster than you can blink), then he turns around and comes up with CSI. Zuicker did what everyone always told me COULDN’T be done; little or no credits, and get a series on the air. Now he’s got three. And a piece of an international franchise that will run for years…..
    I’m sure there was much more to it than that, but let’s not leave out the LUCK factor……

  6. I’m a producer, but in non-fiction TV, so my world is rather different and still I thought she was an ass. Why does the LATimes (a place where writers are employed) always manage to come up with these semi-pro TV writers?

  7. There’s something that Bill Rabkin pointed out to me that doesn’t ring true about her essay. She says she met with a showrunner to interview as a staff writer and instead was offered a writer’s assistant position. They are two entirely different jobs at two entirely different pay scales (And the showrunner couldn’t have thought much of her as a screenwriter to offer her a secretarial job, even if it was supposedly with a potential for a staff writer job down the line). I have never heard of something like that happening…and can’t imagine an agent who would take this a huge slap in the face to himself, his agency and his client. Or who would then pass along this outrageously insulting offer to his client. Or that she would take it.
    I think there’s more to this story than she’s telling…if the story is even truthful to begin with.
    As you can probably tell, the entire essay rubbed me the wrong way. I’m not quite sure why the LA Times printed it or what they thought the point was. To me, the moral of the story is sucking up doesn’t always work, not that staffing season is hell (which it is) or that TV is a crazy business (which it is). But the headline says its an essay about staffing season when it’s really an essay about one writer’s inept approach to job interviews.
    I see a big difference between this writer’s premeditated sucking up to showrunners she doesn’t really like and my anecdotes about getting inane notes from some of the people I’ve pitched to. The vast majority of people I’ve pitched to have been intelligent, smart, clever, and polite…but it’s more fun to tell the handful of stories about my bizarre experiences.
    The point of my stories is simply that I had some funny experiences with producers and development execs, not that I think I’m brilliant and everyone else is dim-wit.
    The point of her story seems to be that showrunners are jerks who don’t appreciate her — despite the fact that she lavished them with insincere praise.

  8. Although I agree with you on the blinding nastiness evident in the article (hey, I worked ten goddam years to get to occassionally be “the Boy Wonder”), your hink about the writer’s assistant/staff writer job’s a bit off, at least in the sitcom vein. Writer assistant is indeed the training paddock for staff writer, and is occassionally used as a dodge around a particularly restrictive staffing budget. I’ve seen two writer’s assistants stepped up to staff writer in mid-season, and neither time did it seem incredibly exceptional.
    Pithing story ideas to the co-exec though … yeesh. Yeah, idiot. Do your work, show you’re smart, and wait for them to ask. They’ve got enough crap to worry about.

  9. I know I am probably a bad parent, but when my son reports to being teased in school, my first question (after, Is anything bleeding?)is usually, what did you do to provoke it?
    And I am the same way when anyone, including myself, is let go from a job/book rejected/script rewritten into something unrecognizable: What did YOU do wrong?
    The answer is always a learning experience.

  10. Hey Lee,
    I think it’s okay if you think you’re brilliant – you write a show on television and keep two series of novels going at the same time, not to mention this blog. And that’s just this month. I don’t know anyone else who does that, so brilliant works for me.
    I think you’re right, she probably is socially inept, silly and mental in some ways – but so was the cowboys and indians exec. I found them to be interesting right next to each other, those stories. I guess there are meatheads on both sides of the fence.

  11. Oh, I just realized something . . .
    I ain’t sucking up by saying you might possibly be brilliant. Don’t think I’m sucking up for a job like the author of the article.
    If anything, I’m pissed you can write one book with your right hand and another book with your left and while on lunch break script a witty fifty minute episode of a popular tv show. I ain’t kissing up by calling ya brilliant. I secretly hate you for it. You bastard.

  12. Thanks for hammering her behavior, Lee. Your post didn’t smack of anything other than a professional writer pointing out a caveat of how not to behave as a first-timer. Personally, I feel like she was begging for it from the first sentence of her piece (“I signed with my agent because he had a sexy voice.”) Yikes. No wonder you’re piling up empty water bottles, parking passes, and medical prescriptions.
    Yes, The Business (film, television, literary) is hard to break into (thank God because it filters out writers like the one who wrote the piece in question). But so is Web development (my day gig that supports my family as I build my writing career). And I think that’s what so many struggling writers that I talk to don’t understand. Writing professionally is a business. It isn’t La-La land. It’s a business similar to many other businesses. And if I walked into a new Web dev client on Day 01 and started telling them about other products they should be selling instead of building their site for them, they’d part ways, too.
    The behavior of the writer in question is exactly what sets up land mines and bear traps for the other writers who’ve paid their dues, waited for their turn, and then used their intellect and ambition to seize the opportunity to write professionally.
    Again, kudos for calling her on it.

  13. i guess john rogers already pointed this out, but on sitcoms, the writers’ assistant and script coordinator are basically very underpaid writers. they do the run-down and cast list, but that’s the extent of the secretarial work they do. they don’t get lunch or answer phones. the writers’ PA does that. the WA and SC are also usually given a script assignment every season to make up for the shitty pay, and if there’s a staff opening, the showrunner at least pretends to seriously consider them.

  14. I’m a television writer/producer and currently a showrunner, and I couldn’t agree with her piece more. We work in a business run by narcisstic children and former high school outcasts who can’t bear the thought of someone taking their power away. Are you really going to suggest that sucking up isn’t a prerequisite to achieving success in a business where mediocrity is continually rewarded? Have any of you WATCHED television lately? Because I promise you, people have gotten their jobs on even the shittiest shows by walking into meetings and saying “Oh my god, I love your show! It’s amazing!” Do you think the producers of some piece of crap like “Four Kings” are going to hire someone who walks in and is HONEST in their assessment of the show? Multiply that by almost every sitcom out there, and quite a few dramas, and you’ll see what I’m getting it. If you want to eat, you better learn to suck. Talent is important, but talent alone will only rarely yield opportunity. Sadly, we don’t work in a meritocracy. Jobs are scarce, and I’ll be the first to admit I’ve had to do a lot of insincere sucking in my time. Anyone who says they don’t is either naive, lucky, or dishonest.
    P.S. — I hired Ms. Bordas after reading an early draft of her essay — the one you’re all complaining about. It was refreshing, honest, and amusing.


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