Speaking of PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018: “I entered a screenplay contest & got terrible feedback. What do I do?”

by Larry Brody

Speaking of PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018, as we’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks, it’s time to interrupt my meticulously crafted series on the competition, how it works, and how entrants can maximize their chances to do well with this column about, well, how entrants in any creative contest can maximize their chances for the most important result of all – feeling good about themselves.

In other words, a recent entrant into another writing contest – not PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018, or any other year – send me the email the other day, and I believe it’s important to deal with the issues it brings up.

Dear LB,

[Not PEOPLE’S PILOT] came back with its quarter finalists, and as I suspected from the terrible feedback I got from them, I didn’t make it.

[The Other Contest] says they want to hear our feedback on their feedback, and given that this is the second time I’ve gotten comments like “The act breaks fell on the appropriate pages,” and “I didn’t like the protagonist because she was a ginger. You should make her a more sympathetic hair color. Auburn comes to mind,” I’m feeling more angry than disappointed and am fighting off the urge to blast these people with both barrels.

I worry that being too rough on these peeps would brand me as hard to work with, an egomaniac with a bad attitude, or something like that, but I’m also sick of quietening down and sitting in a corner and otherwise playing nice with everyone so I don’t damage my chances of having a career.

I’m tired of being frustrated, ignored, led astray, and being afraid to expressed a contrary opinion, and I’m hoping that you, as someone with years of experience and mountains of knowledge, and a reputation for being one of the great contrarians of our time can give me a suggestion or three about how to get a grip with myself, this show business bit, and living with reality as well as with my dream.


Discombobulated But Not Yet Suicidal


I definitely have a lot of thoughts about what you’ve said, but I’ll keep this as short as I can.

I haven’t read your script or the complete feedback you got, but I certainly understand your reaction to the two examples you gave. The first one is incredibly patronizing (or is it “condescending?” I get those two confused), and second one is irrelevant, an example of an inept reader trying to appear helpful by giving a specific yet totally meaningless suggestion.

In the long run, however, what you say here is more important to your future, so let me dig into it a bit:

I worry that being too rough on these peeps would brand me as hard to work with, an egomaniac with a bad attitude…, but I’m also sick of quietening down and…playing nice with everyone so I don’t damage my chances of having a career.

The way I see it, your concern is totally justified and yet totally unjustified at the time time because while it’s true that in a professional environment those who hold onto their creative viewpoint when said viewpoint is totally unjustified (because the work just plain doesn’t demonstrate the necessary talent) are pretty much  guaranteed to have a short professional shelf life, the situation here isn’t one I would consider professional at all.

The Other Contest – oh hell, just about any contest except those run by major media companies or shell-shocked veterans of those companies like, ahem, myself – isn’t a professional environment.

Far from being staffed by genuine gatekeepers or true creatives, most contests are staffed by people who, no matter how well-intentioned (or not, but Great Contrarian that I may be I don’t really want to open up that particular can of worms here) are just as new, naive, or inexperienced in the ways of our delightful Industry as you are.

Antagonizing them is meaningless in terms of your career unless they somehow become rich, powerful, and respected. And in a business where those who succeed are usually either those who are so good at what they do that the fact that their assholes gets overlooked or those who have played the corporate game so expertly even you would love them if you met them, even you do come face to face with the idiot who wrote your feedback (or hired whomever wrote the feedback), they’re probably going to have no memory whatsoever of any previous encounter.

And if they are true masters of the corporate game – and you truly are as talented as you hope and pray you are – even if they do remember they’re going to welcome you with open arms because they need what you can do for them…make ’em even richer, more powerful, and more respected.

Absolutely true story time:

Back in the early 1970s when I was freelancing for various broadcast network shows (yeah, that doesn’t happen anymore, I know, but keep reading anyway), I took an assignment on a highly regarded medical series and worked my butt off, as always, doing several drafts.

When they sent me the final, going-into-production-tomorrow version, I hated the further changes that had been made. The network had always said it was “uncomfortable with what I – and the show’s staff -had spent so many weeks on, and the discomfort was reflected by the fact that now original arena in which the story was set was gone, which meant that the premise – and the story itself – barely made sense

My Great Contrarian self went ballistic. I threw the script in the fireplace and burned it as thoroughly as I could while keeping it identifiable, then stuffed the combo pack of crisped pages and ashes into a 10 by 13 envelope along with a note that said, “Here’s what I think of your fucking rewrite!” and mailed it to the executive producer.

Did it harm my upward rise? Maybe, by keeping me from working at the studio the show was at for awhile, but everyone involved told their pals in the biz what I’d done, and that made me a kind of fascinating, idealistic rebel character that they all wanted to work with, and work with me many of them did, in a counterbalancing act that even my agent was happy about.

In other words, relax, DBNYS. Do what you need to do. Since you’re asking my opinion, though, I have to admit that from where I sit, I don’t really see much point in dumping on The Other Contest and its minions. That takes a lot of energy, and your energy is better off being focused on that place you call reality and how you can actively and positively combine it with that other place called your dream.

Next time: More specific PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018 advice. Not just because I want to appear helpful but because I genuinely want everyone out there to succeed!

Larry Brody sees ‘Upstart Crow’

It’s from BBC! It’s about Shakespeare! It’s funny in a way the Shakespeare we all had to read in school never was!

And it’s oh oh oh so true!

In other words, Gwen the Beautiful and I have just finished re-binging Upstart Crow,  the Shakespeare sitcom, and every two minutes my wonderful wife groaned at a line or two spoken by David Mitchell as Shakespeare and gave me The Look.

You know which look. The one writers’ loved ones give them when they’re trying to say, as nicely and lovingly as possible, “Holy crap, dood, that’s what you sound like. Now do you understand why you don’t have any friends?”

I love this show. So does everyone I’ve recommended it to, even non-writers. (Or so they say. Hmm…)

Oh well, instead of wasting time and money by getting thyself to a nunnery (which didn’t mean to Shakespeare what it means to us, oh no!), get thee to Britbox or YouTube and watch as much of you can and in so doing, “To thine ownself be true.”

Whoa. Never thought I’d be quoting Polonius. At least, not here.


Larry Brody: Is TV Art? Does It Matter?

’70s edginess. The way it was.

by Larry Brody

NOTE FROM LB: Every once in awhile something good – really, measurably good – comes out of something you’ve done and makes you realize, “Hey, life ain’t so bad after all. This excerpt from my long out of print nonfiction, nonclassic book, Turning Points in Television, is about one of those times actually, remarkably, miraculously, happening to me.

The year is 1980, and I’m standing in the lobby of the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco on a cloud-enshrouded Saturday night, having a little not-so-friendly discussion with the manager because I’ve come to the City on a whim only to find that there are no rooms at the Inn. Any Inn, including this one, where I’ve stayed a million times before.

I feel foolish as hell, so I hide it with anger and a voice loud enough to be heard across the Bay. Having grown from a Chicago kind of kid to a Hollywood kinda guy, I’m screaming my credits at the manager in the firm belief that they’ll cause him to cough up a place I can stay.

It doesn’t work, of course, but my recitation of what people used to call “ego-boo” attracts the attention of the clerk at the magazine stand off the lobby. The clerk, who’s in his mid-twenties and taller than I am, still manages to look up at me in awe.

“I heard you talking to the manager,” he says.

I say, “Uh-huh.”

“Did you really write Baretta?”

“I was the second writer to work on the show,” I say as though that means anything. “For just a little while, but I was there.”

“Baretta saved my life,” the clerk says.

“Baretta?” I say. “Robert Blake?”

He says, “Who’s Robert Blake? Baretta’s my guy.”

“What do you mean?”

The clerk looks around to make sure the manager has moved far enough away so that he won’t be able to hear. Then he leans forward confidentially.

“When I was sixteen I ran away from home,” the clerk says “and went to the Tenderloin. Did a lot of drugs. Lost it completely. One day I come down from my room in this flophouse hotel and I see this guy on the television in the lobby.

“His name’s Baretta,” the clerk continues,  “and he’s a detective but he talks like a junkie. He’s grabbing some guy and pounding the crap out of him and telling him he’s got to straighten out and get off the drugs. He tells the guy he’s supposed to take him to jail but he doesn’t want to because he loves him so he’s giving him one more chance. Then he lets the guy go and the guy runs away.

“A week later I’m coming downstairs again, wasted, and I see Baretta on TV with another guy, screaming at him to kick the habit and then going back to the station house and throwing his badge down on his boss’s desk because he’d rather quit than have to take the guy in.

And I think,” says the clerk, “‘Wow, Baretta really does love this guy. He loves him enough to put his own ass on the line.’

“And then I think, ‘Wow, I’m just like that guy. Baretta loves me.’”

The clerk straightens up and looks me in the eyes with pride. “I figure that if Baretta loves me that much, then I can’t let him down. I’ve gotta get straight. It was hell, but every time I wanted to give up and go back to the dope I thought about Baretta and how it’d kill him to see me get all fucked up again. So I stayed with it and I’ve been straight for five years and I’m the night manager of the News Nook over there.”

Now the clerk reaches into his pocket and pulls out a set of keys. He presses them into my hand. “I’m working ‘til eight tomorrow morning,” he said. “Nobody’s at my place so you won’t be bothered if you stay there. Can’t do anything less for a friend of Baretta.”

He writes his address down on a little slip of paper, puts it into my hand with the key. “It’s a nice little place on Haight Street. If you leave before I get home just put the key under the mat outside the door.”

I don’t know what to say. Finally: “Sure you want to do this?” I say.

“Gotta do it,” says the clerk. “Did I tell you how Baretta saved my life?”

Is TV art? Artists and non-artists alike have been debating that since it was born. This is where I add my voice to the argument.

I don’t know what art is (yeah, I admit that here and now), and sometimes I’m not even sure of what I like.

But I do know a miracle when I see it, and I saw it that night, almost 40 years ago.

I did go to the clerk’s place, by the way. All things considered, including the era, it was neat and pretty clean. And no drugs out where anyone might see.

I slept on the floor, in my clothes, and left before he got home. But I had to sleep there. I mean, hell, he was a friend of Baretta’s, and so was I.

Larry Brody: Does Anyone Remember Uncle Miltie?

by Larry Brody

NOTE FROM LB: Last week’s paean to Howdy Doody was so much fun that I can’t resist a few words about the first adult show I ever saw on TV. (Um, for the record, “adult” back in 1948 “adult” didn’t mean what it means now, so don’t be expecting too much, okay?)

Television wasn’t always the cultural giant it became.

But it didn’t take long – only a few years  – for it to bestride the country like the Collassis of Rhodes.

All because of Uncle Miltie.

AKA Mr. Saturday Night.

And, later, just plain Mr. Television.

Howdy Doody sold tons of Bosco in the course of his career, but Milton Berle sold flatcar-loads of TV sets.

His popularity made advertisers and pundits, reporters and social critics stand up and take notice. Television is real. Television is here to stay.

Yes, Virginia, back in the early days of TV Luddites and naysayers abounded. They said television was a fad people would soon tire of. They said the audience would return to its “proper” sources of entertainment–radio and, of course, theatrical films.

Milton Berle, whose televised behavior often looked more chimp-like than human made monkeys out of them all.

Texaco Star Theater starring Milton Berle moved from CBS radio to NBC television in June of 1948. I was introduced to the show a few months later, at the home of my Aunt Dorothy and Uncle George.

Aunt Dorothy and Uncle George have never struck me as the pioneering type, but they were the first people I knew who had a TV set and my first television viewing experience was in their living room after a family dinner.

My cousin Janie and I were either playing together or fighting with each other. (It’s difficult to remember which because our families were very close and we spent so much time together that the two activities were interchangeable.) Suddenly Aunt Dorothy’s voice broke through our noise. “Oh my God! It’s seven o’clock. Somebody turn on the TV!”

Uncle George took up the cry. “Hurry! Turn it on! Turn it on!”

Janie’s sister Ila, who was several years older than we were and closing in on teenage-hood, joined in. “What’re you waiting for, Larry? Turn the television on!”

I didn’t know what she was talking about, but Janie did. “I’ll do it!” She shoved me aside and ran to a big box up against the wall behind me. I hadn’t noticed it before, but now I saw its looming presence and, in its center a tiny screen.

At one end of the room someone switched off the overhead light. At the other Janie turned one of the thick dials below the screen with a ka-chung and slowly but surely the TV screen rezzed to life, its darkness replaced by the illuminated man who created what two generations later was called “Must See TV.”

How can I describe this iconic presence?

How about this:

A hulking troglodyte in a long blonde wig, his face heavily rouged, his lips darkened and made enormous by thick lipstick, his body covered from chest to foot by a ruffled evening gown whose design emphasized padded breasts that strove to create an illusion only a starving baby hippo could love.

Yep, that was Uncle Miltie in drag. Traipsing around and smacking people. Being smacked and tripping and falling and bouncing back onto his feet—-just in time to catch a pie with his monstrous parody of a woman’s face while the studio audience howled.

If Howdy Doody was to become my childhood saviour, then Milton Berle for me was the Anti-Christ. The terror I felt later at the sight of Froggy the Gremlin was a pale shadow of the sheer horror struck into me by my first look at television’s first major star.

But all around me my family was laughing. My mother, my father, Aunt

Dorothy, Uncle George, Cousin Janie, and Cousin Ila were having even more fun than the folks in New York City who were at that very moment, live, falling out of their tiered seats.

I’d never seen anything like it. A grown man acting dumber than any dumb kid, doing things that if I had done them would’ve resulted not in gales of laughter but in a spanking.

Even though I was grossed out I was fascinated. There was something truly mesmerizing about the experience. Every mind in my vicinity was captured in a way I’d never seen before. Everyone I loved most was being sucked into the Texaco Star Theater world, along with a whole crowd of strangers.
What power!

What excruciating delight!

“Delight” because for the first time in my short but alienated life I saw a way to belong. I didn’t have to be alone. All I had to do was let go of my fear and let myself become part of the Milton Berle Overmind and I’d be one of the family, finding comfort and hilarity as a member in good standing of the greater whole.

I admit it. I succumbed. Not even in kindergarten yet, and I was already selling out. I sat down between my parents and giggled and chortled and barked.

Two weeks later the Brody family had a TV set of its own.

Literally millions of people across the country were introduced to television this same way and bought sets of their own so they could introduce others. Apocrypha based on Uncle Milie’s popularity abounds. No, it was more than mere “popularity.” It was total dominance.

Restaurants in cities across the U.S. closed Saturday nights because no one was going out to dinner. Instead they were staying home to watch you know who.

High schools switched basketball games from Saturday night to Friday night for the same reason. No one wanted to leave the house.

Movie theaters came up with outrageous giveaways to try and lure film fans in after five or six in the afternoon on Saturdays. And failed.

Saturday night bridge parties were either cancelled or held with the TV set on. Businesses that had used being open Saturday nights to gain an edge over the competition gave up the attempt. Even crime, it was rumored, went way down.

Bottom line: For three hours every Saturday (an hour before the show to settle in, the hour of being caught in the spell of the show, and an hour afterward to unwind) America stood still.

And it didn’t end there.

On Sundays friends talked to each about Uncle Miltie’s antics the night before, sharing their impressions and feelings about what they liked most. These conversations were held before Church. After Church. In Church.

On Mondays co-workers went at it, reminiscing and acting out their own versions of the skits in which Uncle Miltie, ever the victim, performed pratful after pratful for our sins.

On Tuesdays everyone was still feeling the reverberations of the latest show.

And making plans to watch together the coming Saturday night so that those poor unfortunates who didn’t yet have TV sets wouldn’t be deprived.

To be sure, variety shows weren’t new. The basic format of stand-up comedy, skits, songs, dances, and more comedy and skits (and songs and dances) was as old as the English Music Hall and a staple of American vaudeville and even radio.

But never had this kind of entertainment–or any other, succeeded on such a large scale.

The country usually referred to as, simply, America, became in all ways cultural, truly the United States.

And even a terrified little kid named Larry Brody was delighted to at last feel part of the crowd.

Larry Brody: Of Course TV is Childish. Here’s Why.

by Larry Brody

NOTE FROM LB: Another heartwarming tale, both personal and otherwise, from Turning Points in Television, the little history book that could’ve but didn’t. Enjoy!

Chicago. A blustery December day in 1948.

One year to the month after a People-and-Puppet Show that was renamed The Howdy Doody Show after its first week on the air, a four year old boy sat on the floor of his living room, looked up at the tiny (but oh, it seemed sooo big screen of his family’s TV set), and watched Clarabell the Clown sneak up on Bob Smith (who hadn’t yet become the legendary “Buffalo Bob”), and get ready to blast him–and anything or anyone else within range–with seltzer water.

Also watching the action, but from his vantage point on the puppet stage that was part of the set, was the marionette star of the show, Howdy Doody himself. Howdy’s mouth opened. He was about to shout a warning. But Clarabell put his finger to his lips and shook his head as though pleading, his entire demeanor wordlessly saying, “No, please, let me do it, just this once…”

It was Big Decision Time for Howdy, but he never had to commit. Because from the “Peanut Gallery” of kids from toddlers through pre-teens who comprised a live audience that was also part of the show, shouts went up. “Look out!” “Duck!” “Oh no!” and Bob Smith whirled and saw what was about to happen and did look out and duck–just in time for the spray to shoot out over his head and almost hit Howdy!

The Peanut Gallery went wild, and on the floor of that Chicago living room the four-year-old looked up at the ceiling and prayed. “Please, God, don’t make me get older than four. Because when I’m older I won’t like Howdy Doody anymore. And I love him so much I don’t ever want to lose him!”

That’s how much this seminal television children’s show meant to that four year old boy.

That’s how much it meant to me.

But although The Howdy Doody Show had a huge effect on its viewers, it had an even bigger effect on television, an effect that’s still reverberating through the medium–and our culture as a whole.

The Howdy Doody Show was one of those legendary rarities, an instant success. Starting as a one-hour show on Saturday mornings, it soon became a half-hour show on every weekday afternoon from 5:30 to 6:00 Eastern Time. This made it the first television show ever “stripped,” as this kind of programming is called in TV Land, by NBC, and it couldn’t have found a better time slot.

Children had the perfect activity to engage in while waiting for dinner. What could be better for any kid than watching–no, hanging out with, because that’s what it felt like–a bunch of crazy folks like Howdy, Mr. Bluster, Dillydally, Flub-a-Dub, Princess Summerfallwinterspring, and the rest of what became known as the “Doodyville Gang?”

And moms had the perfect babysitter so they could get that dinner made. What could be better for any dedicated homemaker (we’re talking late ‘Forties and ‘Fifties here, don’t forget, when being a housewife was an honored profession, with no mockery or irony along for the ride) than to bear down on your pot roast knowing your child was safe, sound, and delighted–and quiet!–in the living room while you worked?

An argument might even be made that Howdy, who was created and voiced and owned by Buffalo Bob, was the lynchpin in a Sociological Turning Point: The much-mocked and even more abused grand tradition of parking your kids in front of the TV set so you can get a few moments respite from the responsibilities of parenthood.

Other offshoots of the popularity of the show are easier to pinpoint. The Howdy Doody Show proved that television commercials worked, with the sales of its best-known sponsor, Bosco (a chocolate syrup to be added to the kids’ milk) skyrocketing. Especially direct, personal commercials, integrated into the show and featuring its puppet star.

The FCC later banned this practice on children’s shows, acknowledging that four-year-olds like Little Chicago Brode were defenseless prey. However, The Howdy Doody Show also proved that prey or not, we, the youthful Baby Boomers, had more than our share of marketing muscle. Looking back at my beloved show I see it as the beginning of what became a regular Baby Boomer practice –the manipulation of our loving parents into buying whatever we wanted.

The Kid Clout of the time was so obvious that in the early days of Mad, before it became and magazine and was still a comic book, the group the masthead called “the usual gang of idiots” ran a parody called Howdy DoIt, featuring a commercial where the camera moved in ultra close on Howdy’s freckled, All-American face as he exhorted his viewers to scream and shout and hold their breaths and make their parents “BUY!!!”

Modern merchandising, the morphing of TV shows into products, began with the Doodyville Gang as well. There were Howdy Doody coloring books and Howdy Doody dolls and clocks and drinking glasses and mugs. My personal favorites were the inexpensive little marionettes based on the puppet characters.

My collection today, inconveniently stored at the bottom of a pile of boxes in a shed on my property, consists of Howdy, Clarabell, Dilly Dally, Flub-a-Dub, and Princess Summerfallwinterspring. Are these pristine-in-the-box-collectors’-specials?

Hell no. They’re used. Played with. Faded. And beautiful nevertheless.

Oh, and if anybody has one, I still long for an affordable version of Mr. Bluster!