LB vs The Executives: How It Began

by Larry Brody

So there I was, talking to my friend Curtis Gwynn about the misery of pitch meetings, only to have him stop me and pull the trigger on the question I’d always been afraid to ask myself:

“C’mon, LB,” Curtis said, “spill. What’s the real reason you hate these meetings so much?”

I was pretty well lubricated at that time (anejo tequila, for those looking to make nice, just about any brand), so I thought a little, and then:

“It’s not the meetings, really. It’s the people you have to meet with. The execs.”

And then it call came back to me. The darkness that was my first pilot pitch meeting…ever.

It was the early ’70s, and Sylvia Hirsch, my forever-beloved first agent, sent me to my first Development Executive at a Studio That Must Go Unnamed. Confidently (because I loved my idea), I pitched him the private eye concept my brain had been shaping for months. The DE asked a few questions.

Then, with a far-away look in his eye, “How about if we turned it into something like this,” he said. And continued with an idea that bore absolutely no relation to mine except that it too featured a private eye. It wasn’t a bad idea. In fact, it was pretty damn good.

But it wasn’t mine.

There was, however, a certain quality about it that made me think of one of my Favorite Mystery Writers at the time. “That sounds like the perfect thing for Fave Mystery Writer,” I said. “Why don’t you talk to him?”

The DE looked like he was going to die. He sank down behind his desk. Slowly rose up again. “Oh. You know, huh?”

“Know what?”

“FMW was here last week and pitched that. But he’s difficult to deal with and the networks have blacklisted him. But if you say this was your idea we can set you up instead.”

To a 25 year old ’60s idealist, the DE’s words were appalling. I didn’t know what to say. Finally I muttered something about thinking it over and went home. And called FMW, whom I’d met while writing an episode for a show he was also writing for.

(This was in the Golden Age of Freelancers, gang. No such thing as “writing staffs” then. You got the writing assignment and went home and fulfilled it, hustling up the next one all the while.)

FMW went ballistic. I was sure the phone was going to melt. Choking, he slammed it down.

The next day, Sylvia called to tell me she’d heard from FMW’s agent, and FMW, the DE, and I had a network meeting that afternoon. Because FMW’s agent had just made a deal with the Studio and a Network for FMW and me to co-script FMW’s idea.

Evidently, all it had taken was a not-so-little tug on the balls of both the DE and the Network Development Chief because, let’s face it, stealing a writer’s concept is a major no-no – and blacklisting him was, literally, a crime.

“It’s your reward for being an honest man,” Sylvia said.  “Congratulations. You’re officially on the Pilot Writer List now.”

She saw it as a happy ending, but I felt like a man who’d stared down at a gun barrel and survived only because the gun blew up in the hands of the psycho who was squeezing the trigger.

And it wasn’t the end, of course, but the beginning. After that came weeks, months, of working with the DE, talking to him daily, listening to his notes…and knowing he was just as likely to sell me out as he had FMW.

Which is why, even after a jillion years of success and, yes, I admit it, good meetings with some fine people, every time I walk into an executive suite my body tenses. It’s still waiting for that inevitable, and long overdue, stab in the back.

Author: LB

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world with a career going back to the late ’60s, Larry Brody has written and produced hundreds of hours of American and worldwide television and is a consultant to production companies and networks in the U.S. and abroad . Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, and the Humanitas Award.

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