February 20th was my 1 year anniversary of my last day of working for CBS. For many of my coworkers it was a sad day. Had it ended 10 years earlier, I would have joined them in their sadness. As it was, I had stayed too long and there was nothing but joy and elation knowing I would never drive onto that over-crowded, parking-spots-barely-wider-than-a-Prius, cars-parked-just-inches-from-each-other-so-you-have-to-wedge-yourself-into-whatever-door-opens-wide-enough-to-get-into-and-climb-over-the-seat parking lot. That was if you actually found a spot on the lot. Always fun walking past all the empty executive spots and parts of the parking area filled with trailers and set storage as you hiked in from the public lot nearby. That way you were sure to arrive at your job, having been reminded that you had absolutely no value to the company. Even the sets got better parking.
But of course the parking wasn’t the real issue. That was just more irritation that made an already unpleasant situation even more unpleasant. Lack of opportunity was the real issue. My naivity of the business led me to think a network job would provide more opportunity for upward mobility than freelance. Oh, foolish me. It would have been hard to turn down the steady work, but if I knew then what I know now, I would have. I had made those hard decisions before. When I was just starting out and desparately needed a job, I turned down steady work in a bookkeeping firm, and an exciting job as a green room attendant at the Columbia Records recording studio. It was hard, but in both cases I knew it would not lead where I wanted to go. If I had known the truth about where the network job was leading (nowhere), I have no doubt I would have turned that down as well.
I definitely would have turned it down had I known they could use me as a daily hire, with no rights or job security, for 20 years. If I had a problem I would go to the network and they would say, “You aren’t an employee. We only hire you for this production. Go talk to them.” And if I went to the production company I was told, “You don’t work for us, you are hired by the network, go talk to them.” I existed for 20 years in no-man’s land. At any time they could have called me, without severence or notice and said, “Your services are no longer needed” and that would have been that. Instant unemployment. Nothing I could have done. This could happen if the host, a producer, or even director decided they didn’t like me, or something I had done. I’d seen it happen to others. One wrong Facebook post, one wrong comment made to the wrong person, one bad mistake, and we would hear, “It was best for the show if Mergatroid pursued other opportunities.” Then we quietly went back to work hoping it wasn’t us next time.
Late night television was also the absolutely wrong field for a dramatic writer. There were no connections to be made that could move me forward. If I wanted to be a comedian, or a sitcom writer… perfect. There was also very little creativity, and what little opportunity there was for that was guarded more carefully than Golem guarded his Precious. So for me it was a mind-numbing monotony of monologue jokes, comedy bit, guest intro, guest intro, music or comedian, close. Night after night after night after night after night for 20 years.
The culture on the show was also difficult for me. Rather than pulling together so that we could get farther together, from day one, lines were drawn and groups were set against each other. Resentments and jealousy ate away at the fabric that should have bound us together. Others have talked of such different experiences in the business, and I often wonder how my career would have turned out if I had been part of a tight-knit, supportive team.
But knowing none of that, I jumped into a Late Night Network job with all the optimism of the country girl I was. It took me 20 years to extricate myself, and that was 10 years too long. By then my career was pretty much over. There just aren’t too many women over 50 who break into television writing, if any.
Despite the joy of that last day on February 20, 2015, I was crying when I drove off the lot. It was also our Executive Producer’s last day in the business. He was being lauded and honored… and rightly so. He had an amazing career. However, it wasn’t lost on me that my last day was met with deafening indifference. 25 years in the business and nobody cared. It hurt a little. Oh, who am I kidding, it hurt a lot. It was a sucky way to leave.
Regardless, it was the right thing to do. The year since then has been magnificent. I am free! I am no longer working in a job whose main goal is to make a few people at the top rich. I am now working in a job whose main goal is to, yes, make enough profit to stay open, but equally important, our goal is to help people be physically and mentally well. The job doesn’t follow me home. It doesn’t stress me out so much that I can’t write when I have the time. and that has allowed me to get 45,000 words deep into the best work I’ve ever done. On my job I am given credit for my work. At least so far my boss hasn’t denied I exist and claimed that she does it all herself. Sometimes she even spontaneously thanks me for things, not just waiting until I make a mistake to acknowledge my existence. Imagine! Oh wait, I don’t have to anymore. There are opportunities to be creative with marketing and writing articles. There are also silly ways to be creative in decorating the studio and dressing up the anatomy skeleton. I just can’t seem to get away from working with skeletons. In every way, despite the huge downgrade in pay, I have gotten a huge promotion.
While there’s clearly a lot of bitterness in this post, I know it is beginning to fade. One of the things I found delightful about my fellow Missourians – few ever ask me what I did in LA. Because of that, I rarely told anyone about my life in Hollywood. I didn’t want to talk about it, or even think about it. I just wanted to bury it. However, a year later, the stories are starting to leak out. It gives me hope that eventually I will remember more of the good than the bad. Because honestly, it was quite an adventure for this South Dakota farm girl, even if it didn’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped.
Happy freedom anniversary to me.