“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me.” – Hunter S. Thompson


What: Eddie Lodger was on the fast track to partner in one of Madison Avenue’s most prominent ad agencies until…

Who: Eddie Lodger has never wanted anything more than to be an ad guy in New York and has worked hard to make his way up the ladder. If he has an Achilles heel it’s not suffering fools and criticism, especially criticism from fools. His, shall we say, over reaction when told that he was being replaced on the Purina campaign resulted in him sending his supervisor crashing through the conference room glass partition. Not exactly a positive career move and although he doesn’t view it this way, Eddie was lucky to land a position with Iron City Advertising in Pittsburgh where he is now working on the Angelo’s Pizzeria account. Eddie has taken his big city ways to the smaller arena: he steals, he lies, and he still goes psycho on colleagues (Bryce in particular) who don’t back him up. It comes as a major shock when his colleague and girlfriend Eileen informs him that their boss Walter intends to can him. Fix things, or next stop down on the food chain – Des Moines.

Eddie walks down the street, stunned and depressed. He turns to us.

Eddie: First rule; you don’t act like an S.O.B. til you score big. People don’t like that. They’ll resent you for it. Being an S.O.B. is something you earn over time, like stock options or profit sharing. (more to himself) Print ads for Laundromats in Des Moines. (eyes widening) “And remember, Tuesdays are Free Bleach Nights.” (a beat) Just kill me now.

But during his walk, while passing a sign on a door, Eddie finds his personal big account – his unassailable get-out-of-jail card.

Int. Conference room – Day.

All eyes are on Eddie, a man in pain.

Eddie: …that since you’ve known me and for many years before that, I’ve been an alcoholic.

His colleagues register surprise.

Eddie: When you can’t control your own life, the self contempt is almost unbearable. Sadly, you find yourself taking it out on those around you. And for this I feel shame. (a beat) So I apologize. I apologize deeply. And Bryce…

Angle on Bryce. A bit bruised, a bit swollen.

Eddie: …I owe you a special apology. When I see someone like you, so bright, so gifted, so full of promise… (voice cracking) …it reminds me of someone else who might’ve embraced his own dreams if he hadn’t, instead, chosen to crawl inside a bottle. I resented you… and behaved horribly. (his “emotions” building) But you should all know that I haven’t given up. And with God’s help, and your understanding, maybe I can turn this thing around. (a beat) Excuse me.

He leaves the room. Those who remain sit in stunned silence. Eileen wipes away a tear, and then heads out of the room after Eddie.

Int. Eddie’s office – Day

Eddie sits at his desk, fairly satisfied, looking over a yellow pad filled with notes.

Eddie: (to us) Let’s see… The Bryce stuff; “…a young man like you, so bright, so gifted”, that crap worked nice. (reading further) The “God’s help and your understanding” part, that went well too, I thought. Concise. Well presented. (reading further) But here; “…someone who might’ve embraced his own dreams if he hadn’t chosen to crawl inside a bottle.” (looks up, to us) I might’ve gotten a little too cute there.

Int. Conference room – Day

They’re all still sitting there. A beat, then…

Bryce: Anyone ever see him drunk?

All shake their heads “no”. A suspicious Bryce eyes Walter, who also appears to have his doubts.

Eddie still has his work cut out for him and will need to gain some AA credibility and attend meetings with a viable story.

INT. Basement – Night

A few rows of seats face a podium up front. Most of these seats are filled. The mood is somber yet supportive.

Eddie sits in the back, a notepad on his knee.

Eddie: (quietly to us) This place is perfect. Why concoct a story when you can take from real life?

Eddie carefully jots down the stories he hears until he is cornered by his neighbor.

Andy: Jack, we have a new member here. Maybe he’d like to introduce himself.

The entire room turns to face Eddie.

Eddie: Nah. I’m good. Thanks.

Group Leader: Please don’t feel inhibited here. We’re all friends. And we’d like to know you.

Eddie, feeling trapped, grows uncomfortable.

Eddie: Where? Up there?

Group Leader: You can do it from where you are, if you prefer.

Andy sits. Eddie shoots him a nasty look, then…

Eddie: Alright… My name’s Bryce.

All: Hello, Bryce!

Andy leans towards him, whispers…

Andy: You should stand up.

Eddie shoots him another nasty look.

Eddie: (to him) Alotta rules here. You gotta talk, you gotta stand. You’re dealing with a man on the edge.

Andy: We’re waiting.

Ext. Street – Night

The meeting over, members exit the building, some offering each other friendly goodbyes. Eddie and Andy come out together, head down the street.

Andy: Some meeting, huh?

Eddie: Yeah. How’d my story go over?

Andy: Whattya mean?

Eddie: The crowd, were they somewhat moved, moved, considerably moved…

Andy: I don’t know, uh… Somewhat moved, I suppose.

Eddie nods.

Eddie: (turns to us) He’s right. Needs a polish.

Andy: So, you wanna get a drink?

Eddie: Excuse me?

Andy: There’s a pretty good bar on the corner.

Eddie: I thought you were in Recovery.

Andy: I am. I just stink at it.

Edie: No thanks. Which way is your car?

Andy: I took the bus. I don’t drink and drive.

Eddie: Laudable. Come on, I’ll give you a lift home.

Eddie’s job is safe, at least for the moment. But, as Eileen points out, if he wants to keep this job and eventually get back to New York, he’s going to have to start being nice to the people he works with, the people he disdains, the people he considers idiots.

Eileen: You know, Eddie, if someone did to you what you’re doing to yourself, you’d beat the hell out of him. (a beat) Now it’s your choice, New York or Des Moines. But if it’s New York, you’re going to have to change… (a beat) Eddie, to get what you want you’re going to have to pull off the Big 180.

And to quote Eddie, “that’s the toughest move in the book.”

No Meaner Place: I’m not sure that there is anything more satisfying than a laugh in the face of political correctness and with “The Big 180,” Dusty Kay has taken on the mother lode of political correctness. There is something incredibly endearing about this unbelievable a**hole who seems to think that the world is his stage and the audience are all fools. Why do I think there’s a set up in there? Of course we don’t want to see Eddie go through the Big 180 and of course we won’t because much like the Greek tragedy of Sisyphus, Eddie will constantly be hauling that rock of sincerity, politesse, and warmth up the hill that will send it repeatedly crashing down on top of him; in which case we get our cake and eat it too!

It’s hard to imagine why, in an era of cookie cutter cuteness, this didn’t stand out. Did it stand out too much, or, as in the case of many sacred cows, did a poke at AA strike someone as too offensive? Puleese!  Doesn’t anyone have a sense of humor anymore?

Life Lessons for Writers:  In the immortal words of Bette Midler: F*ck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.

 

Conversation with the Writer:

It is impossible in print to convey the unique and not so mellow New York streetwise tones and accent of Dusty Kay. So while you’re reading this, imagine it is being spoken by Robert DeNiro in “Analyze This.”

Neely: I so loved this script. Eddie is such a nasty duplicitous guy. Where on earth did you come up with this idea and who is the inspiration for Eddie? (I know there has to be one)

Dusty: I got a phone call from a guy who screwed me in a business deal. He was going through the twelve step program and he called me to make amends. I really hated this guy and I’m sitting there listening to him talk and I’m thinking to myself that I want to say one thing but how can I. I just felt so taken with the idea that if I turned him down he’d go out and get drunk. So I told him I forgave him, when I really didn’t, and when I hung up the phone it was just burning me up. It just haunted me all night. The idea just popped into my head. You mentioned it earlier that AA is the get-out-of-jail-free card and I thought, what if there’s a character and he used that to his own advantage.

Neely: Was your target, since we can’t really call him a friend, in a twelve step program because he was an alcoholic or because he was a lying, cheating scumbag?

Dusty: I think he went for the first program because amends for the second one would have taken too long.

Neely: (laughs) The list would have been unwieldy, right?

Dusty: He could beat the liquor problem; the scumbag problem he couldn’t beat.

Neely: (cackling) I have to say that this script is even fresher today than when I originally read it, especially because everyone seems so much more intrigued by the advertising world because of “Mad Men.” Who did this go to?

Dusty: It went around; it made the rounds. Just about everyone who read it loved it. I got a lot of meetings off it; it got me the producer job on “Entourage.” I never heard anything negative and never got a bad reaction to it.

Neely: And yet…

Dusty: …and yet every time I’d be sitting in the room and they’d be paying me these compliments, I’d say, “You know, the script is available.” And they’d look at me as though I’d just run over their foot with my car.

Neely: So basically it resonated with everyone and nobody bit.

Dusty: Look, I mean between you and me and whoever is reading this, I think they often say that they want their writers to have a voice but, with rare exception, I don’t think that’s really true. I think this was just a little too sharp for their sensibilities as a series.

Neely: It’s clearly more cable than probably network; and it’s more F/X than it is USA. I’m surprised that someone at one of those… and again it comes down to when they say “out of the box” they really mean in the box but tied up with a ribbon. So this also went to cable?

Dusty: Oh yeah. Like I said, it got me the “Entourage” job at HBO.

Neely: Well what were some of the comments?

Dusty: They just loved it. There was never this… I don’t know. I, I , I could never pin down why they felt it wouldn’t make a good series.  I…I…I just can’t answer it. I never did get an answer why something that was held in such high regard wouldn’t make a good series.

Neely: What I’m going to say is politically incorrect. AA is a great organization and does a great deal of good, but I’m a bit tired of some of the sanctimony associated with it. I have a feeling that you might have stepped on some toes with the AA scam that’s central to the pilot. You know there are an awful lot of people in our industry that live and breathe AA.

Dusty: Yeah. You know, it’s funny, but I did get that reaction a handful of times and I never understood it. AA is a great organization… and I’m gonna need it myself in a few years. But it was Eddie who was pulling the scam on AA. AA did nothing wrong in the story. AA is something that Eddie just took advantage of.

Neely: I think that that may be part of the problem; that it’s the Holy Grail for anyone who is in AA. And again, I have to say that I know more than my fair share of people who have benefited enormously from AA (and I also know some who’ve worked the meetings as a dating source). But again, it’s the sacred cow. Say anything you want about anything including my mother, but don’t say anything about AA.

Dusty: I know. There are some things you just can’t make fun of even if you’re making fun of something else entirely and it’s just included.

Neely: Yup. It’s collateral damage. There also seems to be something about the program that dampens the sense of humor. I also loved the unnamed “Americans with Disabilities Act” that prevented Walter from firing Eddie. How were you planning on maintaining the ruse?

Dusty: Well obviously this was going to be the longest and rockiest recovery in history.

Neely: Well remember, an alcoholic is never no longer an alcoholic, he or she becomes a “recovering” alcoholic..

Dusty: Um hum. Well Eddie was going to be “recovering” for quite a while. Given the pressure he was going to be under trying to reform his character, he was actually going to start drinking.

Neely: Oh, wow! That’s a very interesting twist.

Dusty: And his colleagues were going to be aware that he was drinking. Rather than realizing that he had just begun, they were going to feel that he had fallen off the wagon.

Neely: Well is there a difference between falling off the wagon and starting to drink?

Dusty: Oh yeah! When you fall of the wagon, the addiction is already there. Rather than becoming a problem, they’re thinking “Oh my god. This poor guy is having a hard time licking this long term demon.”

Neely: I see what you’re saying. What were some of the other directions that you were planning on taking the series? Clearly you’ve thought out your hundred episodes.

Dusty: Definitely. The attempt to become human and decent and caring and professional was gonna all but destroy him.

Neely: (continuous cackling) I noticed that you have credits in both half hour and one hour. Most notably, you started going back and forth before the half hour format was declared dead (I believe the format has been resurrected, clearly because no one had stuck a stake through its heart).  How did that come about?

Dusty: I had an overall deal at a studio and I couldn’t stand the head of comedy. The head of one hour was a very decent and creative fellow named Ron Taylor and I tracked him down in the hall one day and said, “You know I have an idea for a one hour” and I was lying. But he said great, “Come on in and let me hear it.”

Neely: And then what happened?

Dusty: We sold it!

Neely: But you said you didn’t really have one.

Dusty: I didn’t have an idea; but once Ron said he was willing to listen, I went home and came up with a pilot idea that I liked. I had no idea what I was doing, but I went in; and again, I was very lucky with who I was working with because his creative instincts were sensational and he guided me through it. And we went in to ABC and they bought it in the room.

Neely: Do you prefer one format over the other?

Dusty: Not really. You know, I really just write the same way no matter what. I mean there are some structural considerations obviously, but I write the same type of characters. I’m not a joke writer, usually the form I feel most comfortable in isn’t multi-camera, it’s one camera. So, except for the story structure, which I’ve grown more accustomed to, the characters are pretty much the same.

Neely: Are there any advantages to one over the other?

Dusty: Well one’s shorter.

Neely: (laughs) That is an amazing advantage. But the shorter one doesn’t allow you as much room for development – character development.

Dusty: Oh sure it does. In many ways more. I would make the case that half hour television is more character driven than certainly the type of one hours that I was doing. You gotta understand when you talk about the one hours I was doing; I wasn’t putting “St. Elsewhere” on or any kind of heavy drama. When I started I decided to play on my strength and the action comedy form allowed me to put a lot of humor into the script. The action part was a lot easier to write than pure drama so it didn’t complicate it that much for me once I settled on a good story idea.

Neely: I noticed on Studio System that you have several acting credits. The one that intrigues me the most was a guest role on “Dr. Vegas.” That show is legendary in the annals of dysfunction. Anything you can share with me?

Dusty: I just felt bad for the cast. I was sitting there all week. It was a show that dealt with poker players at a casino so I basically spent all week sitting 3 feet away from Rob Lowe. And I could sense his frustration with what was going on. It was very uncomfortable. I kept thinking this poor guy, he’d been on the “West Wing” and now he’s dealing with this. The script that I acted in was actually quite good, but the director was very uncomfortable, very insecure. He was constantly consulting with his director of photography. I remember there was this one moment where there was a reaction shot of Joe Pantoleon, Pantoliano, whatever his name is (note: I think that’s why he refers to himself as Joey Pants – it’s probably easier for him too; that and the faux gangster cache), and the camera was just pointing right at him and he was standing there and all he was going to do was give a look. And there was a 20 minute consultation between the director and the DP. And the actors and the extras, we’re all looking at each other and everyone is going “It’s just a reaction shot.” And as soon as people started saying that at our table, Pantoliano yells, “It’s just a goddamn reaction shot!” You could just sense how frustrated they were at that point in the season.

Neely: Your perspective is very interesting because most of the blame for the dysfunction has traditionally been laid at the feet of Rob Lowe.

Dusty: I don’t know what went on behind the scenes; I just know that he seemed to be working very hard with people who didn’t quite understand what he was trying to get them to do. I mean his instincts seemed pretty strong to me and yet he was like a lone wolf howling in the forest.

Neely: I think he’s quite a good actor but let’s be honest about the concept of that show… a resident doctor in a casino with the tagline “one heals, one deals”?

Dusty: I can’t speak to that. I mean it didn’t make sense to me either.

Neely: Do you have any other actor credits?

Dusty: A few. Basically they were just favors for people. I mean, I’m not an actor, I’m just a type. I did this movie called “Sink or Swim”  (aka "Hacks") for my poker buddy Gary Rosen. It was kind of weird. He said, “I’m writing a murder mystery movie, an independent film, about a bunch of TV writers who get involved in a murder. And I’d like to use you as a character.” I said fine. So about a year later, he calls me up and says, “the script’s done and I’d like you to read it.” So I read the thing and tell him “You really got me.” He then says, “I want you to play you.” “You gotta be kidding. I’ve got more lines here than any other character in the movie.” He says, “I don’t know anyone else who could play you.” I said fine and I go in and audition for his producers. And I am beyond terrible. In fact, I think I cost the actor I was reading with a shot at the film because we were so bad together. It was like dancing with a bad dance partner. So afterwards I go over and say hello to the producers and they have these ashen looks on their faces like they’ve just seen “Schindler’s List,” you know. And I take Gary out to eat and I say, “Look man, you’ve busted your ass trying to get this thing done. I’m not going to be the reason this thing screws up.” And he says, “No. You’re doin’ it.” And I did it and it was the most fun I ever had. It premiered at the Los Angeles International Film Festival. It was great and I got to work with some great actors like Steven Rhea and John Ritter and Ileana Douglas and Richard Kind. It was just great fun and I got good reviews.

Neely: Are you happy with how you performed?

Dusty: Yeah. Yeah. I was just happy that I was just able to get there in the morning. I never woke up that early in my life!

Neely: What show did you enjoy working on the most and why?

Dusty: I think “Roseanne.” She was just terrific.

Neely: You mean you didn’t get fired off that show?

Dusty: No. I was asked back.

Neely: That’s extraordinary.

Dusty: Yeah. That’s what I was told at the time. It was just so much fun to write for that cast. I mean every one of them could deliver a funny line so powerfully in a way that you were just thrilled it was coming out of their mouth, something that you wrote. And also because it was out of my wheelhouse. Like I said, I’m not a joke writer. When I went there I was very intimidated by the idea that so much of what Rosanne did were these zingers, these one-liners that were more wit than behavioral, you know. There was a time before “Roseanne” where I wrote funny scenes and when I needed a funny line I would have to rely on instinct, but several months in what they called “the joke room” was like an education for me, in that I was schooled in the structure of a one-liner; how to create a funny line even if you’re not in a particularly funny mood. There were two writers in the joke room who were absolute geniuses at it. Their names were Bob Nickman and Matt Berry and I would just pick their brains. I must have driven them crazy. But what I always say is that the best thing about having spent a year on “Roseanne” was that I learned how to write a joke.

Neely: And you said you got asked back but it sounds like you didn’t go back.

Dusty: Yeah, but not for creative reasons. The hours on that show were absolutely ridiculous. If we got home at midnight I considered it a half day. I’m serious. The hours were incredibly long. And at some point there’s a frustration that comes from writing someone else’s character. I prefer creating my own characters. I was on the fourth or fifth year of the show and they had pretty much discovered the parameters of their series. When something is working like that they don’t like to go outside those borders. So in that way it was a little bit creatively frustrating but it was something I’m very glad I did. I have very fond memories of the show and her. She takes it on the chin a lot, and I guess sometimes she deserves it. But mostly I think it’s a bad rap. She was just such a perfectionist and she demanded a lot from the people around her and maybe wasn’t particularly diplomatic in the way she went about it. But I never felt that I wasn’t dealing with a true artist.

Neely: Do you think that there might have been less patience or less forgiveness because she was woman, or a woman in comedy than, say, if she’d have been a man demanding the same thing?

Dusty: You know I don’t want to be evasive but you’d have to read the mind of everybody who had problems with her to know if that was the case.

Neely: That’s a good answer. So on the other side of the coin, which show did you enjoy working on the least, and why?

Dusty: That was my own show. Early in my career I created a show called “Once a Hero.” It was a little ahead of its time in that it was a satirical show about a super hero who loses all of his powers and has to live the rest of his life like the rest of us; and he wasn’t particularly good at it. The reviews we got from one end of the country to the other was just the stuff you dream about. I really thought, “WOW!” I’ve got a monster here and… nobody watched. I mean nobody watched. Guys like David Bianculli, the critic of the New York Post made it like a personal mission of his to try to get his readership to tune in. When the show was finally canceled, Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times wrote an article about it much like the one you’re doing now about “The Big 180.” So it was very frustrating to go from so much optimism and hope to spending the last couple of months in production writing scripts knowing that we were going to get canned because nobody watched.

Neely: How many episodes did you go?

Dusty: Six.

Neely: Just six? What network in its finest hour couldn’t give you more than six episodes?

Dusty: ABC was the network, but I’m tellin’ you, we had what I think was the lowest rating up until that time that a Fall-premiered show ever received. We were on Saturday night and on Friday I got a call from one of the people at ABC telling me the phone number to call on Sunday morning to get the overnights. And in those days if you went over “20” you were okay, “25” was better, obviously. All night I was talking to people on my staff about how we thought we were going to do. Worse case scenario we get a “17;” best case scenario we get a “25” and we’re off and running. I called up on Sunday morning and the number was “8.” “8”! I was so stunned that I called back again because I thought I had misheard. I had to have misheard. Nobody gets an “8,” not in those days. These days okay, but in those days… an “8”. I called back like 19 times because each time I waiting for them to go “Dusty, we’re kiddin’.” It was brutal.

Neely: Was this when Saturday night was a viable TV night or when it was a death sentence?

Dusty: (laughs) As far as I’m concerned, it was a death sentence.

Neely: I don’t think Saturday night has been a night for TV since “All in the Family,” and that was in the early ‘70s.

Dusty: Well clearly this was after that. This was around ’87.

Neely: Then clearly ABC did not have faith in the show.

Dusty: Well, no. We didn’t get a lot in the way of promotion. That was the year that Dolly Parton did her variety show and every ad I saw on ABC was for Dolly Parton. No, we didn’t get a lot of advertising and people didn’t know about the show. The few who did thought that ABC was just re-doing “The Greatest American Hero.”

Neely: I guess I can see how people might have made that mistake, especially if there was so promotion behind your show.

Dusty: You know, one of the mistakes I made as a producer on that show (and it didn’t occur to me until afterwards when somebody pointed it out) was the super hero costumes. They were very similar to the other show. Maybe that added to the confusion; maybe they thought they were just watching something that had been on once before. I don’t know… I don’t know. It really doesn’t matter. The point is, nobody watched… nobody watched. I think another problem was that it was aimed at adults. A lot of critics pointed this out in their reviews. It was a show about a super hero but it was aimed more at adults than kids. So if kids aren’t interested and adults don’t feel like sampling a show about a super hero to find out that it’s really a satirical show as opposed to a straight super hero show like “Lois and Clark,” then who’s left to watch?

Neely: It sounds clearly ahead of its time and now a-days if you were to redo this, and it’s not a bad idea, animation might be the place to do it.

Dusty: Oh sure. I look at things like “The Incredibles” or this new show with Chiklis coming on – “No Ordinary Family” and I say to myself, “Yeah, this is where I was 20 years ago.

Neely: It sounds like you were a lot more clever than “No Ordinary Family.”

Dusty: I don’t know. I haven’t seen it.

Neely: I haven’t seen it, but I’ve read it.

Dusty: You don’t like it?

Neely: Nope.

Dusty: I’m a huge fan of Chiklis. I think he’s the greatest. I love “The Shield,” obviously. I would like the show to be good.

Neely: Well maybe it films better than it reads on the page.

Dusty: (laughs)

Neely: Clearly I’ve got way too much invested in your material to spend it all in one article. I think we’ll stop here and continue next week when we talk more about you and how you got into this crazy business.

Continue to Part II

Quote

"Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision."

- Salvador Dali

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