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''Seinfeld'' scribe reports on pilot season

”Seinfeld” scribe reports on pilot season — Peter Mehlman writes about the annual ritual in which writers pitch shows to network execs — and pray

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TUESDAY, AUGUST 19, 2003

Spent afternoon lolling around the DreamWorks animation campus in Glendale, Calif. The place is like Berkeley, warm and full-blooded with youth and grass and dreamy.

”Mehlman!”

Wheel around: It’s Jonathan Berry, junior member of the three heads of DreamWorks Television.

”Peter, I was going to call you. It’s almost pilot season.”

Ignore the rumors. L.A. does have four seasons: earthquake season, fire season, riot season, and the most ravaging — pilot season. Network TV keeps groping to win over an America it despises — a viewing public it sees as a blurry, fat, brainless blob of uninsured, Hemi-powered, God-fearing Wal-Mart clerks. I’m paid to entertain them.

”When should I come by your office?”

”Two-thirty.”

Jonathan races off. I turn, walk, and bump into Jonathan’s bosses, Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey. Both are mid-30s, sharp, and smart. Makes you wonder why they chose not to contribute to society. I wonder that about myself. But that’s our America: Harvard grads once wrote speeches for Jack Kennedy. Now they write dialogue for Jim Belushi.

We chat about ratings, producers, agents, and a guy who fell victim to identity theft. I say, ”No one has to steal my identity. They can have it.” Darryl laughs: ”You gotta put that in a script!”

Sure. A funny line that doesn’t end up in a sitcom. What good does that do anyone?

Justin says it’s time for me to think up a new sitcom idea. Since the sitcom is like a terminally ill patient hanging on for no apparent reason, I want to say I’d rather be a travel agent on the Gaza Strip, but Justin gets a cell call.

I get an idea for a sitcom: 77 Gaza Strip.

Two-thirty. Jonathan’s office. ”Oh, Mehlman, you didn’t have to come over. Darryl and Justin told me they saw you. That’s all I wanted to talk to you about.”

”Okay.”

”I’m sending you the Network Landscape.”

”Landscape?”

”The listing of what kind of new shows the networks are looking for. I send it to you every year.”

”Do I ever read it?”

”No.”

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 27

Today starts out as the kind of day I love. No plans. No meetings. Nothing. Still, I feel hemmed in, like the world will pop in at any moment. I have no wife, no kids, no responsibilities, and yet 40 times a day I mutter to myself, ”Christ, it never ends.”

Outside a Starbucks in Santa Monica with my dog, Izzy, a mutt with so many warring instincts ping-ponging through her head she never knows whether to beg for treats or sniff suitcases for anthrax. At the next table are a man and four women.

Idea for sitcom: A woman gets divorced from a polygamist and collects alimony from one man and three women.

Turn the other way. A young girl is reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Idea for sitcom: The Autobiography of Malcolm in the Middle.

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