I have lived in Los Angeles for too long, now, to thrive anywhere else. I was performing down in Santa Monica and I was asked for money by a one-legged homeless man with a three legged dog. My first response was, “Nah. If you were a three legged guy with a one-legged dog, then you’d have something.” Clearly I’ve become tainted by the city’s culture beyond redemption when I see a disabled, impoverished person and my first thought is to offer a quick punch-up on his circumstance. It burrows its way into you slowly, this callousness, this readiness to rewrite the very fabric of reality for greater impact.
A few years ago, I pitched a very cool show to a fetus at Buena Vista Television. When I say “a very cool show,” I mean a reality television show set in an adventure fantasy world. And when I say that I pitched it to a fetus, I exaggerate, but the truth is, this television development executive was sponging amniotic fluid from his brow as his assistant escorted me into the room, asking if would like water or coffee. I declined.
I won’t go through all the details of the show, but it was called Castle Quest, and the general overview was this: we find the twelve greatest swordsmen in the world – martial artists, fencers, fight directors, reenactors, what-have-you. We move them all into a castle together. Each week they learn to use a different period weapon. They undergo skill challenges. Two of them fight using safety protocols created by the Society for Creative Anachronism. One of the two is eliminated. At the end of the season, the winner gets to keep the castle.
The toddler heard the pitch and said, “Interesting. What’s the hook?”
I said, “They – they’re sword fighting to win a castle.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, man. I don’t see why that’s compelling.” He thought for a moment and then said, “Maybe if they could win a girl, you’d have something.”
I said, “I don’t think that’s legal in modern America.”
He said, “Well, remember, we don’t have to shoot it in the states.”
I was a little confused by that response, not because I didn’t understand his premise but because it was truly not what I had expected to hear just then.
He said, “Look. Maybe this is a little too on the nose but, I mean . . . maybe if someone gets hung in the final episode you’d have something worth watching.”
Thinking he was joking with me, I said, “Well, sure. But then we’d have to take it to Fox.”
He was not joking with me. He said, “No. This is Buena Vista. We’re Disney.”
We sat for a moment and I wished that I had asked for coffee because it would have been a very good time to sip nonchalantly.
He said, “Do you have any other ideas?”
I said, “Yeah. What if, instead of an infant with a desk, you were an extraterrestrial who thrived on creativity, crushing the spirits of artists and devouring their muses.”
He said, “What? I don’t understand.”
I said, “Yeah. Probably a little too on the nose.”