There’s no easy way to explain this, the amount of work, luck and good fortune that goes into a lovely combination of producer interest, agenting, and studio support. Everybody has to invest time and energy and smarts and faith in creating a new possibility.
On the afternoon AB Chao was flying to Los Angeles, hours after I’d gotten off the red-eye from running the marathon, I was pitching a sitcom. A pitch is a twenty-or-so minute song-and-dance where I outline the themes, characters, and world of a show. I explain how it would be funny, how the characters interact, and why people would want to watch more than once. A lot more than once. And why a network should take a chance on purchasing that sitcom.
During the pitch there are people all around me. Producers, agents and execs — Team Pam — there to show support, to talk up me and the project before I start my speech, who explain why they’re excited and therefore think the network should get excited enough to pony up and take this property off the market.
But then, it’s all me. Doing a monologue in front of an Aspen audience is a piece of cake compared to this. First of all, I’m sitting on a couch, so I never know whether I should look comfortable and at ease, like I’ve done this a million times, or if I should perch forward, back straight, like I’m a complete professional. I’m short, so if I lean back my feet don’t always touch the floor, and their couches usually have a million cushions, and so I look like I’m dissolving into the furniture. I feel like Lily Tomlin in the rocking chair. So I do the perch, but sometimes we’re so close I worry I come off like a crazed close-talker. If only we did these things in a theatre, so I could stand up by a microphone and do the thing while they’re in the dark, silently judging me. That’s a relationship I can handle very well. But during the pitch we’re in this little room, and sometimes my brain is going, “They don’t care. You should just stop now. They already know they’re not going to buy it. Save everyone the time. Stop, apologize and excuse yourself.” But I can’t do that. I have to keep going, even when they know I know they’re not going to buy it. It’s how these things go, and I just keep doing it. Because sometimes when I think, “They hated me,” it turns out they were just thinking a lot of questions. Or, like when I ended up being a complete geek on Suzanne’s couch during my interview for Hot Properties, when I walked out sure I didn’t get the job, but it turned out I’d somehow nailed it. I am not a good judge of these things, I’ve learned.
In any event, we pitched the sitcom to four networks in less than twenty-four hours. That’s a lot of joke-telling and hand-shaking. By the end of it, on my way to the book signing, I didn’t know why anyone ever wanted to hear me talk about anything ever. I was sick of my own voice. I thought for sure the highlight of the entire experience would be when I saw Hugh Laurie while driving onto the FOX lot and he smiled at me. (Actually, it’s still one of the highlights.)
And then: the weekend. It’s not really a weekend. It’s when people are reading, debating, deciding. Writers are waiting, waiting, waiting. Or finishing something that needs to be ready. Writing something to distract themselves from all the waiting they have to do, or all the other writing they’re supposed to be doing. Everybody’s working, pretending it’s time off. It’s time off from the every day grind to do all the work you earned during the every day grind. There are no days off. Not really.
The weekend ended, and the call came early afternoon. “So, anyway,” they said, all calm like this happens to me every single day. “ABC wants to do the project.”
They said words after that, but I didn’t hear them right away. Because somehow, somehow, I had just sold a sitcom.
I had to wait until everybody involved was up to date on all the news. Mostly I had to wait until I woke up one morning and was sure it wasn’t a dream, that I really was taking a phone call for notes on this thing that’s really happening.
And now it’s in a press release. And it looks like:
Subject: ABC Comedy
Why Moms Are Weird
EP/W: Pamela Ribon
Log: Single cam. Based on the book, the oldest daughter returns home to try and restore her white-trash family to sanity.
That “EP” means “Executive Producer.” That “W” means “Writer.” What? Seriously. I’m still pretty sure I’m going to wake up tomorrow and find myself in my apartment in Austin, having overslept from the graveyard shift as the night auditor of a hotel, wondering if my roommate had just stolen my CDs again.
Now we spend some time determining the pilot as I send in outline after outline. After the producers, studio and network all agree, I write the pilot. Then, sometime around the end of the year, the network decides if they want to shoot the pilot. And then they decide if that’s one of the pilots they want to pick up for their fall lineup next year. And then. And then. There are many steps ahead, and it gets harder and harder to make it past this point where I am right now. I’m grateful for the chance and thrilled at the opportunity.
I haven’t been posting here all that much in the past couple of weeks. Usually that means there’s big news. So that’s why I’ve been away. I’m working, and I’m working hard, and I wanted to wait until I could explain why I might not be posting all the time. I always say that and then end up posting, I know. But I wanted to thank you guys for all the support you give me. Because without you, there wouldn’t be my books, and without these books, there wouldn’t be this sitcom. So I’m going to go try not to screw it up. I’ve got just about two months to try to get it right.