Ari Posner,

Ari Posner,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Jan. 20 1998 3:30 AM

Ari Posner,

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       When the folks at Slate asked me to write a diary, they no doubt expected a thrilling backstage glimpse at the making of a network TV show. Or maybe they merely wanted to know if people out here really earn $500,000 for 20 days' worth of one-liners. (They do, but more on that later.) Either way, I'm sorry to report, it's Day 1 of the work week and I have just joined the ranks of the unemployed. I am mit-out position. Sans travail. Bumming a ride on the EDD train to out-of-a-jobsville.
       Actually, the word we like to use is "hiatus," as in "taking a nonpaying, possibly permanent break." And no, the cessation has nothing to do with Martin Luther King Day, which, as far as I can tell, still gets ignored by every harried writing staff in town. Hiatus is as natural and necessary a part of the TV writer's life as network notes and false praise, so it shouldn't bother me. After all, haven't I toiled mightily for the past six months, many nights until long after midnight? Didn't I sacrifice my personal life, disconnect myself from the world of books and movies and ideas, lock myself in a room with six other high-strung jokers, all to produce 13 episodes of grade-A, top-choice, 100-percent broadcastable situation comedy? I deserve a break, right?
       Maybe. But it's hard to enjoy when you don't know what's next. It's the uncertainty, I tell myself, not indolence, that keeps me in my pajamas today until 1 p.m., munching Cocoa Puffs and staring blankly at CNN. I hate being in limbo. Yet until mid-May, when ABC decides whether to cancel or renew Something So Right, that's where my writing partner, Eric, and I must reside. If the ratings are good the show may come back. If the show comes back, we may come back--if, in their infinite wisdom, the executive producers exercise their option to hire us back. (Did I mention their infinite wisdom? They are also extremely good-looking and incomparably kind to animals and small children.) Thus we find ourselves in the curious, though not uncommon, position of looking for backup work while not being legally allowed--thanks to the aforementioned option--to accept any. Besides, our series has wrapped at an odd time of year, and our agent tells us there's little available at our price and experience level.
       Limbo.
       Not to mention withdrawal. Even shows with unpleasant work environments breed a kind of Stockholm Syndrome. When you've been trapped together for months in a perpetual motion-picture machine, you begin to root for your tormentors--the show, evil producers, anyone--if only so the process doesn't seem like a colossal, soul-shattering waste of time. And working on Something So Right has been far from unpleasant. On the contrary--and I'm not saying this just to kiss up--I had tremendous fun on this job. The guys in charge are experienced and funny and smart. They included us in much of the decision-making, which helps us prepare to one day run a show of our own. And they're family men, which means we had our weekends.
       Already I miss the late-night rewrite sessions in The Room. A week ago at this time (nearly 2 a.m., don't get me started) I was gulping Diet Dr Pepper and trying to repress an attack of the wee-hour giggles. When you're paid to be funny, you tend--OK, I tend--to indulge the most childish parts of your personality. I'm not proud of everything I did to get a laugh: wearing a Slinky on my head; flashing the finger at a fellow writer in an escalating game of up-yoursmanship until we had to be told to stop; mercilessly shredding every PC taboo until, bar mitzvah bocher that I am, even I began to wonder where all those Holocaust jokes came from. But if I may shudder over a line or two now, I can't deny there was a giddy sense of liberation being in that room full of desperate, funny people on deadline. For a while we killed guilt and shame, had a blast and made a fortune.
       For now, I'm on hiatus.

Ari Posner is a TV writer living in Los Angeles. He is currently writing for Something So Right, a midseason-replacement sitcom on ABC.