Ari Posner,

Ari Posner,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Jan. 19 1998 3:30 AM

Ari Posner,

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       The handshake may or may not be "the threshold act of politics," as Joe Klein Anonymously asserted in Primary Colors. But in show business the defining act, the quintessential moment, is unquestionably the hug. There are as many types of hugs as there are people trying to get something out of you by performing them. There's the "two-shoulder clutch," popular with agents and other macho practitioners of intimidation-friendliness; the "Let's keep in touch" embrace that means "Let's not"; and many more, some even sincere. But suffice it to say, nobody stays employed for more than a year out here--let alone attains the kind of eat-your-heart-out success that fills nine-tenths of each issue of Vanity Fair--without becoming an expert at this elemental yet elusive gesture, without turning into a master hugger.
       Three years ago, when I got my first TV-sitcom writing job, I didn't know from hugging. Despite a lifelong love of plays and movies, I'd spent hardly any time in the theater, except for a brief stint as Conrad in my high school's production of Bye Bye Birdie. (My pants split opening night; I split shortly thereafter.) Growing up in warm and fuzzy suburban Jewish Montreal, I was adept at the back-pat and the high-five, as any '70s teen perforce had to be. But except for tearful farewells with Mother and Father, I can't recall putting my arms around much of anyone. And my life continued deplorably in this vein for years.
       Cut, as they say, to Friday night. We are filming the 13th and final episode of this season's Something So Right (a sitcom for ABC that will start airing Tuesday nights in March). It is one in the morning and we've been rolling for six hours, following a punishing, though not unusual, 90-hour week of rewrites and rehearsals and pre-shoots and promos. I stand on the studio floor, along with six other writers and 30-odd cameramen, gaffers, makeup artists, studio and network executives. Some are performing vital work; the rest of us are engaged in strenuously enthusiastic viewing; all of us are "doing our jobs."
       Then, after a charming last moment between the utterly exhausted stars, Mel Harris (of thirtysomething fame) and Jere Burns, the director calls, "Cut," and everyone begins to hug. It starts slowly. A "Hey, you were great" back-slap and hand-clasp with one of the young co-stars. A lingering hold with a production assistant who starts Monday on another show. Air kisses and "It was a fucking honor" with Jere, one of the nicest and most skilled actors I've known. "We're doing this again"s with the other writers. On and on, hugging, patting, the dance of "Let's have lunch" expanding into a farandole of friendliness that carries us out the soundstage door and into the chilly air of the Universal back lot. And there am I, not merely muddling through but, dare I say it, hugging away like a pro. With gusto and élan. And pretty certain I mean each one.

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