He Hates You

I was having lunch with a friend of mine the other day. And he suddenly looked up from his Cobb salad.

“Oh, here’s something I forgot to tell you,” he said. “You know who I ran into the other day?”

“Who?” I asked.

And he mentioned the name of a writer that I’d worked with almost ten years ago. A nice guy. Good writer. I had hired him to work on the writing staff of a television series I was producing back then. The show was cancelled eventually.

(Do I really have to specify that, each time? Look, let’s just stipulate, at the outset, that when I refer to a “television series I was producing back then” it’s a show that was cancelled. You’ll know when I have a show on that’s not cancelled because instead of talking about the minor disappointments and tiny humiliations and petty little rebellions I’ve noticed or enacted in my career, I’ll suddenly start talking about the “art” of writing and the “craft” of storytelling and suddenly start sharing my idiotic political beliefs with humorless pomposity. Oh, who am I kidding? You’ll know I have a successful show on the air when I’m suddenly in Mauritius.)

Back to the story. My friend ran into a guy who used to write on the staff of a show I had on the air.

“How’s he doing?” I asked.

My friend shrugged. “Not so good. He’s working, I guess, so that’s good, but he asked me if I knew why it was that you hate him.”

“I don’t hate him,” I said.

“He thinks you hate him.”

“Is he more successful than I am?”

“No.”

“Then why on earth would I hate him?”

“Well,” my friend says, “I guess he thought you guys were friends, you know, you worked together for a year, and then I guess he’s called you a few times, or something?”

I honestly couldn’t remember if he had or hadn’t.

“You see?” said my friend. “You’re callous. Callous and forgetful. You worked with this dude for over a year, you ignore his calls, what conclusion could he possibly draw from that?”

“I don’t hate the guy,” I said. “We just worked together. We were colleagues. We didn’t become friends or anything.”

“Well, I guess to him, there’s no difference.”

You see, this is the problem with my little corner of the entertainment business. Television comedies are a staff-intensive operation. You work with a staff of writers —- sometimes, a dozen or more of them, packed into a room — all day, and occasionally into the night. So you get to know them all pretty well. There’s not a lot about each other that at the end of a long production season, churning out twenty-two episodes of scripted comedy, that you don’t know and don’t know well. I mean, I know things about certain divorces, certain legal proceedings, certain bedroom practices that it’s just not normal for a person to know about another person he’s not related to, or suing.

But this kind of intimate knowledge is tricky. It certainly has the outlines of friendship, of course. It’s collegial. But it’s also way too intense to be sustainable after the show is — inevitably, in my case — cancelled. I mean, you’ve already talked about everything there is to talk about. You’ve stripped the tree of friendship of all of its leaves. There’s not much left to say. I tried to explain this to my friend at lunch.

He looked up from his salad again. “Did you just say ‘stripped the tree of friendship of all of its leaves?’”

I nodded.

“Pretty pompous for a guy whose shows keep getting cancelled.”

That was it. I put down my sandwich.

“Look,” I said to my lunch companion. “I don’t hate this guy at all. I like him. He’s a nice guy. But it’s just…I don’t really make friends in the writer’s room. It’s too much of a psychological hothouse. I have colleagues, sure. People I’m fond of that I’ve worked with. But there’s always the moment when you go over to another writer’s house, or out to a restaurant with someone you’ve worked with — just socially, just as friends, not for business — and there’s this moment when you’re suddenly both just exhausted by the artificiality of it all. I mean, you’ve been in the room together for a year. You’ve already shown your worst side. Every day. You can’t just pretend that there’s anything left to share.”

My friend understood. “So it’s sort of like a, ‘I’ve seen you naked. Don’t try to suck in your gut now’ kind of thing?”

“I think there’s probably a nicer way to put it, but yeah, that’s the basic gist,” I said. “But why does it even matter? So what if the guy thinks I hate him? I mean, big deal. He shouldn’t be such a baby. He should get over it and move on and stop being so sensitive. So I didn’t call him back or answer his emails or whatever it was I didn’t do. Do I really need to call him up and tell him that I like him?”

“I would.”

“Why?”

“He just sold a huge show to NBC. From what I hear, it’s going to be a big hit.”

“What’s his number?” I ask.

Because, honestly, in this business, you can never have too many friends. Especially ones with hit television shows on the air.

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