The fuss over Paula Abdul returning to American Idol (or not) brings back so many tragic memories for me, not to say some bitterness that I work at controlling but can’t, about what total weasels TV people are and the terrible way they behave towards one another. Even now, a full three years after my own TV show ended, it still makes my skin crawl.
According to Abdul’s agent, she’s “hurt and angry” that Fox is playing hardball with her salary, indulging in powerplays, and refusing to negotiate. As a result she may not be back on the show next season.
I couldn’t hear what else he said because of all the cheering. Most people, as far as I can tell, are probably with Fox on this one, they don’t want her back.
Currently, Paula receives $2.5m per year, which, given what she does and what a laughing stock she is, seems fair enough. But she wants more. How much more is the cause of all the debate. Estimates says it’s as high as $20m, and that’s why Fox is balking. Though more realistically, it’s probably a lot less – around the $5m mark. And that, if true, is also why Fox is balking.
Paula Abdul is not worth $5m a year on American Idol. Anyone with a TiVo who fastforwards through everything she says each week will tell you that.
Still, Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest, both of whom are sitting pretty with substantial pay increases of their own and shouldn’t really care, are backing her and saying they are confident she’ll return for the ninth season. Auditions are already under way, a decision has to come soon. It’s all very touch and go.
However, this rather tacky public stand-0ff reminds me once again what a shark tank the TV world is. Riddled and rife with dishonesty, needless game-playing, and shenanigans, it’s a parallel universe to our own. A place where nobody can ever be straight about anything. Where everybody feels compelled to lie all the time, even – and especially – when they don’t need to. Where people stab you in the back, not because there’s any call for it, but because they’re presented with an opportunity to do so and can’t resist. And where you can never get a direct, up-front, word-of-honor answer to any question you ask, in case the reply – a simple, helpful, uncontaminated yes or no – somehow comes back to bite the various parties in the butt at some later date.
It’s a ghastly industry. Fun, but ghastly.
In television, you encounter some of the shiftiest, slimiest, slipperyest, most spineless individuals you’re ever likely to come across. Unless, that is, you venture into politics or the movie business, where I hear they’re wall to wall.
Worse, TV executives are geniuses of shameless deception. They wear sharp suits and have great dental work and hair and friendly personalities, and they’ve mastered the art of seeming genuine and honest and caring when in fact, behind the bared smile, lies a calculating shark mind turning constantly, figuring out all conceivable consequences of what’s about to be said and ensuring that it works to their own advantage, not yours.
An example of their shiftiness would be something I call “the Hollywood No.”
A Hollywood No happens when a spineless TV executive wants to say no to your request, inquiry, invitation, or proposal, but doesn’t have the balls. So instead he says nothing. There’s no call-back, no reply to your email, no letter in the post. Nothing. Just an ominous silence, from which you are meant to deduce, after a period of time lasting days or weeks, that your request, inquiry, invitation or proposal was turned down. In other words, the burden is placed on you to mentally refuse it yourself. The spineless TV executive had nothing to do with it, his hands are clean.
It’s playing David Copperfield with the truth, and it sucks.
Oh, and if the two of you meet again at some point – you and him; executive and…er…executed, I guess you’d be – convention says that both sides must pretend that the Hollywood No never happened. Do not dwell in the past, goes the rule. Even if the past was about ten minutes ago. Move on, overlook any perceived slights, and don’t bring it up ever again. The transgressor must be allowed to get away with his crime. That’s just how it is.
It’s certainly considered very bad protocol to shake the executive’s hand the next time you see him and say, “Hey, you douche, how come you didn’t reply to my request, inquiry, invitation, or proposal?” Breaking the code of silence around the Hollywood No and reminding people what double-crossing skunks they are to their face can actually cost you friendships, jobs, and, in some cases, whole TV series. Trust me, I know.
It isn’t only the Paula Abdul crisis that brought this back to me, by the way. It was being emailed by that TV producer the other day (see HERE).
Our interaction was brief. A couple of lines each way, that’s all. But I was struck even then by what a slippery eel the guy seemed to be. I’d ask him a question, he’d reply within minutes with a statement that bore no relation to what I’d asked. I’d make a statement; in return he’d ask a question, again totally unrelated. Ducking and weaving, dodging and dancing. All so devious, so icky. I don’t know him at all, but I thought I could feel the gooey oiliness of his yellow character oozing from the monitor like parasitical Jell-O. There was nothing straightforward about our ‘conversation’, nothing direct or honest, nothing a real – ie. non-TV – person could get a grip on or hold him to. A typical TV executive, in other words. I have no doubt he’s very successful.
So, as much as I personally don’t want Paula Abdul back on American Idol, I sympathize with her plight and must necessarily take her side. If Fox executives are anything like their scheming, lying counterparts all across the rest of the industry – and since it’s Fox after all, how can they not be? – then they’re playing this for sport, torturing her because they can, filling her days with uncertainty, false starts and Hollywood Nos, merely because…well, they’re TV executives and that’s what they do.
I hope she wins. Go Paula.
TV Swami – he say NO to Fox. And possibly “Go to hell”, but he not sure yet.
Read Cash’s book, Naked in Dangerous Places, HERE.