Monday, January 24, 2000
I met my manager, Al Piercy, in front of the UBC Tower.
"So what's the deal with this naked TV show?" I asked as we went inside.
"You've heard of the Naked in School Program?"
"Yeah, there's a rumor going around school that they're planning to start doing it next year, but what does that have to do with television?"
"They want to shoot an after school special showing two teens in the Program, and I managed to get you the lead part."
"How much money?"
"About $8,000, but it'll lead to bigger things."
"That's what you said about that Tim Allen road-trip movie*."
"Well, Tim Allen just doesn't work well behind the camera."
"Yeah, and I don't work well when I can't sit down."
"That's another thing, stay out of the way of your parents while you're filming this. You don't want the tabloids getting pictures of weird bruises."
I rolled my eyes, Al had no idea how hard it was to stay out of the way of my parents, especially now that my career looked to be in free-fall. Mom and Dad had started developing expensive tastes when it turned out their only kid made a cute actor. It was getting harder to pay for those tastes now that I was 14 and the cute kid shtick wasn't working anymore. To top it all off, my last movie was a huge flop, and I was getting blamed in the papers.
We stepped out of the elevator and into the office of Vanessa Branson, President of the United Broadcasting Corporation. She was seated at the head of a conference table around which sat an array of executive types. I recognized a few of them, Mike Merida had produced my big breakout role in 'The Brainy Bunch' (If you didn't watch it, and I wouldn't blame you, I played the "precocious" youngest child in a family of supergeniuses), and Sheri Macaluso had worked on the aforementioned Tim Allen flop. I recognized Tonya Mosley from school, but we'd never worked together before. Most of her work was targeted to black audiences. She'd had her own sitcom on BET for awhile, but it got canceled when they retooled their format to focus on music videos. I shot Sheri a dirty look and sat down next to Tonya.
"Jack, they didn't tell me you were doing this," she said.
"I'm surprised you are," I responded, "I didn't think this would be the type of role your parents would go for." Her parents had a reputation for being somewhat overprotective, and tried to keep her a lot more sheltered and 'normal' than is standard in show-business.
"I convinced Mom that it'd be good practice for doing The Program next year, what about you?"
"I don't think my parents were listening when I told them the part about being naked."
"You're not worried about when they find out?"
"I haven't decided I'm gonna do it yet."
"What's going to decide it for you?"
"The script," I raised my voice just high enough for Sheri and Al to hear, "I can't afford another flop."
After Branson's opening spiel about the network's "commitment to addressing the issues of the day," by which she meant "commitment to airing 42 minutes of a couple of teenagers previously known for family-friendly roles cavorting around in the nude at 3:00 in the afternoon in a desperate hope to gin up enough controversy to get out of 5th place in the ratings," the script was handed out. Sheri and Mike presented their 'visions' for the project, and Branson asked if we were "all on board."
I spoke up, "Actually, I'm going to need some time to look over the script, can we meet back Thursday?"
I started reading over the script in the cab on the way home. From the first scene I could tell it would be awful. The dialogue was clunky, the characters were all morons, and the plot eschewed any conflict that the audience might find interesting in favor of giving my character a great deal of time to moan to his girlfriend, his parents, and anyone else who would listen about his nervousness about being naked in front of people. It was going to need some serious editing before there was any way I'd do it.
When I finished reading the script, I booted up my computer and started writing an email:
Dear Ms. Branson;
I have just finished reading the script for 'Naked, In School?' and I have several qualms about the current direction of the program. While I realize that UBC's 'Afternoon Playhouse' is designed to appeal to younger audiences, a program of this nature will no doubt attract a wider audience, one which expects a higher standard of quality from television programming. This audience will not be satisfied with the current script. Therefore, I cannot agree to the project without changes in the script which I will present Thursday.
Sincerely, Jack Mankewicz
Just then, I heard Dad's voice from the living room. "Turn that damn computer off, I need to make a phone call."
"I just need to send this email."
Dad's footsteps pounded down the hall. I clicked send, and the message went through just as he stormed into my room. He preceded to chew me out for tying up the phone line.
"What the hell did you need to send an email so badly for?"
"That new TV movie."
"The one where I'm gonna be naked in it."
"Naked, what the hell are you gonna be naked for?"
"We talked about this, remember? Al says it could revive my career." We got into an argument about it that ended with me getting the business end of Dad's belt. With any luck, Dad would feel guilty enough that he'd let me do the project. I closed the door and started marking up the script.
Sure enough, Dad knocked on my door a few hours later. "How much did you say you were getting paid for that thing?"
"Alright, you can do it then. But I want the whole eight thousand, none of that Coogan Act****shit."
"Don't worry, they're filming it here."
He left, and I turned back to the script. I kept rereading it and jotting down notes until I drifted off to sleep.
*Author's Note: This film is entirely fictional. No disrespect of a legally actionable nature is meant towards Tim Allen or anyone else.
****Author's Note: The Coogan Act is a law that requires parents of child actors to set aside 15 percent of their earnings in a savings account that will pass to the child on their 18th birthday. It is intended to prevent unscrupulous parents of child actors (such as Jack's) from spending all of their offspring's money, and is named for Jackie Coogan, a child actor from the 1930s who was left destitute by his parents. In real life, New York state has a similar law, but it doesn't in this universe, so Jack's father wants him to work in New York so he can keep all the money.