Tinselvania hasn't exactly been turned topsy-turvy by TV Guide's expose on cocaine in the television industry, but it's definitely a subject of conversation.
Unfortunately, if the general public does go into a major lather over the disclousres in the report, the outrage will probably all be directed toward the symptom rather than the disease. If cocaine use is as widespread in Hollywood as the articles in TV Guide suggest, there have to be reasons. Those who fashion escapism for 100 million Americans seem beset with the need to escape themselves.
Reporter Frank Swertlow's recently published stories didn't just say that lots of people snort cocaine at Hollywood parties and during Malibu weekends. That would hardly be the scoop of the century. But Swertlow did allege that TV deals and cocaine deals sometimes overlap; that the expensive and popular drug has had a direct affect on television entertainment.
One reason most of today's situation comedies are rampagingly unfunny, Swertlow suggests, is that a lot of comedy writers are high on coke when they write the scripts. Everything's a hoot when you toot-toot-toot.
More serious is the allegation that projects may have been approved or eliminated from network rosters on the basis of a producer's drug-securing capability, not on the merits of the project itself. An unnamed producer told Swertlow, "Many people have jobs at the networks and studios because they can get drugs" and supply them to executives.
The article does not ask the question: "Do the people corrupt the system or has the system corrupted the people?" There were lousy TV shows long before coke became the drug of the moment.
One young producer who's spent ample time in executive suites at all three networks say he thinks the TV Guide report was "specious in the extreme," and suspects the article is part of a campaign to discredit television, now under attack from some special-interest groups.
"That article was more the way the Bible Belt sees Hollywood than the way Hollywood really is," says the producer. "To run that article now in this climate, the climate of Jerry Falwell and Ronald Reagan, is morally indefensible. And it's all just gossip anyway."
Can a producer sell a show to a network by slipping executives some cocaine under, or right on top of, the table? "Gosh," says the producer, "I wish it were that easy." Coke has been overrated as a negotiable commodity he feels.
"It's simply not that hard to find. Any network executive who really wanted some could easily find it. Yes, there's an actress who falls off the stage because she's so coked up. There are lots and lots of people who do coke in this town. But 99.9 percent of the executives who do drugs do NOT do them in the hallways of the networks."
Has he ever seen executives using drugs at a network? "Yes." What drugs? "Cocaine and marijuana." Was he ever offered some? "Yeah. It's not really unusual. It doesn't strike me as unusual. There are guys at the networks who are known users. Those people usually don't last long, because they're inefficient."
Singling out Hollywood executives as drug abusers is also unfair, the producer says; "Go down to the New York Stock Exchange and you'll find executives snorting coke at lunchtime, too."
There is much more dope, the producer says, in the movie business and the record business. Indeed, one whoppo floppo from Hollywood a few years ago bombed at the box office partly because, insiders say, the cast and crew were all bombed when it was made. Reports from more than one source say $350,000 worth of cocaine was written into the budget.
Gossip? Hearsay? It does go on. But I was standing in front of the Thalburg building at MGM a few years ago talking to a very attractive secretary. A hotshot TV producer in a red sports car zoomed up, the secretary went over to talk to him, and when she returned there was a tiny white mustache under her nose. She'd just done a little zooming herself.
So there is lots of cocaine in Hollywood; maybe it goes with the high intensity of television production and the late hours and the fact that fast and loose money is plentiful here. That cocaine directly influences programming decisions at networks has not been proved.
Of course it's always easy to blame "The System" for everything, no matter which system you're talking about -- and yet the suspicion lingers that if the people working in television got more creative satisfaction from their jobs, they wouldn't have to go chasing after drugs, at least not during office hours. What we may have here is a demoralized community that uses cocaine, or whatever else, as a substitute for pride in craftsmanship.
It's not the kind of problem that can be cured with an expose, an investigation or a witch hunt. It goes much deeper than a few grams of naughty white powder.