A few notes on how Hollywood sees the change in leadership in the Kremlin and other subjects.
At dinner last week at Mr. Chow, I sat with two major honchos in the world of television comedy. One of the men is in charge of as much situation comedy production as America can absorb on any three nights. The other has a stream of income from situation comedies sufficient to buy Trans World Airlines.
"Listen," I said. "I have a really good idea for a sitcom. You know this new guy, this Andropov, who's taking over in Russia?"
"Yeah," the two men said indifferently.
"Well, I read somewhere that he's really interested in jazz and western literature and listens to Glenn Miller and is a totally happening guy," I said.
"Yeah," one of the men said. "I think I saw something about that in the trades."
"Well," I said, "here's the idea. Suppose he has a daughter at USC who's an exchange student and the girl falls in love with an American surfer guy from USC, and they secretly get married. And when Andropov finds out about it, he says, 'No way. This is never going to happen.'"
"Hmmm," said one of the men, the larger mogul, "where does the jeopardy come in?"
"Well, first of all," I said, "Andropov was head of the KGB, so the audience can think that maybe he'll have this surfer kid rubbed out. Plus, the boy's father is an American general, so who knows what he might do."
"Hmmm," said both men. "You may be on to something."
"But then, when Andropov comes to the door of his daughter's apartment in Burbank, he's just about to have his goons shoot the son-in- law when he hears the son-in-law playing "American Patrol" on the old licorice stick, and Andropov bursts in and joins him on saxophone," I said.
The shorter of the two men leaned forward, his brow glistening with sweat. "I love that, boychick. It shows that no matter what political system we live under, we're all people. A Russian and an American, but they're both people."
"Exactly," I said. "And then the boy's father comes and joins in on drums."
"The beauty of it is that it's a lesson to the people in the Pentagon to tell them that we really want peace," said the second man.
"But, Benjy," said the first man. "Is there a series in it? What had you thought about as the second show?"
"Well," I said, "if we could get this show on NBC, we could use some NBC characters to get the show rolling. For instance, on the second show, we could have Gary Coleman and his father, Conrad Bain, move in down the hall. Then we could have a two parter. In the first part, Gary Coleman searches his conscience and decides he has to denounce his father to Andropov as an enemy of peace. Then the second part would be Conrad Bain's trial and confession."
"A courtroom epi sode in a sitcom," said one of
the men. "I don't know. It's daring, but courtroom shows are hard to work."
"What if all the action took place in a prison cell?" I asked. "After all, that worked really well on 'Barney Miller'."
"Yeah, a cell where Conrad Bain is being questioned could work," said the shorter man. "Then at the end of the two parter, we reveal that it was all a dream of Andropov's son-in-law, and Andropov says that all of that stuff is just ancient history, a fabrication of the imperialists."
"There should be a White Russian in it somewhere trying to ruin everything," said the man with the golden residuals. "A counterrevolutionary."
Incredibly, three days later I had a meeting with the head of programming of one of America's largest entertainment companies to pursue "Andropov's Daughter." I told him the idea, and the programmer said, "It's a great idea, but I think people are really turned off by politics in this country. Could we possibly have it be like that she's the daughter of a Mafia chief?"
"But that loses the beauty of showing that everyone wants peace and that we're all just people after all," I said.
"Can I run it by the network and just get a very preliminary reading?"
He came back to me two days later. "Bad news," he said. "The network says it's too complicated. Their surveys show that people want to see shows that have upbeat messages from start to finish. They like the arena though. They want to have shows that show we're all really people who just want peace. They want us to come back to them with some ideas about how everyone is just a person, only it has to have nothing to do with real life. The networks want only fantasy. 'Andropov's Daughter' is too realistic."
Benjamin J. Stein writes situation comedies for independent TV producers and also writes about network TV.