‘Next Caller’ Creator/Producer Stephen Falk Pens Tumblr Screed On Show Cancellation

Earlier this fall, NBC abruptly pulled the plug on Next Caller, a sitcom about talk radio starring Dane Cook as a loudmouthed jerk and Collette Wolfe as his new co-host, a feminist by way of NPR. It looked like an odd couple duo that I actually wanted to watch (and it certainedly helped that the talented Leila Cohan-Miccio from the amazing web series Vag Magazine was a writer on it). Yesterday, Next Caller’s writer/producer Stephen Falk took to his Tumblr to explain just how badly a show cancellation sucks. 

Advice To Young TV Writers (but really: What Happened To My NBC Show)

Hey, you aspiring TV writers. It’s a hard job to crack into, but if you’re good enough and driven enough, it will happen for you. Don’t give up!

For if you work hard enough, someday you too may work on your own show for a year — from pitch to outline to script to pilot to the triumph of being picked up to series: the Golden Ticket. Then you might move across the country to actually make the show, hire a hundred actors and writers and crew members, and then in the middle of editing the 4th episode, get your show abruptly cancelled via late-night Friday phone call from Los Angeles. Then the fun part: you get to walk in shock back to your office — abandoning the confused editor waiting to lock the episode — and personally call all the actors and writers and crew and inform them the proverbial plug has been pulled and they no longer have a job, sorry. You will talk them through the tears and confusion — attempt to ameliorate the soon-to-be full-blown PTSD taking root already in them, all the while pre-knowing yours will go untreated and indeed sneak up on you weeks later. Do you clean out your office now? Do you wait — ? Shit! But first you better go see about that one prop for episode 5 you had to approve — oh, yeah. None of that matters. Everything has stopped. This is the moment after the 10.0 earthquake. Suddenly, nothing is the same. You don’t have a show anymore. Twenty minutes ago it was what took up 17 hours of your day. 24 hours of your mental real estate. It literally doesn’t exist anymore. The frozen people of Vesuvius had more warning than you did.

Then you can hole up in your rented NYC apartment and sleep for a few weeks because you are so sleep deprived that you once fell asleep literally on your feet in the writers room. Also, you had to sign a 6-month lease so you’re paying for the place anyway and you’re also, you know, paralyzed. And then a hurricane might hit and you can sit in the dark for 5 days and throw out your food and attempt to soothe your dog who is traumatized by the dark and the constant wailing sirens. Eventually you will pack up your apartment and drive three-thousand miles back across the country with your dog (because she is afraid to go in a crate in a plane) and after a number of days noting the varied and constantly-changing topography of the country, listening to podcasts or music or just the sound of the motor and the snoring of your dog in the front seat next to you, you too might find yourself in a shithole Arizona motel eating Taco Bell and watching Zooey Deschanel on Letterman and drinking a bottle of Jameson’s you smartly got back at an Albertson’s in Gallup, New Mexico, not knowing when you’d find another store selling anything but beer, and realizing you’ve been avoiding writing any of this down because you are no longer an employed professional writer so have no pulpit from which to give advice. You assume you will work again, but the fatalistic side of you will be tempted to Google “professions” and see if you have any aptitude for anything other than writing. (You don’t.)

Okay, so this is clearly my indirect, cowardly way to get into finally talking about what happened to me when my midseason NBC sitcom Next Caller, was abruptly “cancelled” before it even aired a few weeks ago. As to why the decision was made to peacock us: there are many theories and reasons and sub-reasons — many having to do with them having no place for us with 5 midseason shows and never really committing to us that much in the first place by only ordering six episodes, and needing to focus advertising dollars on other shows that were working when some of their other new shows didn’t. But what it comes down to in the end is, I think, that they just didn’t like what I was doing that much.

And I say “I,” because I was not only the creator and showrunner, but the sole Executive Producer as well. So the blame falls squarely on me; which is how I wanted it. Of course this is not fair or the whole story. There is a larger discussion that has to do with network expectations verses the Creative’s expectations; the wisdom of holding to what you deem good vs. What They Want; making yourself laugh first. But I won’t have that argument here because I would like to work again and because I will get too angry and passionate and I can’t type fast enough. (But if you corner me and get a few drinks in me I will be happy to have the discussion/rant in private.) I don’t really blame anyone. The network executives are people doing a difficult job. People I mostly really like. I was a first-time showrunner 3,000 miles away — naturally it was not the most comfortable position for them. They couldn’t really keep an eye on me or give me notes in person. I wish they could have, though. If you’ve ever been separated from a romantic partner, let’s say, you know how impossible real communication is long distance. Sure you can Skype your tits or whatever, but real conversation is often strained and intentions and meanings somehow confused and corrupted by the distance and maybe also by the satellites the words have to bounce off to reach their intended targets. We are monkeys who need to look into each other’s faces to gauge true intent, and on speakerphone with 11 people (9 of whom you haven’t met) giving you notes on something you’ve made your whole writing staff stay up until 3am working on in the room, miscommunication can be the only outcome.

I am of course bummed out for myself and my bank account and my career and the resulting “waste” of a full year of my life (during which I was balancing not only making my own show but being Co-EP on the final season of Weeds). But mostly I’m really sad that the audience won’t get to see the show we made (and were in the process of making), because I managed, through fortune and hours and hours of reading scripts and taking meetings, to hire an extraordinary writing staff of fun, awesome, cool, talented writers — all of whom I plan to continue to be friends with. (Seriously, this was a good staff, and I put them through the paces; many moved across the country just to do this show; I put relationships in jeopardy for some of these folks. Whatever. They’re awesome.) The actors were similarly fantastic. Collette Wolfe is a dream. I hired her based on seeing her in Young Adult — a movie in which I think she stole the show in a 5-minute role. Collette will go on to have a crazy career and this will be but a blip. But hopefully a fun blip. Dane Cook is a natural and the nicest, most easy-going, hard working, ethical guy you could hope to meet — who also happens to live in a house that almost literally looks down on all of us. (I know some people might not like his stand-up, but he’s really good at it. Test your old opinions: go see him at the Comedy Store some night; test your old MySpace-days prejudice). Working with Jeffrey Tambor — an actor who has been in two of Top Ten sitcoms of all time — will probably be the highlight of my career. He is the nicest, most interesting, inquisitive, playful, insightful, smart man around. And not only are Joy Osmanski and Desmin Borges, Chris Perfetti and Trey Gerrald all stupendous actors, I have no doubt I will be friends with them for years to come. I will miss all of them, and already do.

This has gone on longer than I intended. I don’t love talking about my personal life that much on the Internet, but I have to get over the fact that it’s not narcissistic to acknowledge that there are some people who read my stuff and are genuinely curious and wonder what the fuck happened with Next Caller. So that’s it. That’s the story. Tomorrow I will drive through the rest of Arizona and California and arrive at my house in Los Feliz, unpack, return the rental car, and try to figure out what’s next. I’m not starting from a dead stop — ironically I have yet another pilot at NBC that I wrote with my old Weeds boss Jenji Kohan that is still “in the mix,” and an old Showtime pilot I wrote that suddenly five years later has new life — but the future is, for the first time in many years, completely open and thus, terrifying.

Still want to be a writer? Of course you do. Hopefully my tale of woe sounds exciting and like a hard-shell-taco-and-whiskey you’d be happy to swallow (otherwise, quit now). Good. Now go write some more. (I recommend Swork in Eagle Rock if you need a good writing cafe.)

Thanks for reading, Stephen Falk.

(Sent from outside a Starbucks in Flagstaff, AZ.)

PS: I will brag about something for a second, though. I can now say with certainty: if you ever find yourself in the position to get to put together a comedy writing staff, and then you complain that you can’t find enough funny women… Nay, if you already have a show on the air and you have like 12 guys and 2 women: you didn’t look hard enough. I insisted on having as near even as possible ratio of females to males (not including me they were 5:4), and aside from getting to be smug about it, it just makes for better energy and perspective in the room to have an even gender balance. Do it.

It’s an incredible email: not for the ballsiness towards his former employer (although that too) but for the cold, hard honest explanation of exactly what us "creatives" suffer though. And yes, I use the word suffer on purpose. Not only is a creative job a labor of love in the emotional and sometimes spiritual sense, but it’s also rife with financial uncertainly. Creatives are the ones who toil for 10, 12, 14 hours a day, often on their own laptops, without health insurance, and wait five, six, seven weeks for their freelance checks to come on the mail. The people that can throw their bank account into disarray in an instance are usually happily ensconced in office towers with dental plans and 401Ks. It is simply just not fair that the entertainment and media business is set up this way.

What I take away from Stephen Falk’s blog post is not that he shot himself in the foot and "YOU’LL NEVER WORK IN THIS TOWN AGAIN!" (Someone said that to me once, actually.) It is that Stephen Falk absolutely must work in this town again, given his passion, dedication to quality and equality, and utter lack of bullshit-taking.

Wishing him and the rest of the Next Caller cast and crew the best of luck. 

Contact the author of this post at Jessica.Wakeman@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter.

Dane Cook Apologizes For Being An Asshole

Dane Cook has apologized for being an asshole. More specifically, he has apologized for cracking wise about the Aurora shooting in a moment even Terry Schiavo could have told him was "too soon."

During a stand-up gig at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles, Cook told the following joke:

So I heard that the guy came into the theater about 25 minutes into the movie. And I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie, but the movie is pretty much a piece of crap. Yea, spoiler alert. I know that if none of that would have happened, pretty sure that somebody in that theater, about 25 minutes in, realizing it was a piece of crap, was probably like ‘ugh fucking shoot me.

Womp WOMP.

On Friday afternoon, Cook tweeted his apology:

I am devastated by the recent tragedy in Colorado & did not mean to make light of what happened. I made a bad judgment call with my material last night & regret making a joke at such a sensitive time. My heart goes out to all of the families & friends of the victims.

Given penchant for I’m-sorry-you-were-offended non-apologies, that is actually a fairly decent one.  

Links: Eva Longoria & Tony Parker Drama Rages On, Dane Cook to Star in Broadway Show

● Though Tony Parker insists there was no physical affair leading to his divorce from Eva Longoria, he did have a “sexting relationship” with a teammate’s wife. The official legal term for that is “Too old for this.” [TMZ] ● Stylist to the stars Rachel Zoe is pregnant, and has worked enough with Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie to know never let her child out of the house. [People] ● Heidi Montag’s mother, Darlene Egelhoff, charges $5,000 for speaking engagements, putting the price tag for her Hills-star daughter at six cajillion. [Radar]

● Dane Cook will appear in the upcoming Broadway run of Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig, because as it turns out, ten million fans can be wrong and comedy is just not working for the guy. [NYT] ● David Arquette needed a drink so badly at the GQ Man of the Year ceremony that he climbed through a window to cut “his distance to the bar by half.” Always was good at math, that David. [Page Six] ● Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway are naked and hugging on a magazine rack near you. [HuffPo]

Links: Kanye West Nude Photos Coming, Lauren Conrad Is Almost Back on TV

● Kanye West warned us this would happen, word for word, but now it’s nearly a reality: girls he met on MySpace are shopping naked pictures of him, which allegedly exist in great numbers. Something something supply and demand, or: sell while they’re hot. [Radar] ● Angelina Jolie is in talks to star in James Cameron’s 3D version of Cleopatra. If it happens before the end of the world it will surely speed up the apocalypse process. [Deadline] ● Dane Cook’s half-brother embezzled millions of dollars from the popular comedian. Some might call him a hero. [People]

●  Lauren Conrad’s new reality show starts filming next week. Growing up on Laguna Beach and blossoming on The Hills, it’s like her life has literally been on pause since her departure from MTV. Be patient, America – she’s coming home. [US Weekly] ● Lady Gaga buying up her back catalog of music may seem like nothing more than a shrewd business move, but really it’s about self-expression and loving yourself, Little Monsters. [Celebuzz] ● Katy Perry and Russel Brand’s “secret” wedding is in a few weeks in India. Just so you know. [Page Six]

Battle for ‘Captain America’: Dane Cook vs. Jonas Brothers

The casting of Captain America, Marvel’s latest action-adventure blockbuster, may be the most chaotic, rumor-filled and err, “open” campaign in recent Hollywood memory. First, a “short” list was leaked a couple weeks ago, revealing Chance Crawford, Scott Porter, Michael Cassidy and three other steel-jawed blond dudes as contenders. John Krasinski from The Office also joined the frenzy — an unlikely if amiable choice (go John!). Now, rumor has it Dane Cook and — brace yourself -= the Jonas Brothers have auditioned. Cook broke the news on his Twitter feed, tweeting:

image

The JoBros report, on the other hand, comes courtesy of the bastion of journalistic integrity that is Hollywire: “It was said Kevin Jonas had the better audition and was more natural.” Hollywire also suggests Miley Cyrus as a possible future Wonder Woman. Of course, the fight for Captain America can only go on for so long. Cassidy and Porter have already let us know they’re out of the running via Twitter and Facebook. The flick is due in theaters July 2011.

Is Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ Sequel Canceled?

So I know we were placing our bets on The Dark Knight’s follow-up to bow in 2011, but now the whole affair’s looking kind of dead in the water. Michael Caine explained his reservations to British magazine Shortlist. “But I don’t know if they are ever going to make another Batman,” Caine explains. “If they do it won’t be for quite a while.” Which may make casting speculation this nothing more than pipe dreams perhaps. Possibly for the best.

Which is probably for the best as Dane Cook has made public his yen to essay the role of The Riddler. Which somehow manages to out-worse Miley Cyrus’ rumored audition for the part of Batgirl. Although who knew that if you were a celebrity with a very average skillset, you could audition for one of the most film franchises just by shooting your mouth off to tabloids? Funny, that.

A list of director Christopher Nolan’s projects in the pipeline reveals that there’s not even the hint of the Caped Crusader. And fine, he probably wants to fill up the next few years churning out proper “legacy films.” So that one day, like another niche-turned-flailing-mainstream director, he can have his own senseless Amelia experiment, which will inspire everyone to strongarm him back into helming films about superheroes and amnesiacs.

But Caine adds, just to toy with our gullible heads a little more: “As for the future … if they ever make another Batman I will be in, I will be the butler.” And of course, whether or not Christian Bale or Aaron Eckhart reprise their roles, it’s the role of Alfred that remains the cornerstone of Nolan’s Batman franchise.

Links: Kanye West Pro Homo, Tara Reid Engaged

● Kanye West can be blamed for a lot of things, but spreading homophobia in hip hop is not one of them. According to Fergie, West is “completely gay-friendly … he did a great thing for hip-hop and made it very mixed and open.” [MTV] ● Robert Pattinson is embarrassed about those Megan Fox dating rumors because the fake details of their date were so “cheesy.” [OK] ● Ashlee Simpson-Wentz is taking a page out of her sister’s handbook and starting a clothing line that will show off her “preppy and punk rock” style because she thinks she can “really succeed in fashion.” [DigitalSpy]

● We all know Eva Mendes is hot, and she certainly knows it, which is why she “turn[s] up the heat” when she needs to and uses her “sexuality” in her roles. [Foxnews] ● Tara Reid is engaged to a German billionaire? Going by that gigantic pink diamond on her ring finger, it looks like she and new boyfriend Michael Axtmann are getting hitched. [DailyTelegraph] ● Dane Cook wants to sink his comedic-acting claws into the Riddler for the third installment of the latter-day Batman movies; Cook adds he’d love to play the character “Heath Ledge”’ style — i.e. dark but funny. [MTV]

Links: Michael Jackson Twitter Grief, Angelina Jolie’s Gender Bending

● Despite internet rumors, Jeff Goldblum did not plummet to his death on a film set in New Zealand; he’s alive and well in Los Angeles. [Stuff] ● Celebs like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dane Cook, and John Mayer did what any sensible person would do and expressed their grief for Michael Jackson’s death via Twitter. [TMZ] ● Madonna is so devastated by the news of Michael Jackson’s passing that she hasn’t stopped crying. [People]

Transformers 2 continues to pummel the box office, breaking the Wednesday box office record with an astounding $60.6 million. [ComingSoon] ● The director of Angelina Jolie’s new film Salt, Phillip Noyce, says Jolie “can kick ass as good as any man.” Ironic seeing that the role of Salt was rewritten from male to female just for her. [BreakingNews] ● Jake Gyllenhaal makes a surprise visit to the set of main squeeze Reese Witherspoon’s new film How Do You Know. [JustJared]