7.02 / February 2012

The Showrunner

But it’s okay that I’m an unemployed screenwriter still living with my parents, because one day I’ll turn this into a great sitcom.

Like the episode where Hal McCallum (my TV alter ego) convinces a girl his parents are living with him and not vice versa, but after several comical mishaps (“What’s with all the baby pictures?”) the truth emerges.  Hal, rejected, asks his mother something definitively childish like, “Can you tuck me in?”  Canned laughter, credits roll.

And maybe one where Hal’s lawyer brother Grant visits and, realizing how depressed Hal has become, waits until their parents are off-screen visiting relatives, then stocks the house with a keg and lots of girls.  (My brother-I mean, Hal’s brother-can always find girls.)  Hal, distraught after bombing yet another job interview, arrives home to the thudding bass of whatever’s popular.  He acts like he’s enjoying this “killer party,” but really he’s having trouble choking down even sips of beer, and is completely flustered by all the girls, so when one drunkenly shatters his mother’s favorite duck figurine, Hal sends everyone home.

Grant is all, “But bro, I did this for you-I was trying to give you back your college experience,” and Hal tearfully (but masculinely) admits, “That’s the thing, Grant… I never had the college experience.  I studied my ass off all four years, turned down every invitation, and now I’ve failed anyway.  Not only at being a screenwriter, but at having a life.”

The audience will “awwww” at this Special Moment and Entertainment Weekly will declare, “While the show at first seemed sophomoric, tonight’s airing of ‘Surprise Kegger’ proved that creator Marshall Winkleton, talented beyond his years, actually knows how to write characters with heart…”


Unless the network gets bored watching it-I certainly get bored living it.  Mr. Executive might say, “Marshall, while we at the network were thrilled about your unprecedented Emmy nod for ‘Surprise Kegger,’ doesn’t Hal have any, you know, friends?  You can only get so many episodes from three people in a house.”

Because I refuse to develop a bad reputation-I’m going to be a pleasure to work with who’s given lucrative development deals and glowing write-ups in Variety-my reply to this challenge will be calm, my smile vibrant.  (The teeth whitening I’ll undergo as soon as the show premieres will help in that department.)

I’ll explain how, in an upcoming episode, Hal reconnects with the two guys from his study group (known for our-I mean their-epic library marathons) will come for a visit.  That will help provide the social life Hal has desperately been missing.

Although, the network might worry, like my therapist, that this is not enough.   Mr. Executive might say, “That’s great for one episode, but … maybe the show needs a New Direction?”

I will start sweating but-thanks to the corrective procedure I can finally afford-I won’t drench my shirt.  As my new buddy Chuck Lorre will have warned me, the network’s idea of a New Direction is never good.  It’s long-lost siblings and “Cousin Oliver”s; it’s, “Maybe they all decide to move to the country, or start a band.”  I’ll have to respond as quickly and cleverly as a character on TV.

“Exactly,” I’ll say; as I’ve learned in the Business, it’s always best to start a pitch by agreeing with the network.  “So that’s why, in the next episode, Hal decides to place an ad on Craigslist or . . . Twitter” (any mention of social networking is guaranteed to pique the executive’s interest) “saying . . .”

In the cable biopic they’ll one day make about me, this is where I’ll get my biggest close-up, the moment I turn my charming little show into a ratings smash hit.

“Hal will tweet, ‘There are thousands of others out there like me, with college degrees but no prospects.  We could band together, form our own community.'”

Mr. Executive looks intrigued, even puts down his iPad’s stylus.

“We’ll put out a casting call for these new characters,” I continue.  “Four new friends, two of them girls.  So I-I mean Hal-can finally get laid.  And they can all hang out in Hal’s basement, and in later seasons when we need new material, these friends can have their own obnoxious-parent storylines.  In season six or seven, if the whole ‘adult kids stuck at home’ concept has been played out, well these friends can all move in together and then-”

The executive says, “You’ve got yourself a second season.”


Of course, I’ll doubt this retooling.  In the limousine ride back to my new LA penthouse I’ll wonder, what about the Winkleton-I mean McCallum-family dynamic, wasn’t that the heart of the show?

But once we film this pivotal cast-changing episode (which I’ll say in interviews was planned all along), and once I see the new gang assembled-the hot chick, the nerdy chick, the non-threatening black guy, the Jew-I’ll know that this was where the show was headed all along.  In this arena, I’ll know best, because I’ll no longer be a sweaty loser who gets so nervous during job interviews he can’t even get hired by Starbucks, who stays up until 4:00 a.m. watching reruns of Two and a Half Men because it’s the only thing that distracts him from the looming terror of paying back the massive loans it took to get this worthless fucking screenwriting degree.  He is the showrunner.  I am the showrunner.  (As soon as I move out and write the pilot.)

Joshua Dalton's writing has also appeared in the anthologies First Person Queer, Userlands, and The Full Spectrum.
7.02 / February 2012