Monday, February 27, 2017

The Next Best Thing

The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner         Audio Book: 12 hours, 9 minutes     Book: 416 pages    

An interesting look at how to get your idea for a t.v. show on the air.   It’s a fictional account, but, a well written overview of some of the processes on how to make it in Hollywood as a writer.   While there is a love story involved, too, I was more taken with the process of getting an idea from one’s own head to being cast as a prime time show on a major television network.     The romance seemed just an aside, really.    I have to say, this is another case of my getting mad at one of Jennifer Weiner’s written characters.   Brief glimpse of the story:  a girl whose parents were killed in a car wreck is raised by her grandmother.    When the girl is 23 years old she and her seventy year old grandmother decide to move from their home in Massachusetts to start over in Los Angeles, California.   The young woman, Ruth, wants to make it as a screenwriter.    She works at various positions over the next few years until she finally lucks into an interview a couple of successful writers who have a number of hits under their belts.   They become mentors and friends as time goes by and eventually Ruth goes for it and writes a script about her life with her grandmother which she feels would make a great comedy series.    After going through the channels and politics in Hollywood her dream comes to fruition but with the dream comes the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for because you might just get it.”   With the joy of realizing her dream as a writer, Ruth now has to deal with the network executives changing her scripts, ignoring her input on how her characters should be presented and even going over her head and hiring actors of their own choices for the roles even when she has given her recommendations on which actors auditioning for the roles she feels fit best.     Ruth acquiesces to every change the network executives make with little more than feeble attempts to keep some resemblance to her original intent.    It’s a tightrope walk between integrity and wanting to have her dream fulfilled even if it isn’t exactly on her terms.    All this time her grandmother is going out on calls for extras and is showing up on t.v. shows and films.    When Ruth lets her grandmother know the network has picked up her idea and they are going to film a pilot  they are both deliriously excited.   Ruth neglects to tell her grandmother there have been a few changes to the character that is based on her grandmother.   Of course, her grandmother is just so proud and when the pilot airs on t.v. grandma has bragged to all her new friends she has made in Cali about the pilot and how the characters Ruth wrote are based on her and Ruth.   Grandma invites a houseful of her new friends to come over and watch the pilot with them.   Which they do.    Now, I know this is fiction, I know this is just a story but, here is my beef with Ruth – she didn’t tell her grandmother, the woman who raised her, the woman who has supported her in all her endeavors all of her life and been right there for her cheering Ruth on and helping her to pursue her dream – Ruth doesn’t tell this poor woman that the network has rewritten her as a wanton boozy floozy who has little good to say about anyone and uses men to make her way in the world.    Ruth knows this.   To get her show on the air, she went along with it with very little to say against their changing the whole persona of how her grandmother should be represented.    But the biggest thing – she let her grandmother be humiliated in front of all those people without so much as a hint as to the total remake the executives did to her representation.    For that, this is another of Jennifer’s characters that I don’t like.    So again, that is the sign of a good writer when they can get you so invested in a story that you react to the things the people in the story say or do but I get that Ruth is a sell-out because that is what she feels she has to do to get the carrot at the end, but, why burn her grandmother in the process?   Family loyalty?   Whaaaat?    In the end the sacrifices the woman made to care for her mean nothing when it comes to Ruth getting her 15 minutes of fame?    It makes for good storytelling, but, I feel sorry for grandma who got thrown under the bus and not only that but the bus was full of people!   All the people looking at the character on t.v. then looking back at the woman sitting in the room.   I can feel her cheeks burning.    Again, a good story that would-be screenwriters could learn a thing or two from, like how NOT to burn the folks who helped you get where you are.   Lots more happens and while a good story, I’m still mad at the main character.  You don’t burn Grandma!

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