Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The infamous "Leather Binder" incident

First of all, if you didn’t read yesterday’s post, that headline will mean nothing to you. Check out David Isaacs’ guest entry from Monday.

Okay. Now that you’re up to speed…

It is true I ripped a leather binder completely in half in one motion. This was one of those incidents you hear about where someone has a huge rush of adrenaline and lifts a Buick. This temporary strength came out of anger, and I’m usually not that angry a guy. Kvetchy – most certainly, but blue blind rage -- no.

Note:  I am not naming the actors involved.  My prerogative.   Nor will I deny or confirm the many conjectures I know are coming.    Sorry, I'm taking the high road. 

We were showrunners of this particular train wreck and were down on the stage for a runthrough. One of the cast members, a lovely person, innocently did something the star objected to. So the star stopped the runthrough and in front of everybody just tore this poor individual a new asshole. It was completely uncalled for and reprehensible.  The actor was completely mortified.  And again, he did nothing wrong.  You can imagine how uncomfortable this was to witness first hand.  An arctic breeze goes up my sphincter just thinking about it.   Had this happened today I would have stepped in and stopped it, even if it meant facing the wrath of the star myself. But I was younger and more inexperienced. (This is why you hire seasoned pros to run network television series.) 

So I just seethed. The star’s behavior had been horrible for quite some time, but ripping into a fellow cast member was, for me, the final straw.

When the runthrough was over we returned to the room. The star had given us these leather script binders for Christmas (as if that was on anyone's wish list to Santa –a stupid leather binder with the star’s name on it – I would have rather received a stocking of coal). And I don’t know what possessed me, but I grabbed that binder and just tore it in half. (It felt great, by the way.) At the time I was doing it I had no idea this was a feat of Herculean strength. I might as well have been ripping a sheet of construction paper. Even after I did it (and the writing staff was hiding behind chairs) it didn’t seem like any big deal.

My partner wisely decided that I should have the night off. Rewrites on that show routinely lasted until 3 or 4 in the morning. But clearly, I was not going to be of much help that night.

I should mention that a few weeks later a similar incident involving the star so outraged David that he flipped over our giant heavy wooden conference table. Scripts and pens and dishes of m & m’s all went flying. I sent him home that night.

I should also mention that in all the many years we’ve either been on staff or run shows, those are the only two incidents of meltdowns that we’ve ever had. But then again, we never worked for Roseanne.

Final thought: Ripping that binder is not something I’m particularly proud of (which is why I rarely bring it up). And even though it’s easy to get very emotionally attached to a project, creative issues should not be cause for losing your mind. But people treating other people terribly and getting away with it because they can – that’s what gets my adrenaline a’pumpin’.

And now for my next trick…

41 comments:

404 said...

So...I guess we can all infer that the star in question WASN'T Roseanne?

Follow up--I like to think that karma works. Did those horrible actions ever come back and bite the star on the ass, like he deserved?

Sue Dunham said...

Perhaps the cheapskate gave you all fake leather binders?

Scooter Schechtman said...

Sounds like Ken is concealing The Star's gender by withholding revealing pronouns. Therefore...
KIRSTIE ALLEY
Sorry, I live under the bridge of the low road.

Dan Ball said...

KEN-HULK RIP PUNY LEATHER BINDER!

Ken, I can appreciate you feeling uncomfortable with David digging up that story. My best friend, Steve, likes telling people this really embarrassing story about me from our college screenwriting class when I supposedly "stuck it" to our professor because he'd blasted me over something that he didn't blast his "pets" for. I just felt like I was being a bad student more than I was trying to stick it to the man, but Steve and others in the class thought I stuck it to him and see me as a folk hero for it. It's been almost a decade and Steve still tells this story about me and probably always will. I hate that (but being a folk hero who sticks it to injustice isn't so bad).

Ed said...

Ken:

Have you tried to rip a leather binder in half since? I don't know how many of those you find just lying around to try...but I have to imagine, as this story slipped into legend and you brushed it off as 'no big deal,' someone had to have handed to you one once and said: "see if you can do it again."

If you found it impossible to duplicate, only then would you know the superhuman strength you briefly possessed.

Surely at some point in the last (insert number of years here) you would have tried to again...at least as a bar bet.

Jimmy John said...

It's definitely Mary Tyler Moore--based on many past indications from our blogger that she was a nightmare, and tipped by the off-hand mention that the star's name was on the binder. What other show had the star's name in the title, was a train wreck, and was helmed by Ken?

I think none.

So it was Laura Petrie, which makes me sad, since Laura was awesome like Natalie Wood.

Anonymous said...

Sue Dunham - brilliant. I wished I'd said it. - Jeff Clem who has to be anonymous because his stupid computer won't let him do it any other way.

Steven said...

@ Jimmy John: I agree. I've been reading this blog quite a long time, and yeah, based on past comments he's made about her and the show,.the person in question was obviously Moore. It's easy to take the high road when you've left several years worth of clues pointing to the answer.

Carol said...

I'm glad you are taking the high road on this, because I don't want a character I liked get sullied by the actor who played it. It's disappointing to me when an actor's personality overshadows the acting.

I think I can maybe guess who Ken is talking of, as others did, but I'm going to pretend I can't.

Michael said...

In Mary Tyler Moore's Wikipedia entry there is this, which is attributed to her autobiography.

In the 1985–86 season, she returned to CBS in a series titled Mary, which suffered from poor reviews, sagging ratings, and internal strife within the production crew. According to Moore, she asked CBS to pull the show, as she was unhappy with the direction of the program and the producers.

CRL said...

Feat of strength? Airing of Grievances? Now all we need is the Festivus Pole.....

Victor Velasco said...

Who can turn the world off with her style?

Mike Botula said...

And that feat, Ken has gone down in history. Had it been your run-of-the-mill Hollywood tantrum, it would have been forgotten in a heartbeat. But, you, Oh Talented Guru, have achieved immortality.

Tom Tully said...

I'm guessing this is an "I MARRIED JOAN" incident. That Jim Baccus was a caution. You guys have been around for a while.

Mason said...

Agreed. Mary Tyler Moore. We don't need Angela Lansbury to solve this one.

Charles H. Bryan said...

I knew it would be a great story and I'll never again think the same way about Bob Keeshan. Poor Bunny Rabbit.

Thanks for sharing that with us, Ken. You're right -- it isn't anything of which to be proud, but most good stories involve doing things that repel pride. But it's not like you killed a guy.

Wait a minute. You didn't kill a guy, did you? Don't tell that story.

Johnny Walker said...

Wow! I didn't expect to actually hear this story after yesterday's post. What a treat to discover it today! And also hear that the table-flipping mentioned yesterday was true, too, and not just some embellishment. (David's turn tomorrow? :)

Coming back from working on such a show (and, come on, anyone who knows your career should be able to figure it out -- no, it wasn't on M*A*S*H, Cheers, or Frasier, for those who are wondering) is a very interesting story in itself. I'm glad you managed it!

I know I keep plugging it, but the superb book, DIFFICULT MEN, does a great job of showing the difference between good rooms and bad rooms (depending on your taste). It seems obvious, but I can imagine while you're living in a bad room that you can forget that the other type of room really does exist -- and you were happy there once, and you will be again.

I think it's probably the same for jobs, marriages, houses, etc. We get used to feeling unhappy if we stay on the wrong square long enough, and stop believing/forget we can feel differently. So glad you both found your ways back!

Cap'n Bob said...

MTM was my conclusion, too. And besides being mean she was cheap. I'd bet that the binder was leatherette, not real leather.

Scooter Schechtman said...

And there was a Second Ripper behind the grassy knoll.

DBenson said...

Thinking of an old Benny Hill spy sketch. Every time Benny's superior said "a certain foreign power", Benny would turn to the camera, smile smugly and say, "Russia". As if he was the first person ever to figure out that convention of old spy movies.

Meow said...

I'm guessing that the proud owner of the newly enlarge anus was given-named similarly to your partner. (Hey, that might even be vague enough for you to confirm or deny.)

Meov said...

I am just the most careful writer in every other facet of my life, and yet, every comment I leave on your blog has typos, undiscovered until after I have posted them. "Enlarged."

Roseann said...

And you last paragraph tells me what a good guy you really are. I totally concur.

First I thought it was a male star but after reading it again I concluded it was a female. I think I'm right.

Anonymous said...

This is going to sound so mean. But if the star WAS Mary Tyler Moore, karma (or a bad plastic surgeon) has gotten her in the face. She looks so strange and creepy now. I can't understand why many stars choose over the top strange looking faces over age. And, the fact that Ken feels for the underdog plus has such great humor without meanness or crudity, is part of why this blog is great. You CAN be successful and nice. Julie

Guess Who said...

...or you can be an asshat.

JoeyH said...

I think is was Moose, who played Eddie on Frasier.

RCP said...

It's pretty remarkable that you've only had two meltdowns during those years - great posts from you and David.

Jean said...

I came home to find our house was broken into, and ransacked -- and my dear sweet indoor only cat was outside, YOWLING his lungs out in panic.

In the backyard. Behind the gate. Chained with a large Masterlock padlock on it. I didn't have the key.

Nobody, BUT NOBODY messes with my babies. I went back inside, got a hammer and with one whack took the lock apart. I picked up my boy, calmed him down and got him back in.

Cops came over to look the place over, saw the lock and asked if that was broken when I got home.

I said I did it to get to my cat. Must have been a cheap lock. The cop just stared at me.

It wasn't until years later, when I had to break a lock for someone that I discovered that generally speaking, smacking it open with a hammer isn't easy at all.

James Van Hise said...

I looked up Mary Tyler Moore on Wiki, and while it mentions her 24 year old son's accidental death in 1980, it doesn't mention something just as big which must have contributed to her unhappiness. In the 1970s, Mary's 21 year old sister killed herself and it was openly reported at the time that the young woman had been under pressure to follow in her sister's footsteps but apparently didn't have that kind of talent, and she couldn't handle it. Mary has rarely ever mentioned her sister in interviews and when asked, she claims that the young woman died in "an accident."

Cap'n Bob said...

Thank goodness Aina Aitor is here to show us the secrets of life. I'm going to send her/him/it my credit card info right away. Who's with me, gang?

mmryan314 said...

Absolutely loved reading the last two day's posts. "The proper office of a friend is to side with you when you are in the wrong. Nearly anybody will side with you when you are in the right." Mark Twain(my fav)Your friendship shines through- lucky- both of you.

YEKIMI said...

I don't think Ken will fess up to it be MTM. He probably doesn't want to open his door and find Sue Ann Nivens standing there saying "Mary has asked me to 'discuss' something with you" while she's smacking a large rolling pin into her palm again and again.

Phil In Phoenix said...

Aina Aitor, does Dr. Breeze have a spell that can restore a torn-in-half leather binder back to one piece?

Abba Dabba said...

@ CRL:

A Festivus for the rest of us!...

Greg Ehrbar said...

Richard Sherman once flipped over an upright piano. Mike Nesmith put his fist through a wall in the Beverly Hills hotel.

Regardless of whether or not it was MTM, there have been several accounts on this site and in interviews that "Mare" is a complex person. I have read a lot of biographies, but few are as astonishingly sad as MTM's "After All." Success in one area does not guarantee success in all of them, and her story is evidence of that.

Deaths, suicides, fatal illnesses, failed relationships and little more than regret and disillusionment haunt a person whose perky image seems to exist only through the camera. Even the successes are tinged with sorrow. It's not so much disappointing to read about as it is disheartening. MTM's not very fond of MTM -- or her mother -- based on this book.

My point isn't to excuse MTM but for us to consider that the grass isn't always greener in the Petrie's yard or Phyllis' converted apartment building.

Charles H. Bryan said...

We're overlooking the obvious pitch to ESPN for WORLD'S STRONGEST COMEDY WRITER. (Okay, pitch to ESPN2.) The laptop hurl should be popular.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

it's one thing to be angry but, David knocked over a bowl of m&m's ???
Not sure we are ever going to forgive him for that.
:)

Bob Zirunkel said...

Here's an interesting episode-by-episode review of the short-lived Levine & Isaacs series "Mary" (1985-86):
http://jacksonupperco.com/2014/07/09/moore-tries-again-a-look-at-mary-1985-1986-cbs/

Michael said...

Here's a fascinating old post by Ken about his experience working with MTM:

http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2006/09/cos-and-effect.html

Not that I'm saying it has anything to do with this awesome "leather binder incident"! :)


Loosehead said...

So what happened at the next run-through? "Mr Lee-vine, where is your script cover?" "It got mmphf-mumbled" (stares at shoes) "Excuse me?" "It got ripped in half." Was it something like that?

Brian O. said...

It's leather but it ain't no binder:

http://33.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_krgt0hno2Z1qz9qooo1_400.jpg