Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

As you now know my love for TV, perhaps you did not know that for 10 years I made a job out of that enthusiasm and made "useless" knowledge of TV trivia "useful." From 94-04 I worked for the now defunct Columbia House Video Library. Back in the late 80's they got their start in creating Collectors Editions of classic TV with the likes of Star Trek, I Love Lucy, All in the Family...the list goes on. I joined in 1994 right out of college and during my 10 years our number of tv shows grew by leaps and bounds--by the time the DVD format came to be we probably had close to 100 shows offered on home video. (All sold via direct mail). We were the only game in town for TV product as this was before DVD and before all the Hollywood studios finally got on the TV show bandwagon of releasing their own shows. Before DVD they did not bother and would just license the shows to us. From there we'd choose the episodes for each volume, hire designers to create the VHS cover art, find an expert on the show to write our liner notes...it was tons of fun, and the people that worked in our small department (much smaller than our fellow Music Club or Movie Club) became close and had a ball.

One of the reasons I was hired out of college (I started as an admin assistant to the VP of New Product Development and moved up from there) was because I said in my cover letter that I was once a member of their I Love Lucy continuity series (I received 1 VHS a month...until my parents cut me off around 20 VHSs when they realized that it was going to be every.single.episode...)

The interview was only the 2nd job interview I had gone on out of college--and was the best one I know I will ever have. The questions, aside from "so tell me about yourself" went something like this:

"What is your favorite TV Show?"
"What magazines do you subscribe to?"
"What newspaper do you read"
"How else do you get your news?"
"Your favorite movies?"

Now, here I was, a small-town girl in the Big Apple, in a high-rise near Rockefeller Center...and although I came close to saying some 'make-me-sound-good' answers I was upfront and answered these question with:

- I Love Lucy and Seinfeld
- I don't subscribe to magazines, because I still live at home and was in college the past 4 years (though I think I added that our house received the TV Guide and I read it faithfully every Thursday when it came in the mail)
-As for newspaper, I blurted out our daily local newspaper...did not say NYT or Daily News and thought "God she's going to think I'm such a bumpkin"

I forget some of the other questions, but they were all pop-culture related...very fun and so up my alley! We also chatted about tv shows, and I told her how in middle school I bought a book of tv show lyrics and discovered that Bewitched, The Munsters and even Leave it to Beaver had lyrics to their themes...and she asked me and I sang some off-tune bits.

She hired me. She later told me that her questions did have a method...for example had I answered "I read the New York Times" she would have come back with: "What's the front page story today?" (she read about 4 newspapers a day...) If a professional coming in for an interview tells her they get their news from tom brokaw each night, then she knows that they leave work by 5 to get home in time for the network newscast, and it was a minus to her. Had I replied, "I read US News & World Report" once again she would have quizzed me on the last article I read....Wow, talk about dodging bullets! I was upfront, honest, and had she asked what the front page story was in my local paper, it would have been something like, "New Street Light Replaced Stop Signs in Major Intersection"

But I digress...more on this job and the amazing people, funny stories, and remarkable experience in future posts...Point being I found myself putting my love of TV to use--in a job. I could not have described a better career/job for myself. I found myself in the midst of others who shared my love of TV and I relished my time there. I also made some of the best friends--and still stay in touch, and after moving out of the greater NYC area, don't see them nearly as often as I'd like.

Just this summer I had an opportunity to accompany some of the gal pals from my C.House days to Santa Monica to the taping of the TVLand Awards. (They won seats at a table plus VIP party passes through a silent auction..someone dropped out and I was invited to take the spot. Longer story in between b/c then the writer's strike happened so it was postponed from an April date and rescheduled to June, then I lost a job in the Spring and backed out of the trip. By May I landed on my feet with a great new job, and heard that no one had taken my spot, so before I knew it I found myself booking a flight to Santa Monica for a long weekend. Dear Husband said, "you're crazy to fly to CA for just weekend--but I hope you have fun!" He knew this was a chance of a lifetime for me--I was going to my mecca...TV Land! I had been to LA/Hollywood a few times when I worked at "The House" and seen the likes of Paramount Pictures (my very favorite studio), CBS Television City (oh the history there! That was a blast!) but I had never gone to a real Hollywood award show, complete with walk on the red carpet!

The show taped on a Sunday, and we all got dolled up and arrived in a limo....we were shown down the carpet (the one that ran beside the 'real' red carpet--ours was red, and ran alongside the press-lined "star" carpet..but ours was like the 'Fast Lane' in a toll booth--we had to keep it moving and no one was asking what our current projects are...or who we were wearing...

Wardrobe Note: but if I was asked who I was wearing I'd have replied:"off the rack Oscar de la Renta...I just bought it at the Santa Monica Macy's this morning...oh, and Isaac Mizrahi sandals that I got for a STEAL at Marshalls!"

Speaking of my dress--I am in love with it...I brought a totally different one with me, but decided I hated it and went shopping the morning of the awards...could not find a thing at Macys was about to leave all bummed out, and then saw this dress--only 1 left in my size, and it fit like a glove..pleated skirt, patent leather belt--which, hello, matched my black patent leather Mizrahi strappy sandals! (it was so meant to be!) AND...ready for this? Pockets. Mr. de la Renta is a God who had worked pockets into the dress...it was a late 50's-early 60's style and I was floating on air walking back to the hotel from the store knowing it was perfect for a classic TV event! I was embracing my inner Laura Petrie!

Anyway, so onward into the Santa Monica airport hanger we went--a huge space that is used for such fetes. After strolling the carpet, we hung out by the door for a long time to watch stars come in (and by "stars" I mean for the most part the beloved actors who perhaps are not working as much these days, but whose work will shine forever on TVLand and DVD!)

At one point during the ceremony, during a tribute to Mr. Garry Marshall (a HUGE favorite of mine) Dick Van Dyke, Jack Klugman, Ed Asner, Henry Winkler, Cindy Williams & Penny Marshall were standing up on the stage at once...I'm telling you I got the chills, and a bit teary-eyed. These were icons for me...they were my friends growing up as I watched reruns of Dick Van Dyke and The Odd Couple...and episodes of Laverne & Shirley....I was SOOOO hoping I'd be able to shake Mr. Van Dyke's hand..meet him for even a brief moment, but unfortunately did not come to pass...I would have been at a loss for words though, thinking about him in Mary Poppins...the D.Van Dyke show...Chitty Chitty Bang Bang...so maybe not meeting him was a good thing. Other recipients that night were Roseanne...The Golden Girls...and even The Office received a "future classic" award! Steve Carrel was there (no J.Krasinski though..bummer!)

Afterwards we were told the after-party was up at Casa del Mar...there we encountered some up close and personal conversations with the stars that decided to attend...not all the big folks went, but hey, we had a ball drinking and mingling with the likes of:

Jack Klugman--a true blue gentleman. He was sitting with his companion (wife? not sure) and everyone else was walking/standing/mingling. As we got our first drinks and started scanning the crowd, my friend Kelly noticed him sitting by himself...no one noticing or saying anything to him, so she went over and introduced herself, and then walked back to us a few minutes later, saying "he is SO NICE!" Then Michele said to Kelly, "take me over, I want to meet him too" So they both went up to him again. I was thinking to myself that I had to get over looking foolish, and this was the time to start breaking the ice and meeting the celebs...so Michele and Kelly came back all smiles, and I looked at Kelly and said, "Ok, wanna make it a hat trick? I have to go meet him.." Kelly was laughing and said, "he's going to love me for bringing him all these girls!" so up we went, and he did laugh. He shook my hand, said it was great to meet me, and I told him the honor was mine, and thanked him for all his characters, the laughs, and so many great tv moments and that I thought he was such a great part of TV history...he was standing up to leave as we chatted, beamed back at my nice words and offered, "wanna get a picture?" and he posed with me. Then I asked if he could take one more with his new best friend Kelly...if it wasn't for her I never would have met "Oscar Madison"..then he was on his way...

The rest of the night I kept my camera strap looped on my wrist, and mingled...we broke up our party of 6 and worked the crowed in various paired-off groups so we could meet people and have a conversation vs walking as a huge group and looking like rookies. We noticed a lot of others were getting photos, so soon it did not become a big deal to say hi and ask for a photo.

Later, on one of my trips to the open bar I noticed Creed and Oscar from The Office also getting drinks, and no one was around them...I ordered my drink, turned to them and they smiled and said hi..and I told them that I was a fan, that their characters were awesome and the fun they have really translates to the viewer--that they must just laugh all day at the scripts/etc. They were appreciative and said they're always glad to hear people like the show, and they have a ball doing it...so I asked if they were game for a photo...and happily they were!

Another amusing moment was when I passed by a lamp and realized that it was wearing my dress! (see photo)...ahh well, so I got a photo with me and lamp too. Those cosmos were sooo good!

Cindy Williams came over to the group of us later on, and she was so happy--like us, the mood came from the wine as much as the atmosphere! She told us about what she was up to lately, and we had an all around fun conversation. We asked to get a group photo, and she was all for it. Then she said, "I have to go find my driver..." she was tipsy for sure (though an hour later, we found she was still there, hanging out, having fun!)

We got back around 11pm to the hotel (the whole awards started around 3-4pm, so the after-party was going on earlier than most..then shut down around 10:30 or so...) We sat at the bar next to our hotel and recounted the night to 2 bartenders who looked at us like we were speaking another language when we asked them if they knew who Jack Klugman was...or had ever heard of Little House on the Prairie (because we chatted with Nellie Olson for a long time at the party) or seen Laverne & Shirley. Wow, that was depressing to us and we felt ancient!!

We threw some music on the jukebox, had most of the place to ourselves, and laughed, drank and enjoyed the whole recounting our night--and of the fun weekend.

I'll never forget it--a walk on a red carpet, meeting some great TV legends and having a great time with some gals I used to spend many a happy hour with at places in the City....and spending 3 sunny days by the Santa Monica to boot! It was the perfect event to go to with others who shared my love for TV. We all were psyched about the fun weekend...and I found myself missing the banter and camaraderie with the old crew.

Don't get me wrong, I love my life now and the path I've taken. I don't miss that commute--and the long nights of drinking are well behind me and my liver thanks me for it, but I sure do miss the 'gang!' We had our own Cheers whether it was the Playwright or Hurleys. These days, the folks have just about all moved on from CH now that it is owned by BMG and the department we all worked in went away years ago. There was no longer a need to create collector's editions now that the studios all sell their own. But unlike me and a few others, most of the gang still see each other often as they all still work/live in NYC. So when I see them it's usually an occasion...a wedding, unfortunately funerals, or a summer BBQ/etc. We even do a huge C.House reunion--which spans all the clubs/departments. It's usually in December in NYC...I've missed that last THREE....I am determined to make this year's!! With the new job I have now I know it'll be possible...I just hope they do one now that I know I can make it! :)

Now that I recall the time there, it's almost like my own personal Camelot--brief and shining. Or maybe better yet, my Brigadoon--I feel the way towards it like my days at Fairfield U: it's a world that reawakens for me for only a brief time, and not very often, and though years have gone by since seeing each other, it is as if no time has past at all. And when we emerge from the mist we laugh heartily, toast to friendship, and dance our jigs and reels until it fades into a mist for me once more until the next time...

I had that moment, that window into the old days in Santa Monica. Between the friends I saw, and the shows that were honored and the stars who maybe are forgotten by many, but beloved still by all of us. Their shows are not just a touchstone from growing up as a child--they had a second life, and are touchstones for my years spent at Columbia House. Another house altogether, yet no less a "home" to me.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

BWWAAAAH HA HA!!! Oh, where to begin? I wish I could have been a fly on the wall at your Columbia House interview. At the time, your college roomies just shook our heads in awe and said "well I'll be. Lisa DID find a job where she gets to watch TV all day!!" The TV Land awards look like they were a blast! Of course, you DO have a knack for meeting celebrities, with or without awards shows!