Several years ago I made a TV pilot -- a “test” show which either becomes a hit or is vaulted away where networks put their other rejects.
It started when I got a phone call from a producer who read my syndicated column, “Ask Sadie.” These “reality” people were looking for a pro who could answer questions on the fly. The gimmick? Questioners – total strangers who happened by a park in Maryland -- would put a buck in a pushke, and the “chosen maven” would improvise advice, one-two-three.
I was to dispense advice as a loveable “Jewishy” Auntie.
“Advice for a buck? Just how cheap do I come?” I wondered. But hey, when a real producer calls who am I to argue?
After phone auditions and looking at the worst photo of me ever taken, I was to be the new “Jewishy” Auntie.
I was brought to Maryland to do a radio test and meet the network VIPS; seven women all in black. Whatever “cute” I could still conjure turned to shvitz. But, I respected them. And, like a good Scout, I was prepared with a mission statement for this little show that rivaled the Geneva Convention. I said “tribal” and “on trend” a lot.
We got the green light! Now, we back-up. My fashion style is “Early Execution.” My curls resemble electrified fucilli; clothes are one-size-fits-nobody and accessories are “cleaning tags.” So a few pals “took me on” as “Project Impossible.”
My entire life has consisted of hairdressers suggesting Lourdes. The women sent me to a “genius” stylist who had a PhD in pounding fucilli – while mentioning Lourdes a lot. One shlepped me to “Off Fifth Avenue.” There’s a reason it’s “off.” I bought yesterday’s designer “bargains” and still looked like Bette Midler on Skid Row.
Coiffed, dressed, with a bazillion notes, I headed back to the D.C. area. My curls were in abeyance, but my anxiety had spiraled. I’d done TV many times as a guest, and had written for TV, but the “stah?” Oy vey. With my usual optimism, I spent the plane ride counting all the people I could let down should I stare, mouth open, saying bupkes.
How not to bring out Stah power: the Pilot
At the producer’s office I met my “acting coach.” She’d just come off a stint with Brando, who “adored” her, so she was too choked up to actually make a suggestion.
The production team met privately and decided they needed their own “geniuses” to fix me up – again. I’m no Bar Refaeli, but hey, either is Dr. Ruth. So, on top of massive anxiety, I was getting a little paranoid. At a high-end salon, I was forced to do the one thing I hate most. Being futzed over. I sat for hours looking at videos of fish, while they dyed, de-frizzed and moaned, as one curl not only went on strike, it got three others to stand up with picket signs. Next stop: a department store where I got a buyer who obviously confused “The Midler” look (me) with “the Thatcher” look (not me). The only thing I liked was the Spanx. But hey, when a real producer says “perfecto” who am I to argue?
At 6 am the next morning the “Brando & Me” coach and the make-up/hair lady arrived. Quaking, I was going over strategies should a “client” ask me if his child could be a serial killer, while these two divas were quacking over hair, make-up, and of course, what might have been with Marlon.
On the “set” at the Maryland Park there we all were: the network people, producers, tech crew, and the “people-people” watching us set up. Would they come over? Would I buckle? Stare in a stupor, repeating “I’m a big fat teapot?”
They came. Strangers who wanted to tell an imperfect stranger with dripping mascara, their woes on air and get advice for a buck. I called upon 3,000 years of Jewish women with pisks behind me, and got into “the zone.” Tuning out everything except “the problem” I was there, present, and loved every minute.
Of course, there were a few mishaps:
Forgetting I was miked everywhere, I nearly destroyed $5,000 worth of equipment in the Ladies room.
DIRECTOR: “Jauntily run to the dock and jump on the ferry.” This he says to a woman with a mortal fear of falling the six inches between the dock and ferry into the river. Praying, I closed my eyes and jumped. After 12 shots I landed with the producer, camera people, and of course the make-up diva whose mascara ministrations in the rolling ferry made me look like KISS in a tsunami.
On the ferry, I noticed that the other passengers were wearing unusual clothes. I politely asked if they were nurses. “We’re Amish,” said the leader, who, before averting her eyes, made me feel I was sentenced to wherever bad Amish people go. Oyyy.
There was the shot where I was supposed to walk “jauntily” toward a restaurant. Except the path was overgrown with fake palm streets, and I wound up swinging like a Jewish Tarzan.
It’s a Wrap
The raw film was in the can! We were jubilant. Now it was going to “editing.”
Weeks later, with trembling hands I opened the tape, now called “SADIE SAYS!” Of course I kvelled. But trust me. If you think the camera adds ten pounds, it adds 30. Ten I had to lose, and 20 – let’s just say that my arms waffled like mutant turkey goiters.
Time to Focus (Group)
It never fails to amaze me that network execs with a combined experience of 100 years leave The Yay or Nay to 15 strangers who want a free lunch. According to my Q-score, which no one understands, they found me “welcoming,” which was also used to describe Bill O’Reilly. The production? Not so much. The pilot aired a few times. I was kept on contract and the producers were fired. Then the network sold to Oprah, who had her “stah” in Phil.
Well, I did have my moment. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t kind of like the attention, even with the shlepping, the anxiety, the stares, the fussing, the traveling, the divas.
But, despite the mishegoss, I found that sharing your passion about what you’ve learned with people you quickly come to care about is the real “stah.”
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
But now I’m way too old to be a diva.