Show business partnerships are legendary for ending badly. Martin and Lewis went their separate ways, Hitchcock fell out with his composer Bernard Hermann, and even the Beatles split up.
With this in mind, I entered into a devil's bargain a few months ago with my 18-year-old daughter, Alexis. It's easier these days to get networks to pay attention to a new idea for a television series if you walk in with someone under 30. And someone just out of high school is pure gold.
We decided to develop a one-hour drama for TV together. Parent-child dynamics went into play on high octane.
I had plenty of prior evidence this might be a disaster. Rumor has it that Jamie Tarses, ex-head of ABC, told her writer-producer father, Jay Tarses (The Bob Newhart Show, Buffalo Bill), that a pilot he submitted to her was "not his best work." I can only imagine what it was like having a project passed on by your own daughter.
God forbid Alexis becomes a studio head while I'm still writing.
I wondered what I had gotten myself into when I found myself standing in our kitchen negotiating teleplay credit with a girl who only last year I had grounded for breaking curfew.
Now, I confess that both of us had something to gain from this partnership. I could walk into a network with a youthful person in tow _ always catnip to execs looking for the next wunderkind. And Alexis would have entry into show biz and could skip math class when we had meetings. To be fair, Alexis is a fine writer and has some television acting credits. She isn't a total neophyte. In fact, this wouldn't even be our first collaboration.
When Alexis was in eighth grade, I worked on Promised Land, a CBS show that featured several teenagers. When I showed one of my scripts to Alexis, she was brutal. But in a nice way that only a daughter can manage. She steered me in the right direction, punching up dialogue with teenage colors, and making comments like: "Nobody I know would say that. You are so out of it!"
The project Alexis and I developed was based on her experiences on the cheerleading squad during her sophomore year of high school. Alexis made friends with many of her teammates, all beautiful girls who looked as if they should be on top of the world. Contrary to the image, I learned that many had difficult personal stories, some bordering on the tragic.
So, did I immediately want to help these poor girls? Uh, no. . . . I'm in show biz. My first reaction was, "What a great idea for a television series!"
Alexis agreed. We went to work making up characters loosely based on her friends and designing a pilot episode to introduce the characters.
We invented several girls, ranging from the stable friend-to-all, to one hooked on drugs, to a sex addict, Miss Popular, competing with her own flirtatious mother. Once our pitch was ready we took it to my agents.
They were a lot more interested in Alexis than they were in me. Which was okay. After all, that was our gimmick, I kept reminding myself.
Matthew Gross, an Academy Award-nominated producer (Bronx Cheers, Joe Somebody), helped us shape the series (he cleverly sold it as Desperate Housewives meets Thirteen). Then we began meetings with development executives at various networks. Alexis, not knowing who any of the players were, left all the worrying to me.
She was poised and articulate and calm. But why shouldn't she be? She could go back to school when the meeting ended and not fret the consequences.
Pitching with a teenager was a unique experience.
We had to reschedule a meeting at Showtime because Alexis, now a college student, had a math midterm. Furthermore, she refused to rehearse with me the day before an appointment, as I like to do. While I went over the presentation, Alexis would be off with friends, not one thought about the project in her head. Then, on the way to the meeting, she'd study her notes. This actually worked out well for me since she was too busy to crank up her favorite rap music on the car stereo.
And, yes, she performed flawlessly in the meetings.
For all her casualness, however, Alexis had her dreams. She not only wanted to write the series, she wanted to star in it. And on the way to our first pitch, she asked, "If we sell the series can I buy a BMW?"
I said no. She countered with, "It's my money!"
Which may sound to you like a typical parent-teen exchange. To me, it also sounded like a lot of show business arguments, in which adults argue endlessly about money that will never be paid and screen credits that will never be shown.
Initially, Alexis' optimism seemed well-placed. Every executive we met was interested in her and what she had to say. Having been an exec myself, I know how refreshing it is to get a break from the tedium of most pitches. A pretty young girl, speaking articulately about sexy high school cheerleaders (we always began by showing a team photo and a group shot from prom night) will liven up the dullest pitch. And ours was pretty good.
The WB seemed to get the biggest kick out of having Alexis there. It even noted that she won the prize for the youngest person ever to try to sell it a series.
We were not, however, the first father-daughter team to pitch a project. Matt Gross also worked with Lowell Cauffiel, a journalist and true-crime bestselling author turned television writer-producer (Love Behind Bars), who developed a one-hour drama with his successful actor daughter, Jessica Cauffiel (Legally Blonde).
Although Jessica is an adult, the parent-child dynamic still made for some interesting issues. Before their first pitch, Jessica wanted to know if she should call her father "Lowell" in the meeting. Gross suggested she call him "Dad," which, he said, was much more charming. Wise move. Not only do the TV executives have to like your story, they have to like you.
But being liked doesn't necessarily mean success. Lowell and Jessica didn't sell their series, and neither did we.
Still, it was a great experience. Alexis and I remain close. Well, we have our battles _ we are father and daughter after all _ but working together didn't damage what we have.
In fact, I learned a great deal from Alexis. Her attitude is refreshing. We'd walk out of a meeting and instead of analyzing how it went, Alexis immediately got on her cell phone and began making plans for whatever party she had that night. She moved on. We adults need to learn how to do that.
Plus, as Lowell put it, "the great gift of the experience was redefining our relationship. We communicated less as father and daughter and more as adults."
Which is what you want as your kids get older. It's what Alexis wants, too. More or less. She wants to be treated as an adult _ except of course when she needs money. But that's another father-daughter subject.
David Ehrman's writing credits include The Commish, La Femme Nikita, The Fugitive, JAG and 24. He's now working on the new NBC series Medical Investigations. Alexis Ehrman is a freshman at Long Beach State University, majoring in drama.