SELLING OUT by Dan Wakefield


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Perry Moss, 42, teaches at Haviland College in southern Vermont, publishes stories in Partisan Review and Playboy, lives happily with second wife Jane, a serious photographer: ""They were tweed. They were corduroy and cotton, with red flannel nightshirts in winter."" But when whiz-kid Archer Mellis, new TV-dept. chief at Paragon Films, decides to turn one of Perry's stories into a TV-series, the tweedy couple flies out for a sojourn in Tinseltown. And so begins an essentially familiar tale of selling out--as Perry, in Hollywood to write the pilot-episode, all too quickly goes Hollywood. . . to Jane's escalating dismay. True, at first Perry is put off by the glitz and the crassness, by boss Mellis, who dresses ""like a Castro-trained insurgent guerrilla."" But his colleagues--exec-producer Ned, director Kenton--are classy guys with theater backgrounds; they're encouraged to make ""The First Year's the Hardest"" (about newlyweds in academia) ""quality"" TV; the pilot turns into a two-hour TV-movie that gets good reviews and high ratings. So all of a sudden Perry is ""hot,"" and keeps putting off the return to Vermont as the show-biz possibilities proliferate. He's horny and high on power and glamour--his voice gets deeper and deeper--while Jane, fed up and neglected, heads home alone. Even after the TV-series production turns into a nightmare (crazy-quilt directives from network bozos, staff purges, disastrous ratings), unemployed Perry determines to stick it out in L.A., somehow get ""hot"" again; he maintains manic optimism with an assist from cocaine, blithely sacrificing his professorial tenure back home; he betrays exec-producer Ned, who's virtually the only gentleman in southern California. But finally, of course, after a farcical interlude with loony producer Larman Kling (""Harpo Marx with a voice"") and a script about a psychic dog, Perry realizes that he'd ""forgotten about friends. Forgotten about everything that mattered. Or used to matter."" And there's a saccharine fadeout on Perry returning to Vermont, ""moving toward the woman he loved."" Wakefield, a novelist (Going All the Way) who has done time in TV (James at 15), fills out this thin, predictable scenario with enough insider-ish, cartoony details to provide fairly steady amusement for media mavens. (One highlight: the moans and murmurs that ensue--""It's genocide. . .""--when Perry's series is scheduled opposite Dallas.) But there's too much blandness and sentimentality here for all-out Tinseltown satire--while Perry, instantly corrupted and superficially redeemed, is too much of a clown to take seriously.

Pub Date: May 14th, 1985
Publisher: Little, Brown