A sitcom showrunner finds the road to her first series launch much rockier than expected.
When Ruth Saunders gets “the call” from the network telling her that her original series, The Next Best Thing, is a go, at first she is incredulous. Although she’s served her time in a writers’ room, she never expected to sell her autobiographical concept about a young woman, Daphne, and her grandmother, Nanna Trudy, who move to Miami to seek their fortunes. Ruth moved to Hollywood with her grandmother, Rae, and they’ve both enjoyed success, Ruth as a comedy writer and Rae as an extra. Rae raised Ruth from toddlerhood after a car crash killed her parents and disfigured Ruth. (Even after multiple surgeries, one side of Ruth’s face is badly scarred.) After Ruth is hired as an assistant to two writer-producers, Big Dave and Little Dave, they help her develop and pitch her own show. The process of bringing the series to air is sardonically chronicled by Weiner, herself a TV veteran. Ruth’s hopes for Next are systematically dashed. The network suits insist on a terrible rewrite of a critical scene, and now Nanna has morphed from Golden Girls ditzy sophisticate to randy, superannuated cougar. (So shocked is Rae by her raunchy doppelganger, that her relationship with her granddaughter is sorely tested for the first time.) The zaftig leading lady (Daphne is insecure about her weight) shrinks down to a wraith of bulimic proportions, while shilling for a new diet. The seasoned character actress playing Nanna is replaced because the suits want a name, and the bimbo who caused Ruth’s departure from her last writing gig is hired as Daphne’s sidekick. Worse, Ruth has, for once, gotten what she wished for in the romance department—her first requited love, yet she pushes Little Dave away. The plot, exposition and flashback, heavy at first, pick up speed as complications multiply.
Spares no bon mot in exposing Hollywood’s sexism, ageism and incurable penchant for extravagant silliness.