Season 2 of Living the Dream is underway. But the real question is why? Why would any rational non-billionaire spend his hard-earned money to produce a web series that generates negative cash flow? Narcissism? A pathetic cry for attention? Boredom? A desperate Hail Mary attempt to strike internet gold?
If I dig real deep into my jaded psyche, I’m pretty sure the real reason I pony up my daughter’s tuition money to make web videos is more about my BigLaw PTSD than my creative yearning. No joke. Years ago, my therapist told me that my experience as an M&A attorney resulted in a moderate form of post-traumatic stress disorder. That’s why I got anxious every time the phone rang or became filled with unspoken rage when someone told me what to do or when to do it.
Yes, my years at Skadden left indelible psychological and emotional scars. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I now at least understand why I waste my time and money on a goddamn web series. And it’s cheaper than therapy—and more fun than meditation.
Like Season 1, the new episodes are meant to examine the absurd pressure and anxiety inherent in BigLaw from the perspective of a naïve, well-intentioned, hard-working junior associate named Nick Conley.
“The Review,” focuses on Nick’s upcoming review and his fear of getting fired.
My “inspiration” for the show dates back to a story I heard my first week at Skadden about a slightly insane senior associate who billed 2600 hours a year for nine straight years—only to be heartlessly passed over for partner. Legend has it that the disgruntled associate saw the bad news coming and brought a .38 revolver into his review. After the bad news was delivered, he pulled the gun, aimed it at the Senior Partner’s face, pulled the trigger, and muttered “Bang.” Moments later, he was escorted out of the firm in handcuffs.
At first, this story seemed preposterous to me. Who the hell would do something so stupid and self-destructive? After a few years of billing 2600 hours myself, however, the story began to make perfect sense. In fact, I began to wonder why more people didn’t pull guns or go insane.
In any event, that apocryphal story became the basis for “The Review.” Given the state of the legal economy and the acute, constant fear of getting laid off, it seemed like an unfortunately topical and relatable concept. A perfect BigLaw cocktail: Equal parts fear, anxiety, and pressure—with just a splash of inherent unfairness.
“Politically Correct” tries to explore the PC culture of the legal workplace. More specifically, it focuses on Nick’s unfortunate attempt to distance himself from an insensitive colleague’s offensive language. He tries to stand up for the gay rights movement, but in the process, ends up coming across as a racist. That’s what you get for being too PC.
One of these days, I suppose Nick will actually learn to keep his mouth shut—or say the “right” thing—or be a selfish, competitive, politically astute gunner. But then he’d be just like the BigLaw tools he despises, and the show wouldn’t be fun to watch. Or write. And it probably wouldn’t help my PTSD much either.
So why did it take so damn long to produce these additional episodes? The answer is simple: New media sucks. That’s right, it sucks.
A few years ago, people assumed new media would change the world—and at the same time be the template for peace in the Middle East. At a minimum, it would somehow cure cancer. Absolute worst-case scenario, it would drive the old media dinosaurs, like Disney and Time Warner, into oblivion. This new, bold platform would finally offer all those unemployed geniuses the medium upon which to showcase their abundant talents and vanguard cinematic sensibilities. Audiences, advertisers and sponsors would flock to this marvelous, cutting-edge product, hurling praise and dollars at the daring auteurs.
Well, that’s not really the way it happened. Or the way it is, for that matter. In fact, it’s not even close. Like I said, new media sucks. As best I can tell, sponsors and advertisers seem to be intrigued with the concept of webisodes and “alternative media” series, but not really. TV is still where their bread is buttered, and despite countless predictions to the contrary, that ain’t changing any time soon. Where else can Coca Cola or Lipitor advertise their product in front of 10-15 million people in thirty seconds?
With respect to Living the Dream, we approached (through our “brand integration agent”) about 20 prospective sponsors/advertisers. We sent them various PowerPoint presentations, put together media kits, compiled traffic data and metrics, pitched integrated plots and storylines . . . .
The good news: Everyone loved the idea. The bad news: No one pulled the trigger. Each brand wanted to sponsor the show, of course, but for some reason, they just couldn’t. As you might imagine, they all had wonderfully reasonable and polite excuses.
“It’s perfect for us, but we need to wait until May.”
“I love it, but would you be willing to create a new series with a female lead who loves golf and facial products? She doesn’t necessarily have to be a lawyer either.”
“We’re 100% in, but our CMO wants to star in the show and wants to film in Las Vegas. And we need the series to be about ‘super busy women on the go, yet work at home.’”
By comparison, the old media executives in Hollywood—the ones who were supposed to be unemployed by now—seemed ridiculously nurturing and artist-friendly. I suddenly felt guilty for ever doubting their wisdom or insights into the creative process. If only new media could understand and embrace writers like old media. But wait, wasn’t that the whole damn point? Wasn’t new media supposed to be creative nirvana for entrepreneurial writers and directors? A place where we could have total artistic freedom and make a few dollars at the same time?
The deeper I delved into new media, the more I began to covet old media. I suddenly longed for the days when people watched TV on goddamn TVs.
Anyway. After a few months of negotiating this nonsense, I finally gave up and decided to produce more episodes myself. The truth is, even if we closed a deal, the dollar amounts we were discussing would have barely covered the production costs.
That being said, I’m glad we produced more episodes. It was ultimately more fun than expensive—and more therapeutic than stressful. Hopefully, the bitter and not-so-bitter lawyers of the world will watch and enjoy. But if they don’t, that’s okay too. Like I said, I did this for me. Not them.