Wrong number makes Hollywood connection

September 04, 1991|By Bill Laitner | Bill Laitner,Knight-Ridder

DETROIT -- Even if you love TV sitcoms, would you watch a show as zany as this?

Harvard Business grad crunching numbers in suburban Detroit dials wrong number in Los Angeles, gets recording telling how to apply for TV comedy writer, goes home, knocks off script, lands contract and starts packing with large grin and stars in her eyes.

Ridiculous, huh?

Yet this is happening to Jacque Edmonds, a Yellow Pages manager at Ameritech Publishing in Troy, Mich., until last week.

Edmonds soon will be wearing beach clothes in a job where jeans are formal attire. And nosing around the Disney studios on her way to monthly staff meetings, turning left by the Big Rabbit at the intersection of Mickey Drive and Dopey Lane.

Hey, what's that wrong number?

"I still don't know it," says a chuckling Edmonds, 30, of Detroit.

"Last January I was calling a friend of mine from business school who works in merchandising for Disney. I must've misdialed, and I got a voice-mail message that said thanks for calling about our new screenwriter development program.

"I thought 'What luck!' So I hit the automatic re-dial on my phone and listened to it about four times, to get the address and everything.

"I figured I could write a half-hour show. So I went to the bookstore and bought all the books about writing a script.

"For TV writing, you had to submit a script for an existing television show. So I sat there with a stopwatch and timed everything -- when the jokes were, how the long the commercials were."

Edmonds picked "A Different World," a sitcom, light as air yet chained to a rigid formula: 22 minutes of lightning pacing, non-stop banter and prescribed turning points.

Her background in writing? Business reports. Lots of business reports, in five years as a strategic planner for Ameritech Publishing -- analyzing competition, checking out potential acquisitions, projecting how well Yellow Pages ads will sell next year.

"I have a very powerful calculator," she says, in mock seriousness. Oh, and before Harvard she spent a whole summer in Brooklyn, N.Y., writing book reviews for a community paper. A whole summer!

In Hollywood terms, Edmonds was less than green. She was a nobody.

But then, from the land of fantasy and real-life rags-to-riches came a phone call. They loved her script. Would she chat for an hour with two sheiks of silliness? Would she ever.

Bingo! Scored again. Would she come to California? In late June, Edmonds flew out for a morning of interviews with the heads of comedy development at Disney Television.

"They asked me what makes me laugh. I sort of got off the hook because they kept looking at me and then finally everyone cracked up and started saying how ridiculous it was to get paid to ask questions like that. I think I finally said I liked puns, silly humor, but not slapstick."

They had other questions, too. She must've said the right things because, jackpot! One-year contract with two one-year renewal options. Her income could soon be California dreamy.

"They're not paying me millions, not yet. I got a little raise. But it's totally different because it's a base salary, and then I get paid more for the shows they actually produce. So if I write a lot, I could make a lot."

More than the dough, Edmonds will savor the freedom. Her new bosses told her, "Write at home, write in your car, write at the beach, we don't care. Just show up with the lines."

"My instructions are, go watch a lot of TV and tape the shows I miss. Other than that, just stay up late and write scripts," she says, barely suppressing laughter.

She's assigned to a pool of writers at Disney headquarters, expected to pump out paper for three existing shows -- "Golden Girls," "Empty Nest" and "Blossom" -- as well as three new fall sitcoms.

Edmonds was hired under the Walt Disney Studios Fellowship Program, "sort of an apprentice position," says Janet Blake, who heads the program at Walt Disney Television.

A mere handful made it out of 1,600 applicants.

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