The sitcom writer finally scripts his revenge

September 12, 1993|By Scott Eyman | Scott Eyman,Cox News Service

It's not like Geneva Holloway is an enormous star, some sort of paragon of the dramatic art. Her latest vehicle, a TV movie remake of "The Philadelphia Story" titled "It Happened in Philadelphia," was greeted by critics with undiluted venom: "I'm opposed to capital punishment but 'It Happened in Philadelphia' has turned me around," read one notice. "Ms. Holloway, like Lee Harvey Oswald, acted alone," was another. Someone who's studied acting with Darryl Hickman deserves gentler treatment.

But, despite her paucity of gifts, her monstrous caprices of vanity and selfishness, she's blond, and the camera loves her. Geneva is a sort-of, kind-of TV star, bigger than Susan Lucci, not as big as Jane Seymour. Think Valerie Bertinelli cross-bred with Roseanne Arnold.

This is where the writing/producing team of Jimmy Hoy and Neil Stein come in. Having worked in TV for a number of years, having paid for expensive divorces, they want their payoff now. They want a $50 million syndication deal. To earn that kind of money, they need a successful sitcom that runs five years. To float that kind of sitcom, they need a star. Someone like Geneva Holloway.

To make serious money, they're even willing to overlook her eccentricities, like her revelation that she is a survivor of a particularly brutal gang rape in a former life, during the French Revolution, when she was the Comtesse de la Malotte.

To their mounting horror, they discover that $50 million isn't nearly enough to put up with Geneva Holloway.

"Artistic Differences" is a novel about this doomed marriage of convenience. There's no real torment and almost no sex, but there are an awful lot of laughs. It's "Network" for the '90s, written from the viewpoint of an immensely genial, practiced and talented hack.

A lot of this is, of course, a writer's revenge. Author Charlie Hauck produced "Maude" for a number of years, has worked on numerous other sitcoms and undoubtedly knows whereof he speaks; of executives who have to justify their positions and don't care if they do it at someone else's expense; of actors, who act like children because anybody who can consistently deliver a 24 share is indulged in ways that would have shamed Himmler.

Mr. Hauck doesn't trouble himself with concurrent threads, or angst. Despite the horrors of Geneva and her extended circle of protectors -- including the requisite physical trainer more simian than human -- the tone is essentially sunny, as befitting a writer who can describe two writers as holding "a firm place in the midrange of high-end comedy writers." When death and dismemberment occur -- and they do -- it's conveniently off-screen.

Mr. Hauck seems to think television is better than it is, but perhaps he has grown to love the master who so mercilessly beats him. Still, anyone who writes a book as unpretentiously amusing as "Artistic Differences" is entitled to some benevolence and many readers.

ARTISTIC DIFFERENCES

Charlie Hauck

Morrow

238 pages. $21

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