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Why I'm Questioning My Career, Questioning Myself, and Perhaps Unfairly Angry at Alan Ball

Alan Ball:  Unfair, Yes, but Its All Your Fault

Alan Ball: Unfair, Yes, but It's All Your Fault

Alan Ball probably doesn't even know I'm angry. I mean, why would he? But I can't shake it. See, I loved "Six Feet Under," and have always considered Ball to be one of those unpredictable, bold, and truly brilliant storytellers that are just so rare in film and TV today. When Ball's new show, "True Blood," hit HBO, I watched, and thought it was amazing. Weird, funny, unforgettable.

So why am I mad? Oh yeah, sorry. Well, since I left my nice warm reporter's job in Miami at WPLG, I've been blogging away and engaging with new media gurus and pondering a digital future--all from my perch here in Brooklyn. Exciting, rewarding, but financially draining. I've put in hours freelancing at the New York Post, and started work on a new online channel devoted to wine and travel that will launch this summer, but as for the bottom line, well, it's been tight.

How is any of this Alan Ball's fault? Sorry. I'm getting to that. You see, I've been swimming in the ice cold water of New York's media world, where there are lots of journalists on the verge of hypothermia, but not many rescue boats with warm blankets. Nobody's hiring. And the gigs that come up--the interesting ones--well, they don't pay. (You know that "next financial model" stuff we've all been talking about? Yeah, well, the folks out there experimenting and trying new things...they'll let you in on the proverbial ground floor, and you'll feel connected to creativity and the thrill of maybe discovering a new way of telling stories, but the cell phone bill still won't get paid.) And that brings me to Alan Ball.

I've tried everything. I've met with marketing and ad agencies, figuring a good storyteller is a good storyteller, and reporters know how to boil things down and explain them, and the good ones really know how to write, right? Well, try telling that to someone even at a funky SoHo marketing shop. You get this odd stare and head tilt, as if they were a puppy that's just heard a strange sound. "But... you haven't worked at an agency..." And they can't get past that.

Oh. Rats. Alan Ball. Sorry. I'm getting there.

A friend who was unceremoniously dispatched from his reporting job at WNBC recently shared his experiences finding work as a talented reporter and writer in this environment. He thought to himself, "if there's one thing I know how to do, it's look into a camera and talk." He's found work doing commercials and acting.

HBO's True Blood: I Coulda Been a Star

So there I was a week ago in the oh-so-strange world of waiting my turn to audition for Alan Ball's "True Blood." The new season's in production, and one of the characters is a news anchor who does a weekly segment on vampires. Now, like my WNBC friend, if there's anything I know how to do, it's be a news reporter or anchor. I wouldn't really be "anchoring" so much as "playing one on TV." (And I wasn't the only out-of-work local newser who had that idea. Scanning down the sign-in sheet for the HBO audition session, I noticed five well-known names who were also giving the fake news a try)

While I have no real acting training, I thought I sounded just like an anchor during my audition. The casting agent sent me off with a cheery "have a great weekend" and a reminder to leave my phone number so they could reach me over the weekend if I got a callback.

And you now see where this is going. No callback. And I'm left to wonder: am I not even qualified to pretend to be a journalist now? I can't pass for one in fiction? I must admit it had me questioning everything, from whether I'd ever hold a mic in my hand again as a reporter, to whether I could hold out long enough for my inroads into new media to finally produce a paycheck.

Or, I could just blame Alan Ball.

Comments (8) Trackbacks (2)
  1. Oh you’re totally “qualified” for that gig!…problem is, you look like one of the Vampires….they will probably go with a “blue eyed blond”! :(

  2. Naaaaadine!

    You know, before I decided on my “it’s all Alan Ball’s fault” concept, I was playing with the “I look too much like a vampire” theme. If I ever forgive Alan Ball for what he’s done, I’ll go back to that. But yeah, it would’ve been a sweet, sweet gig…


  3. oxoxoxoxoxxo….. we all miss YOU! uncanny Vampire resemblance or not!

  4. This is a version of a story playing out all over the country. I think the growing legions of laid off and freelance journalists out there are trying to find the new road to paid journalism. Ultimately the answer will come from your ranks. As is the case with everything, it’s the timing. I would encourage you and all of the others out there trying to find their way to keep showing up at ad agencies and acting auditions. I would also encourage you to continue building your own vessel. Use the available technology and adopt every profitable model that’s out there. Maybe it’s grant money or maybe it’s tied to Kindle or Twitter. Maybe its live streaming as I think it is. The hybrid new model is out there. It’s just a matter of time.

    Head up, Mark!

  5. Ouch. Well told. Your willingness to lay bare the insecurities of any ex-TV goon looking for work is courageous, and in quantities I totally lack. And you’re hustling, in a good way. You’ll prosper.

  6. Eric,

    You’re absolutely right that those of us who have jumped or been thrown from the boats are thinking with a unique focus on finding the answer to the question that will ultimately affect everyone in the business: what next. It’s frightening…and yet intensely exciting.


  7. As they say, you can save your face, or save your ass, but you can’t do both.


  8. mark, this was great…you are great..and you have guts… thanks for opening up & taking an honest look at this new world we are in and writing about it.

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