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Through brutal honesty and concrete advice, the Reluctant Genius effectively helps you manage all aspects of your job and career. With 18 years of experience in Hollywood, the RG has figured out how to make it to the top AND SURVIVE, somewhat unscathed.

Available for consulting services and speaking engagements. Write to: info@thereluctantgenius.com


Guest Blogger writes: "BEWARE OF THE FRENEMY!"

This story was submitted by a friend and fellow Reluctant Genius reader, Alana Smithie*. Her name has been changed to protect her innocence. The names of others and the actual TV show have been changed to the protect the guilty. All the rest is most unfortunately true. --The Reluctant Genius

“All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”
– Leo Tolstoy

Anyone who knows me will vouch that I’m a tough cookie. I’ve enjoyed a long career in television, but it’s never the good experiences that teach you valuable lessons, it’s the bad ones.

Many years ago I worked on “Moment of Crisis” (MOC), an award-winning, prime time, news magazine, famous for its investigative journalism and notorious for its balls-to-the-wall style.

My first day, I was ushered to an empty desk in a tiled “office,” which had once been a bathroom. Barely six feet away, lit by a single lamp and shrouded a cloud of whirling cigarette smoke, was a red lipped, Elvis-haired woman, clad in black from head to toe. Morticia’s high pitch ricocheted off the tile, as if she were talking long distance, on a really bad connection… to Uzbekistan.
Morticia was a Goth drama queen from Queens. She dressed like a Chasidic rabbi, even in the sweltering July Manhattan heat, when she banished her bra to let her 44 DD high beams blind her co-workers.

As luck would have it, I reported directly to the Executive Producer, with whom I enjoyed an excellent relationship. In contrast, Morticia’s hateful rants about her supervisor alternated between rapid David Mamet-speak, “that-matha-facka-c*#t-face-I’m-pourin-arsenic-in-her-fuckin-lahtay,” and a unique type of crying, which sounded, a lot like cats screwing.

Morticia’s venting about her superior had not helped her mood. She became depressed. Worried, I asked my boss to talk her off the ledge. Morticia manipulated the situation so brilliantly that before long she had coveted my position of reporting directly to the EP, and I was now reporting to her former supervisor.

Unlike the other producers on the show, who had prestigious credits and won national awards, Morticia wasn’t an intellectual. She had worked her way up from the secretarial pool and was originally assigned celebrity profiles, which most of us hated. Her interests were drinking, clubbing, undesirable men, and money. In that order.

When Morticia’s associate producer brought her a potential crime story, the young woman got scolded.

“If you’re going to pitch me a something, get your facts straight!”

Baffled, the AP defended herself, “I don’t understand, Morticia. The story checks out.”

“I’m taking about the 50 States!” hissed, a frustrated Morticia.

“Sorry, I don’t follow. The suspect is wanted in all fifty states.”

“Why isn’t he wanted in all 52 states?”

“Fifty states. Fifty. There are just fifty states. There are only FIFTY states in the United States,” the girl kept repeating.

“What are you, fucking Rainman? Hello?!!??? Snapped, Morticia, loud enough to be heard in Hoboken. “Hawaii and Puerto Rico!”

Whatever Morticia lacked in education and pedigree she made up for in schmooze and shrewdness. She made no effort to hide her jealousy of other women’s success and was unapologetic about abusing the young women on her staff.

My job on the other hand, was to put asses in seats. Asses attached to people, with good teeth, and screwed up lives. As a result, I never had an uninterrupted meal, a weekend, or even a day when my dreaded beeper or phone didn’t ring.

MOC’s deplorable working conditions spread through the newsroom grapevine. Before you could say “Prozac,” producers were drinking heavily and popping antidepressants instead of peanuts at happy hour, while support staff took turns barfing in the bathroom.

The line between life and work was blurred. I too drank the Kool-Aid. It is impossible to spend that many hours, pour your heart and soul into the work, without making a commitment. Was it Stockholm syndrome? When had I bonded with my jailers? Between booking my show and writing my script? It had occurred so gradually that I barely noticed.

I was on call 24/7, which was common because of the investigative nature of our shows. It was also common for guests to attempt to cancel their appearances when they realized that intimate or incriminating facts would be broadcast on TV. My job was to calm their fears and reel her ass back into the hot seat, so that the show could go on.

Morticia was promoted when a supervisor left on sick leave. She approached management and threatened to quit if she “wasn’t allowed to grow.” A combination of threats and flattery landed her the job.

I knew Morticia’s faults, but I had also seen her vulnerability. We had bonded on a difficult show. Like war buddies, we had been in the trenches together. We shared our frustrations and we made each other laugh. I accepted her. She was like the crazy aunt in the attic. I knew she was bats, but I loved her anyway.

Morticia wants you. She needs an experienced producer and you two are friends!” declared the executive producer. There wasn’t room for discussion. Morticia was my new boss.

Having shared an office with Morticia had given me ample opportunity to observe her management style. The words cotton and plantation came immediately to mind. I was by no means a pushover, Yet, I had serious reservations about reporting to Morticia. But I wanted to be a team player, so I said nothing.

Morticia, wearing her toothiest grin, gleefully informed me that she had “gifted” me her former production team. What she meant to say was, “You won’t even get your period without my knowledge. That’s how far up your snatch, my snitches will be.”

Morticia made my life hell. She was a micromanager. When I tried to discuss an issue with her, she regarded it as a challenge to her authority. When my show was good, she took credit. If there was a problem, she made me look bad. Despite the roadblocks, my team produced highly rated shows. Yet, Morticia continued her sabotage.

Life outside of work ceased to exist. I barely saw my husband and little boy. My confidence eroded. I was second-guessing myself. I had become a battered woman. I stopped speaking out. My creativity suffered. I had lost my voice.

So, here I was in the EP’s office, in tears. Not glistening, doe-eyed, dignified teardrops. I’m talking Niagara Falls. Crying that involved raccoon eyes and snot. Crying like I hadn’t done since the fifth grade. Tears filled with outrage and indignation. These were “Are you out of your fucking mind? “ After all the times I’ve disappointed my kid, for this job?” kind of tears.

The EP’s office felt like enemy territory. I wasn’t there to disparage Morticia, but I wanted a transfer to another supervisor. Morticia had become the FRENEMY! The woman I had helped when her boss abused her had just about broken my spirit.

“It seems you have a problem with authority.” the EP said.

“I worked with you, the ultimate authority figure. Did you think I had a problem?” She looked away and didn’t answer, but I could see the damage had been done. Morticia’s lies had turned her against me, and there was no reversing it.

“I really wish that you had come to me earlier. I would have transferred you and …...” she said, dropping her sentence.

“I hoped it would get better. But you could switch me out now.”

“This just isn’t working out. I have to support my supervisors,” she said flatly.

After six years of hard work, it ended with little more than, “I quit!” “You’re Fired!”

What’s the lesson? There are many: I’m about to make major some generalizations, but after 30+ years in the workplace I’ve observed the following:

• Gay people tend to support one another, African Americans support each other, unfortunately the sisters are doing it to each other. Women tend to be tougher bosses than men and they tend to be tougher on other women.

• As women, we’re influenced by the people around us. On a show the EP is the Homecoming Queen and the supervisors are the popular girls, the wanna-bees, who derive their power from the queen. The queen gets her intel from the wanna-bees who desperately cling to their position. So when there’s a problem they will blame someone else to deflect responsibility from themselves. Basically, television shows are like high school except all the chicks are 40 somethings. If the “it” girls are mean, then the environment of the job site will reflect that. And since we women communicate everything through relationships, being “included” or “shunned” can be the difference between success and failure in a job.

What I learned:

1) Don’t ever consent to work with a friend whom you don’t respect as a leader and as professional;

2) If you’re lucky enough to have your supervisor hand pick you, then try to report directly to her. Guard that access with your life. This is an opportunity to get noticed and promoted. I filed this one under, “No good deed ever goes unpunished.”

3) Don’t spend too much time feeling devastated if a friend betrays you. It sucks! Get drunk with another friend then LET IT GO. Nursing the wound will delay healing and paralyze you.

4) Make an escape plan. Figure out a way to work with someone else.

5) Act ASAP, don’t give the FRENEMY time to poison the well and turn your boss. Nip the problem in the bud. Seek advice from someone you can trust on how to handle this.

6) Bosses have a short memory, like cats, they live in the present and don’t remember that you were great 3 years ago. So be don’t think you live off your past successes.

7) Don’t be a chump. Is your workload double (or triple) what it’s been on other shows? Do you work in a place where there’s yelling, name calling or a revolving door of new bodies? If Yes, then you may have to say Adios … because that’s not a job, it’s a chain gang.

8)Pay Attention: If you haven’t seen your husband, your baby or the bottom of your hamper in weeks, it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities. No job is worth alienating your family over.

9) If you’re truly miserable with your supervisor, and you’ve attempted to discuss the problem to no avail, try talking to someone higher up. But tread lightly, and really think it through, because it can backfire.

10) If it continues to get worse, consider getting another job.

11) Forget about Meritocracy. Just because you are good at your job doesn’t mean you’ll get rewarded or promoted. Toot your own horn. You’re not Lana Turner, so don’t wait to be discovered.

--written and submitted by guest blogger, Alana Smithie*

LAURA INGRAM -- "DON'T COME IN MY EAR" -- This sums up life in TV



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