But What’s a Pushy Mother to Do?
I am in a room packed with crimped-haired Kellys and Guess-shirted Kimberlys and dude-clothed Curts. Fifty kids and their pushy moms are there to audition for “Pictionary"--the TV show.
The game show featuring child contestants is based on the popular board game Pictionary. It is the creation of Robert Pittman, who is described in his press kit as “the creator of MTV and . . . producer of the show that changed talk television, ‘The Morton Downey Jr. Show.’ ”
What kind of mother would cast her pearl before such folk? Me, I guess.
My daughter eagerly wanted to audition, although it is clear to me the cards are stacked against her. Almost everyone there is auditioning as part of a team. Next to me, a tall, tan 12-year-old (going on 27), a member of a team calling themselves the Lakers Girls, is filling out a form and listing her interests.
“Big Lakers fan . . . Salmon skier” she writes.
“What’s salmon skiing?” I ask.
“Slalom, " she says, looking at me strangely.
The auditions are held in a tiny room in a tall building in Century City, one of the many miniworlds that make up the mini-major metropolis of Los Angeles. Along one side of the room is a two-way mirror behind which Very Important Guys may be watching us. Finally, such a Guy appears and speaks to us. He is “Craig,” and he will determine who shall play and who shall cry.
“To get on this show I need good en-er-gy,” Craig says, giving each syllable equal emphasis. With his shoulder-length blond hair, well-trimmed beard and loafers without socks, Craig is some kind of daytime Don Johnson, a Pee Wee Crockett, a Buffalo Bob gone ‘80s. He is the ultimate Joe Hollywood or, these days, Craig Century City.
Why, I asked myself, was the man wearing shades at 3 in the afternoon in a dimly lit audition room? Was he checking out the long tan legs on the 12-year-old girls in short shorts? Or was that just my imagination?
“Stephanie, Penny, Jennifer, come on down!” Craig said, running an energy check on the first team. “Let’s have Kelly, Kimberly and Stacy. . . .” And so it went, through an endless series of nervous Kirstens and Kirks and Allisons and Heathers who liked basketball and swimming and Batman.
Sometimes Craig would leave and go behind the mirror while the auditions continued before his assistant. He advised, “We’re all equal here, so if I leave it doesn’t mean you kids are going to get missed out.”
While he’s out, a mom coaches her daughter: “Just say, ‘I’m a baton twirler and I’ve been in many parades.’ Smile. Sound real excited.”
Craig returns as Socrates, asking “OK. What do I mean by energy? If I call you, you say, ‘Hi, Fred, my name is Evan and I’m 18 years old.’ That’s what I mean by good en-er-gy.”
Then he changes the subject. “We’re going to have celebrities on the show. The guy from ‘Charles in Charge.’ The kid from ‘Married With Children.’ We already had Punky Brewster.
“All right, Eric, speak up kiddo,” Craig says.
“I like Batman,” Eric says, and adds, “I like to listen to music on MTV.” Did he see the press kit?
“Yeah. Yeah. We already got a Batman Fan Club,” an increasingly impatient Craig says. “So you guys are Superman Fans, OK? Next. Curt, come on buddy. Nice and loud.”
“Our team is called Cocktails and Dreams,” Curt says.
“I can’t have that. I have to have something kids can relate to. I can’t waste my time like this,” Craig says, casting an angry glance at some lesser person behind the mirror.
“How about the Bowling Team? You guys all bowl?” Craig asks.
A pert Curt yells, “Yeah!”
“That kid has good energy. You hear that?” Craig asks as the other kids stare at their feet like losers. “Next up, Reggie.”
“We like basketball,” Reggie says. “We call ourselves the Ballers.”
Craig takes a deep breath, “You know what? How about the Basketball Fans? Verrr-y good.”
“OK, the energy is very good. Let’s see if you can draw,” says Craig. “But I need my energy.”
We get a brief lesson in Pictionary art . . . how to draw a generic animal and indicate a cow by an udder or a chicken by a beak or a skunk by a stripe.
And then it’s over. Go home. “If you did well, I’ll call you today,” Craig says. “I might mix and match you kids. If you came with your friends, only one might make it.”
My daughter then explains that not making it is not the worst outcome. Not making it and having your friends make it is not the worst outcome. “The worst is if you get on and your friends don’t. Then your friends hate you.”
Before we leave, I take her to the building directory. I point out all the powerful people listed there. “Touch the name Michael Ovitz,” I tell her pointing to the famous agent’s name. “They say he’s the most powerful man in the movie business.”
She places her little 10-year-old pinkie on the big “O” and I say, “Feel the energy?”