The Power Behind the Throne, or Mr. Potato Head


Last month, after taking two promising television pilots to New York for “upfronts” -- the frenzied week in which the television networks set their fall schedules -- and returning home with neither show ordered, I decided to do the smart thing and assess my career options.

The trouble is, I don’t really have any. I’ve been a television writer for 14 years -- it’s really the only job I ever had -- and I’m not much of a catch, employee-wise.

I mean, where, exactly, are they hiring guys who need two assistants, a free lunch and unlimited tiny bottles of Evian water and who respond to all suggestions and criticisms with a cranky, defensive and uncooperative attitude? Oh, and I’m going to need a lot of money.


Nowhere, is where. But because I’m a writer, I’m willing to compromise a little for the sake of doing something interesting, which is why I recently paged through the want ads in the Economist looking for a new direction for the second act of my life.

The United Nations, the magazine said, is looking for a Chief of its Social Development Division in Latin America, which is a position that I’m considering. According to the job description, there’s a lot of “supervision” and “coordination,” which I can do pretty well, and some “preparation of relevant substantive documentation,” which sounds like something you learn on the job anyway. It’s not really clear what the chief is actually supposed to do, but I guess I should expect that kind of mission vagueness from the U.N.

The Central Intelligence Agency is in the market for a new Director of Operations, Clandestine Service. No, really, it’s in the Economist, the May 15 issue, right there on Page 19.

According to the ad, the CIA is looking for candidates with “superior intellect, ingenuity and courage.” (Check.) And the ability to face “complex, unstructured circumstances.” (You try pilot season!)

It’s especially interested in people who can make “independent decisions that may significantly affect outcomes.” This might be the most promising and natural career transition ever, and I’m pretty sure I can count on an offer, if I make it through the “medical and psychological exam, a polygraph interview and an extensive background investigation.”

Come to think of it, a better fit might be the Deputy Director General for Research for the International Potato Center. First, it’s based in Lima, Peru, which would put me for once on the right side of a real-estate swap. Also, I like potatoes.


The IPC seeks to reduce poverty and malnutrition and environmental degradation by increasing the use of “potato, sweet potato, and other roots and tubers,” which is OK, I guess. But I keep thinking: “So many carbs? Is that really something we should be encouraging?” So I like to think that I’m going to bring some “out of the box” thinking to the International Potato Center, although I’m not going to stress that in the interview, which I expect to be arranged any day now.

But the U.N., the CIA and the potato place are all a little downmarket, if you know what I mean. I close my eyes and, no matter how hard I try, I still see myself crammed into coach, battered briefcase on my lap, wearing an old gray suit and, if I take the potato job, an extra 40 pounds.

But the Economist comes to my rescue. In the April 3 issue, on Page 19, the queen of England is advertising for an Assistant Private Secretary. Perfect.

“The responsibilities of the Assistant Private Secretary include planning and organizing The Queen’s official programme,” goes the ad, and yes, they really do capitalize the word “the.” The Secretary -- whoops, sorry, I mean the Assistant Private Secretary (we’ll get into billing later) -- is also tasked with “working with Government departments and devolved administrations,” which, let’s be honest, sounds a lot like working at Disney.

The snag here is one I’m going to chalk up to snobbery: They’re looking for someone with “a well-developed knowledge of the U.K., the constitution and the British media.” My plan is to address this in the interview: I’m going to dazzle The Queen with my familiarity with all 12 episodes of “The Office,” compliment her on her sturdy shoes and saunter off, breezily telling her that I’m late for a country house weekend.

The rest of the job description is practically a prose description of me: “An outstanding candidate is required with excellent judgment” (me), “conceptual thinking and strategic planning ability” (me, me), good communication skills and “an ability to absorb and disseminate a large volume of information” (ever try to pitch a one-hour single-camera dramedy told in a multi-perspective format?).


And finally, they wrap it up by requiring that the candidate have “strong cultural sensitivity” and be a “team player with good interpersonal skills,” to which I respond: Hello! I’m a showrunner!

So it looks as if I’m going to be facing some pretty tough choices.

Like most of us, I guess, I’ve always wanted to work with The Queen on a project, but on the other hand, I still like the idea of living in Lima, working with tubers.

Either way, it’s nice to know I have options.


Rob Long, a contributing editor to National Review, was an executive producer of “Cheers.”