For years, I’ve written about people in Hollywood being paid exorbitant sums not to work. Executives fired with years remaining on contracts. Producers paid penalties because a pilot or series didn’t get ordered. Actors signed to lucrative holding deals that amounted to nothing.Until recently, though, it never occurred to me this might be an option in newspapers. Then I saw reports that outgoing New York Times CEO Janet Robinson will be paid almost as much next year ($4.5 million) not to work for the company as she would have had she stayed in her job. Granted, Robinson’s in management, but that’s still a very Hollywood-style exercise in something-for-nothing from the Old Gray Lady. Moreover, it follows lavish severance packages to the former CEO of Gannett, which publishes USA Today, and execs at Tribune. Had I known this was even a possibility, I’d have explored auctioning off my non-services ages ago. So here’s a thought — or really, more like an alternative-universe fantasy, a la “It’s a Wonderful Life” — just in time for the holidays: Pool resources if necessary, and make an offer to put me out of your misery. To those who find my reviews obnoxious, ill-informed and occasionally mean-spirited (and you’re out there; I have emails to prove it), it shouldn’t take that much to exile me to a beach somewhere. My needs — unlike my midsection, developed through painstaking years of cheesy food and sedentary TV viewing — are relatively modest, especially by the standards of, say, what it took to un-employ Charlie Sheen. Without much prodding, I can think of several reality-TV producers who would welcome the opportunity to put me out to pasture — and a couple of them could probably foot the bill out of petty cash. Either that, or from whatever dazzling pawn-shop/storage/gold-mining “finds” are unearthed during their shows. By the way, let’s not be selfish and limit this proposal to me. My guess is there’s a whole assortment of cranky critics and journalists who would happily keep their lacerating pans and pushy questions to themselves under the proper circumstances. So forget pay-or-play deals. Ante up, and a lot of ink-stained wretches would contentedly pass the time playing with Wii consoles, and watching black-and-white classics on TCM. Consider this one instance where ill-gotten Hollywood cash will actually buy you something tangible: Peace on Earth and good will toward men? Well, no, but at least less bad will toward absurd plot twists, groan-inducing punch lines and staged “spontaneous” moments. In short, by compensating critics not to criticize, you’d really be getting some bang (and by bang, I mean the serenity of absolutely no bang) for your bucks. How often can you say that? Early in my career, I vividly remember a senior executive getting unceremoniously dumped by his network (OK, ABC), and mentioning to one of his colleagues that it seemed like a shame. “Are you kidding?” he asked. “Everybody should get fired like that just once.” Although far too many journalists have been downsized in recent years, relatively few have experienced what it feels like to be fired “like that.” At the risk of speaking for them, I’m confident many would be willing to learn. Wasteful? Maybe, but an accepted (if occasionally griped about) cost of doing business. As they say in latenight infomercials, there’s more! Beyond just promising not to review your shows, I won’t even watch them. In fact, I’ll throw in that part as a bonus if you order right now. Oh sure, I hear naysayers and skeptics insisting how much we’d miss having platforms to vent our opinions, which is certainly true. Yet as much as I love the job, I don’t relish the prospect of watching a few dozen midseason pilots between now and the Rose Bowl so much that I couldn’t conjure another way to spend the time if pressed (and not incidentally, unburdened by concerns about mortgage payments). Conversely, I suspect many in Hollywood would secretly miss reading critical venom directed at others — especially friends and neighbors — but hey, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.
Data provided by:Nielsen Media Research (Preliminary Results)