THE RULES OF HOLLYWOOD [By Dani Shear] Beware of the No-Mommies Rule and Other Free Advice

Four years ago i was acting in a one-person show written by
—well, my person. “Everybody has a story,” a consultant advised,  
so my story was about traveling the country with a large dysfunc-
tional family. It was called “Les Miserables.”

Six months, five theaters and $3,000 later I figured out that not
everybody necessarily wanted to hear that story.

But a show runner braved my show and asked me afterward if I’d thought
about trying to write for television. “You’re a good writer,” she said. I pitched
her an idea for a new TV show I had swimming around in my head. “You
should definitely write it,” she said. “Someone will bite.”

In Hollywood, free advice flows like honey, much of it wrong. I promptly
signed up for a television writing class at UCLA Extension. Our teacher
advised us to write spec scripts of shows we loved. “What about an original
show?” I asked. “Don’t waste your time,” he answered. “Nobody wants to read
a pilot from a new writer.”

I chose my specs as carefully as some people choose names for their off-
spring: A “Sex and the City” spec to show how hip,
young and progressive I was. A “Will & Grace” spec
to show, well, how hip, young and progressive I was.
And a “Bernie Mac” spec to express my inner Nipsey
Russell. In my spare time, I wrote my pilot.

A year later, when I was very pregnant, I got a
meeting with an agent, my first Great White. “Now,
I want you to place an obscenely large object in front
of your belly so that he won’t know you’re pregnant,”
my manager advised. “Nobody wants to represent
a writer who’s a mommy.”

I tried to find a ficus plant or a well-behaved chi-
huahua. The first was too heavy and the second was
nonexistent. I settled for a notebook. I even wore fake
glasses to make me look smart.

My meeting went great, when the agent looked at
me. Most of the time, he was looking at his BlackBerry
or at my manager, who happens to be easy on the eyes.
His assistant was very nice. She brought me bottled
water and gave me a wink. “Is it a boy or girl?” she in-
quired. “I’m just really bloated,” I said, winking back.

On my third day at Cedars, recovering from my
C-section, I received a beautiful bouquet of flowers
from my manager. There was a note: “The agent didn’t
like your pilot. He thinks you should call the Neptune
Society and bury it at sea. Oh, and mazel tov.”

A thousand diapers later, a friend e-mailed me
about a writing contest sponsored by Slamdance
and Fox 21; the winner would get a blind script deal.
You had to submit an original pilot. “It’s the only pilot I’ve ever written, and
I think it’s funny,” I told myself as I dropped it in the mail.

There were 500 entries. I honestly never expected to hear anything.
I didn’t even obsess about it. When I made the top three, I was forced to travel
to Park City, Utah, and leave my 2-year-old behind for the first time. At the
awards ceremony, the judges announced the winner like a beauty contest.

“And the second runner-up is . . . ”—and lo and behold, it wasn’t me. “And the
first runner-up is . . . ”—and praise Jesus, Moses and Sarah Jessica Parker, it still
wasn’t me. “And the winner is . . . ”—and it was me.

By that point in the process, I was drunk, sick and emotional. My speech
wasn’t pretty. I held out a picture of my daughter, Sydney, and cried like
Tammy Faye.

“This is my 2-year-old,” I wailed. “I’m a mommy!”