Monday, June 4, 2007


Anybody who’s had dealings with small children knows the importance of “the pitch” — the succinct, attractive, punchy, mentally digestible presentation of a new idea. Faced with a frowning toddler, you have about six seconds to make the sale, and it has to be as sweet and as tight as a radio jingle. You will be pitilessly scanned for irregular body language, unevenness of tone, and pupil dilation. The air is electric with feral mistrust. If you start sweating, if they smell your fear — it’s over. Such was the predicament of the 50 apprentice filmmakers gathered in the premiere episode of Steven Spielberg & Mark Burnett’s ON THE LOT (Fox, Tuesday at 9 pm), since their first challenge was to pitch a movie idea to the Hollywood triumvirate of Garry Marshall, Carrie Fisher, and Brett Ratner. The hopefuls were touchingly hopeless: they dried up into gaping silence, or ranted like prophets, in visionary isolation. Jeremy Corray, expounding upon a torture scene that formed the centerpiece of a film he planned to call Synergilistic, took off his belt and thrashed the floor. “Mickey Castellucci is a run-of-the-mill New York mobster,” began another contestant, more promisingly, “but for the last 10 years, he’s been informing for the FBI. One day he wakes up and he’s turned into a six-foot-two-inch 300-pound mouse.” Quality stuff so far, but here — eclipsed, perhaps, by the brilliance of his own conceit — the pitcher appeared to enter some sort of fugue state or light aphasia. Suddenly, no more words: some helpless movements of the hands, and a bit of rocking back and forth. The judges looked at one another. “Then . . . ?” prompted Garry Marshall, to no effect.