Gary Sperling

Ten years ago, I sat nervously in a producer’s office receiving my first writing assignment—a free-lance script for Darkwing Duck. The day after I delivered it, I was offered a staff job. Ten years and 10 series later, I haven’t quite left.

So, tonight I joined about 50 others at the Rotunda Dining Room on the studio lot for a dinner honoring TV animation employees who have been with the company for multiples of five years. Most were five- (pin) or 10-year (pin and plaque) vets, but there were a few 15s (pin and Sorcerer’s Apprentice statue) and 20s (pin, champagne, and gold ring).

“We don’t have your plaque,” Denise said in an apologetic rush as soon as I walked in. She assured me it was on order and apologized profusely again. “It’s OK,” I said and meant it. Singled out and forgotten? That’s “Diary” gold, Denise.

Fortunately, I was at the acerbic old-timers’ table. An event like this can’t help but prompt reflection, and the shared memories got dishy in a hurry. Soon we were called up one by one to receive our awards. I smiled for the camera, holding up someone else’s plaque.

Picture the moment the camera’s flash went off like in a bad art film, with the flash triggering a flood of memories from the past 10 years. They rush by in a series of rapid cuts:

—My father’s reaction upon learning that I was leaving the practice of law because I had actually gotten a writing job, albeit one writing for a crime-fighting Duck. “I knew you could do it. … I still think you’re an idiot.”

—The orientation dinner for my wife’s graduate program in developmental psychology. When one of the professors heard what I did, she fixed me with the kind of look you’d give a puppy that just chewed through your new Manolo Blahnik’s and said “There are some things I’d like to talk to you about.”  We left early.

—A letter I received from a novelist friend who was at the artist colony Yaddo. Apparently, his dinner companions were so tickled by the duck show I was working on at the time (yes, there’s been more than one) that they promptly came up with a long list of shows with “duck” in the title, featuring clever puns and arcane literary references. It’s always heartening to remember that whatever its effects on kids, my work can amuse drunken poets and sculptors.

—That really great show I did, the one that was cool to kids and funny to adults and made me foolish rich from the merchandising. (Wait. That’s from The Simpsons’10th anniversary, not mine.)

—Countless notes and comments given by countless executives in countless meetings flash by. For some reason the one that sticks is “Is that funny or is that just weird?”  Brother, I wish I knew.

—The first time I got nominated for an Emmy, we clearly had no chance of winning. On the way in, the garage elevator got stuck between floors, providing far more drama than the event itself. We lost to Batman. Years later, we got nominated again. This time, the ceremony was held in the same ballroom where I took the bar exam. Moments before it started, an older man had stood up and proclaimed, “I failed this thing four times in a row. It’s really hard!” The bar exam, that is, not the Emmys. We lost to Batman again.

—My father’s recent call in response to an L.A. Times article titled “Law Hot, Animation Not.” “So, you ever think about going back?” 

The jarring montage ends. I give back somebody else’s plaque and return to my table. I remember what I told my dad about going back—”Not unless somebody makes me.” Speaking of which, did I mention that my current contract only covers the show we’re developing and that if it doesn’t get picked up, I’ll be out of work in a month? I can’t help but wonder if my plaque will have arrived by then.

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