In autumn 2000, while clerking for Judge Browning on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, I received an email from Stanford Law School alumni services letting us Class of ’99 alums know about a new TV show that a company called Renegade 83 Entertainment was developing. This company was seeking cast members for a show they pitched as “L.A. Law meets The Real World.”
(Renegade 83 Entertainment, by the way, also produces the show Blind Date. This is the show where a man and a woman go on a blind date and we get to see what they’re allegedly thinking in the form of a thought balloon. I saw one episode of Blind Date in which a woman had thought balloons coming from her chest. Classy.)
At the time, the concept for this “reality law show” was this: eight attorneys, of all different levels of experience, form a new law firm in Los Angeles. They actually practice law and try real cases. All clients/cases will be pre-selected by the studio. In exchange for free legal services, these clients waive their right to privacy and attorney-client privilege by having all conversations video-taped. More than likely, the cases will be settled in binding arbitration to obtain a quick and final decision, which would ensure that the nationally-broadcasted conversations not be used against them in future litigation.
However, the focus of the show will not just be on the legal developments, but, allegedly, the inter-office politics of the attorneys and any potential romances that develop. Attorneys will live in various houses paid for by the show and their entire lives will be captured on film.
Given my belief that the rest of the world could not possibly continue living without watching me floss on their boob tube once a week, I sent in my application.
I didn’t hear back for several months. I assumed that the reality shows’ unspoken ban on people of Japanese ancestry was still in effect.
Also, the application said they were seeking “attractive, interesting, smart” lawyers. I figure 2 out of 3 wasn’t good enough — and that’s being generous — and “attractive to flies” didn’t count.
Then, in January 2001, I receive a call from Greg Goldman, Renegade 83’s Director of Development, notifying me that I made the first cut. Hooray! To qualify for the second cut, I was instructed to send in a 15-minute video tape of me being “myself” in front of the camera — by the following week! Yikes! So, with the help of my bigtime pal Gary Chandler, I managed to make a video — all in a single day’s work.
Most of my audition video consists of me talking about myself, interspersed with clips of me on The Price is Right, playing music, and my dancing/singing cow act in the law school musical. I generally ignore the suggested list of “things to discuss if you can’t think of anything to say or do.” One of their suggestions, however, was to deliver a mock opening statement or closing argument. This, I decide to do.
So I write a humorous mock opening statement defending my fictional client, “Greg Goldman.” But instead of just reading it in front of the camera, Gary and I find amusing San Francisco backdrops and he films me delivering the opening statement in a bunch of public places, completely unannounced. In a single afternoon, we manage to capture me delivering the statement to people on a MUNI Bus, inside Victoria’s Secret, on the escalators of the San Francisco Shopping Centre, in McDonalds, on a cable car, at the entrance of an adult movie theatre, and in a public restroom. I send in the tape, hoping to make the second cut.
Weeks later, I get another call from Greg Goldman.
I make the second cut! He tells me he loved the video. Says it was the most hilarious audition tape he’s seen.
I ask him how many people applied for the show and how many made the second cut. He tells me that over 700 people applied. And 25 were chosen for the second cut. I’m in the final 25!
I also ask him what television network picked up the show, in light of an article about the show in the Daily Journal, which claims that a “major network” has picked up the show. I think to myself that this show will air on UPN, at 2 a.m., if reruns of Homeboys from Outer Space are cancelled. Instead, he tells me that ABC will be airing the show. On PRIME TIME. And they’ve picked up at least 6 episodes, without a pilot.
ABC – PRIME TIME!
At this point, I’m giddy as a little girl on ecstasy. ABC and Renegade pay for my flight to Los Angeles to do a videotaped interview with the casting director, as well as the “Managing Partner” of the firm, Geoff Feiger. If you’ve never heard of Geoff, he’s probably most well known for being Jack Kevorkian’s lawyer. He also successfully brought a wrongful death suit against the Jenny Jones Show on behalf of the family of the gay man who was killed by a man to whom he expressed his secret love for on the show. Geoff Feiger is obviously a media hound who loves those high profile cases. In addition, he was the Democratic nominee in the Michigan gubernatorial race several years ago. (He lost.) Incidentally, his brother is a member of The Knack, the band most famous for the song “My Sharona.”
So I fly to LA. My, classmate, friend and favorite Swedish blond in the world, Lina Ericsson, not only picks me up from LAX and hosts me the night before, but she also serves as my fashion consultant and insists on ironing out every shirt wrinkle.
The next morning, a Renegade 83 shuttle picks me up from the airport and takes us to this gorgeous, palacious home in Palos Verdes (the house where they film “Chains of Love,” another quality show produced by Renegade 83 Entertainment). I quickly meet and hang out with all the other 24 finalists.
I predicted the other finalists there were going to be freaks or geeks with no interesting practice and a law degree from a mediocre school (e.g., San Bernadino Legal Academy, Long Beach Night School of Law, Yale Law School, etc.). As it turns out, the others are all very interesting, very smart, and very attractive. Rats! One guy looks just like Mike Tyson, except with no lisp. Another guy looks like Sylvester Stallone, except with a lisp. Another woman looks like Meg Ryan. Many work as DAs or Public Defenders. Some are sole practitioners or serve in interesting public interest positions. I probably have the least interesting job, which fits nicely with my being the youngest (i.e., most inexperienced) person there and the only person who was seconds from conducting Beethoven’s First Bowel Movement in my slacks.
Many of them have fascinating stories. One woman is half-Jewish, half-Vietnamese, and model material. Her mother lived in Vietnam and was impregnated by an American GI who didn’t know he fathered a child. For all her childhood, she knew nothing about her father. Finally, after spending her life tracking down her father, she finally meets him — one year before his death. How am I supposed to beat this story? Talk about how I once got suspended in high school? The only edge I have on this woman is that she is happily married (read: BORING FOR TV) and my breasts are slightly bigger.
It’s now my turn to be videotaped.
The interview with Geoff Feiger goes great. The interview is conducted in pairs — I was coupled with an intelligent, attractive, lesbian SF attorney, who was just like me, except for the part about being intelligent, attractive, or an attorney. He askes her which Ricky she prefers: Ricky Martin or Ricki Lake. She chooses Martin. He asks me the same question. I say, “I got one word for you: Schroeder.” He seems to really enjoy my response. I think it’s lame.
I do get in a respectable soundbite, however, about why my most recent dating experience ended. I state, “well, it eroded when we realized we weren’t religiously compatible. She was Catholic and realized she needed somebody Catholic. Or if not Catholic, at least Christian. Or if not Christian, at least religious. Or if not religious, at least not the anti-Christ.” At the end of the interview, Geoff Feiger complements both of us on a fun and lively interview.
My interview with the casting director feels sub-par, however. I end up talking about some random topics: why I generally didn’t date Asian people in my hometown (“Because I didn’t want to date my cousin or my mom”), my tendency to judge potential dates by their CD collection (“If she owns any Counting Crows, forget it.”), and my belief that there are aliens in my stomach that must communicate with the mothership, which is why–no matter how cold it is–I always end up sleeping on top of the covers with my shirt pulled up. Several times, I stare into the camera, with a face that says “what the hell am I talking about?”
I leave LA knowing that I wasn’t supersized for the interview. I probably came up several fries short of a Happy Meal. Which is to say, I don’t think I make the cut.
Greg tells the finalists that we should hear “in a few weeks.”
A few weeks pass. No word.
Another few weeks pass. Crickets.
Finally, on April 9, 2001, I send Greg an email wondering whether I should interpret the weeks of silence as a sign that I didn’t get chosen. I tell him that I need to make plans with regard to my job and potential summer activities, and wasn’t sure whether to commit to anything before hearing from him.
FIVE MINUTES AFTER I SEND THE EMAIL, he calls me! And he tells me the following: First of all, the 25 finalists have been reduced to 15. And I am still in the running. (At this point, it took me every ounce of restraint to not scream in jackpot-winner joy.) Second of all, he tells me not to make any plans for the summer. Why? Because I am “seriously in the running.” Third, he tells me that every single Renegade and ABC exec who watched my video tape and my video interview segments thought me “hilarious” and “loved me.”
However, they can’t make a decision yet, because in the group of finalists, they didn’t get enough single people. He says, “everybody is either married or in a serious relationship … except for you.” To which I reply, “tell me about it!” And he drops a bombshell: they are going to conduct an additional search to try to get more single attorneys.
My heart sinks. This means that I’ll just be competing with the rest of the world again. If they find four fabulous single people in this second search, for example, they have no reason or incentive to keep me. It’s not like there’s a seniority system and it’s not like they’ve invested that much in me. (Sigh.) I think of drowning my sorrows in liters of Dr. Pepper on the rocks.
However, he then proceeds to tells me, “oh, by the way, I think we found this hot Asian chick for you.” The implication being that he’s trying to find another single woman who is compatible with me to put on the show — with hopes, obviously, that we hook up and have hot Asian children. Of course, I never indicated and never have had a preference for any racial category of women, but hey, who am I to be politically correct when Hollywood is trying to hook me up? He clearly seems to be operating under the assumption that I’m in like Flynn.
So, in sum, the worst possible perspective: I’m competing with the rest of the world again. Best possible outlook: Greg Goldman is conducting a nationwide search to find the ideal mate for me.
Two weeks later, Greg calls me again and leaves a voicemail message at work stating that they are very close to making a decision and I am very much in the running.
Very much in the running!
Score! Holy future TMZ material, Batman! If this actors’ and writers’ strike happens, I could be the replacement for Dylan McDermott. I have delusions of getting mentioned in Teen People.
Days later, I hear from a friend about her friend whose friend is a reporter with the New York Times and wants to interview me about the show. The New York Times! Before I agree, however, I am barely smart enough to ask Greg for permission; he tells me that ABC wants everybody to avoid any press until production begins. So no interview.
Does this mean I made it?
I wait on pins and needles, or, sometimes, pans of noodles.
I get a call from Greg Goldman.
May 8, 2001 A.D. at approximately 4 p.m. PST.
The entire casting process finally comes to an end.
He tells me two things:
First of all, all the directors, bigwigs, and executives who were involved in the casting process made a list of who they wanted in the 8-person cast. Apparently, they were unanimous in at least one of their picks: me. Greg says they were all in hysterics over my interview. No doubt on my being part of the cast.
Wow! I have delusions of being in a corner square on the “Reality Law Show” edition of Hollywood Squares. (What now, Jim J. Bullock?)
Second of all, he tells me the show has been cancelled.
The show was cancelled.
The show is cancelled.
It takes a good minute for this to sink in.
The show is kaput.
Yes, ABC pulled the plug. Completely. No plug residue left.
This is one outcome I never imagined. I thought I might be rejected from the outset. I thought I might get close, but be denied a cigar. I thought I might get on and become the next Asian American male reality television star. Actually, the first Asian American male television star. I thought I might get on the show, but no episode would air because ABC would realize that lawyers’ lives are generally uninteresting. I thought I might get asked to be an expert witness on gynocomastia.
I never thought I would make the FINAL CUT, and then find out in the same conversation that the show was cancelled.
I should have seen this coming, however, when the writers’ strike was settled (making it likely the actors’ strike will settle, and thereby restoring next season’s original programming). Clearly, the studios have less need to hedge their bets by developing every reality law concept in sight.
Apparently, ABC was also concerned with some of the legal or ethical aspects of the show. I don’t blame them. Professional Irresponsibility could be the name of the show.
So Greg says it’s “95% dead.” NBC and ABC previously engaged in a bidding war over the show. NBC obviously lost the bidding, but as a result, they started production on a competing reality law show where they follow around District Attorneys in their jobs. So as a result of this show, NBC is out of the question, and it’s unlikely CBS, FOX, or UPN will bite, based on previous negotiations. While there is still some possibility that it might get picked up (especially if the actors’ strike goes forth), Greg made it crystal clear that nobody should assume the show would happen. Greg himself sounded very disappointed and distraught.
Unfortunately, this is the end of the story.
So no reality TV life for me.
But strangely, I receive satisfaction from the fact that I effectively made the final cut. I feel like I placed my self-esteem on the line and put my ego in a defenseless and vulnerable place to see whether others could be convinced (as I was) that I could seriously deliver, if chosen. And I now know that others recognized I had something to offer.
No doubt, however, I’m disappointed. But as the most famous Asian American reality show star — William Hung — says, “I have no regrets!”
Postscript: The idea for this was revived again in 2004 with David E. Kelley attached. I received a call letting me know that my name would be passed on to “Mr. Kelley,” but I never heard back and I never followed up. Calling it “The Law Firm,” NBC picked the show up as a summer show but quickly dumped it after a few episodes, which were only viewed by about thirty seven Americans too lazy to change the channel.