Spring 2008

Trade Secrets

The veteran director of Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine explains why he never reads the trades—and you shouldn’t, either.


When I started working in television, like any typical newbie, I wanted to eagerly soak up everything and anything. One of the very first things I noticed was that on every desk, every table, in every office, on every soundstage, there rested the “trades.” They were everywhere I turned. And when they weren’t lying about, they were found being habitually read by the anxious brethren around me. Wanting to be a good standing member of the show-business flock, I, too, dove in and partook.

“How cool is this,” I thought. “Look at me, reading the trades. I’m getting all the dope. I’m on the inside. I’m in the know.” I was dazzled by the unique language peppered throughout, words like: “syndie,” “thesp,” “rep,” “scribe,” “rev,” “boffo,” and “biz.” This was exciting stuff. I could do this every day and never look back.

Two days later, I couldn’t take it anymore. This deal got made, that project bombed, this guy’s making seven figures, that exec got canned. There were ads to watch so and so on a very special episode of such and such show; there were rants, raves, picks, pans, money, egos, genius, disappointment, etc. It felt like the trades placed everyone under a microscope. I hadn’t really felt like that since junior high. Back in eighth grade, in a monthly newsletter that was written by a small group of “cool” kids, the rest of us were scrutinized, criticized, subjectified, and condescended to, complete with unflattering photos and questionable insider reporting. I am still haunted today by the unfair and inaccurate accusation of having worn a blouse. So, as I, thereafter, kept my distance from The Eagle Eye, I also decided to do the same with the trades, hoping to avoid any messing with my mind, as we used to say back in the day.

Soon my career began to grow and I was doing well. Every now and then a colleague would say they read about me in the trades via a mention, a review, or an announcement. But I wouldn’t bite. I stayed strong. I was a TV comedy director with a fantastic wife, four wonderful kids, and a beautiful home in a sleepy little town that the trades never heard of. Life was good. Life was normal. No trades to bother me. No trades messing with my head, as I still like to say.

A few years go by, and one morning, while awaiting the start of rehearsal, I accidentally spilled some tea on the stage floor. There were no napkins or paper towels, only the ever-present trades. I grabbed a couple, and as I sopped up my carelessness, I couldn’t help but notice the bottom paragraph of the front page. In large lettering it read, “Ackerman Inks Studio Pact Worth...”

Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no! Just like George Costanza when he saw Elaine Benes dance, I looked on in horror. That was me on the front page, and the trades were informing the entire industry how much money I was making. This was a complete disaster. But it was my own fault. Why did I spill that damn tea? Why did I use the trades? Why didn’t I use call sheets? Plus, I knew better than to read the trades. Ignorance is always bliss. What should I do? What should my next move be?

Wait, wait. Maybe, I’m taking this completely the wrong way. I mean, come on, wow, I’m on the front page. And check out the dough. I’m a bona fide helmer.

No, Andy. No. Stop this. This isn’t you. You’re being seduced. Your head’s being messed with. Also, the reality is much worse. Your colleagues will despise you. “Front page—are you kidding?” “That hack is getting paid that much?” “Look at that girly shirt he’s wearing.” It’s eigth grade all over again. So, if confronted, I’ll do what I always do in times of trouble: blame it on some other guy named Andy Ackerman. It works every time. An interesting aside: there really is another guy named Andy Ackerman. He’s a very successful TV producer. We’ve never formally met, but with a name like that, he’s got to be great, right?

So, a few more years go by. I’m doing fine. I’ve got a handle on things. I’m in control. I don’t even acknowledge the trades anymore. But that’s not quite true. I’ve found they come in handy when I’m stuck creatively. For example, when I need to guide an actor through a scene, and I suggest to him or her that to help their character feel a true and honest sense of terror “look into the antagonist’s eyes and imagine a full-page ad of yourself, complete with bad photo.” Or, with regard to composition, I’ll instruct the camera operator to frame the shot of the two lovers “so you can only see the headlines.” Other than that, I confidently ignore the trades. I am filled with bliss. I’ve still got the fantastic wife, wonderful kids, beautiful home in the sleepy little town. I haven’t a trade in the world. I mean, I haven’t a care in the world.

Recently, I found myself in a doctor’s prep area, awaiting a certain procedure that I needn’t bother to elaborate on here. I forgot my pocketknife and twig, so I was unable to whittle. I reached into the disarray of magazines on the table beside me, as if I were pulling out a large, glossy raffle ticket. And the winner is... the trades. Unlike in the past, my heart didn’t quicken, my sense of dread remained as nonexistent as a network executive’s sense of humor. I simply smiled at the trades and said, “Hello, you.” I leaned back, and began to thumb through the completely benign paper. I then muttered, “Oh look, here’s an article on a project I’m working on.” I read on with mild, pleasant indifference: “Pilot to be Helmed by Veteran TV Director Andy Ackerman.” Hmmm. Interesting. Veteran. They described me as a veteran. What do they mean...”veteran?” I remember back in the eigth grade, when I had looked up the meaning of the word “veteran,” Webster’s defined it as: one who is old or has served long in some position. So, are the trades calling me an old and long-serving TV director? My heart began to pound, my palms sweat, my breath grew shorter than a network executive’s attention span. This is wrong. I’m not old. I was always known as the Kid. Everyone called me the Kid. I’m the Kid, damn it. Sure, I’ve got some experience. I’ve worked with some of the greats. But I still have a long way to go, a lot more serving, a lot more to learn. And where’s the adjective? There’s no adjective. There has to be an adjective. How about “successful veteran” or “respected veteran” or even “affable veteran?”

“Legendary” would be nice. No, that’s way too much. Only Burrows, Sandrich, and Rich can wear that one. Okay, how about... no, stop it, look: it’s happening again. The damn trades are messing with my head. It’s bad enough that I am moments away from a colonoscopy. Please, please sedate me already. Do it now! Yes, thank you nurse, thank you. No, please take it, I never want to see it again. Promise me... I never, ever... want to see... yes, that’s good... wife... kids... little town... ignorance... blissssssssss...

And by the way, to anyone associated with the trades, the other Andy Ackerman wrote this.

Funny Business

First-person columns written by directors about their humorous experiences working in features and television.

More from this issue