GQ Editor-in-Chief's 'Horrible' Hollywood Boss Strikes Back
TV writer Michael DiGaetano calls one-time assistant Jim Nelson's poison-pen essay "a hit piece by a disgruntled former employee."
A version of this story first appeared in the June 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
When GQ editor-in-chief Jim Nelson wrote "The Horrible Bosses of Hollywood" -- a savage The Devil Wears Prada-esque memoir published in the magazine's May issue -- he hid the identities of the two TV comedy showrunners he worked for 25 years ago, but just barely. Other TV writers around town quickly deciphered that the pair in question, for whom Nelson worked as a writer's assistant, are Michael DiGaetano and Lawrence Gay (their back-in-the-day TV projects included The New Leave It to Beaver and Ferris Bueller). Gay -- drawn relatively mildly ("He speaks loudly, even if he is two feet away from you, to cover the distance he reckons all humans should be kept at.") -- claims he hasn't read the piece and tells THR he wishes Nelson "the best in his career." But DiGaetano, who comes in for scathing criticism ("career-drunk, moving toward midlife friendlessness … driven by some animus I imagine to be self-loathing"), is fighting back, calling it "a hit piece by a disgruntled former employee" that "contained fewer facts than a Fox News report on Benghazi." Below, DiGaetano addresses Nelson's essay, and Nelson responds.
DiGaetano Speaks Out:
When I first heard about this article in GQ, I assumed it was going to be about the legendary phone throwers or a boss that made the assistant give pedicures. But much to my surprise, it was about me. I decided to ignore it and write if off as nothing more than a hit piece by a disgruntled former employee from over two decades ago that contained fewer facts than a Fox News report on Benghazi. But when THR contacted me for a response, I had no choice, lest even one person believe this assault on my character and reputation.
Did I say the horrific quotes attributed to me? Doubt it. I had to ask someone what a "Sand N______" was. There are three words that I find reprehensible. One starts with N, one with C, and one with F (and ends with -AG, not -UCK. The -UCK one I use often). But unless a young V. Stiviano was in the room recording me, it's a case of "He said/He said what?"
As for asking how a New Leave It to Beaver writer could garner deals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, the fact is those deals came off a very hot spec script called Big Ones that Bernie Brillstein sold not once, but twice. (It's still available.) Maybe Jim thought he hitched his wagon to the "wrong comedy asses." But Brandon Tartikoff thought I was funny, as did Bill Cosby, Chris Albrecht and Harold Ramis, who are among many I've worked for. And based on recent meetings at Fox and HBO, they think I'm funny too.
I guess this article stems from the fact that I didn't help Jim's Hollywood dreams materialize. I wanted to. But Ferris Bueller wasn't my show. I was one of the producers. And even though I co-created Flesh 'n' Blood, it had layers of brilliant, multiple-Emmy-winning decision-makers above me. Truth is, my Hollywood dreams still haven't come true yet, either. But I'll keep working at it until God opens my Final Draft file and hits delete.
What disturbed me most was the part about my dog's memorial service. Even though the concept seems silly to me now, it was very mean-spirited to Photoshop a Golden Retriever in a casket, especially in a country where, daily, thousands mourn the loss of a beloved dog, cat, bird or bunny, shake their fist to the heavens and ask, "Why Fluffy while Pat Robertson is 84?" That image is enough to make Sarah McLachlan push her dog off a couch and splatter the Conde Nast lobby with chicken blood. Jim wasn't "commanded" to attend. I didn't toss him a shovel and tell him to start digging. I invited people I thought were friends. Oops.
As to the assertion about my "shrinking circle of friends," Facebook didn't exist in 1991 so I'm not sure how he kept count, but of the people at the memorial: one I'm writing a play with, two others I stay with when I'm in L.A.
Jim Nelson worked for me for almost four years. I hired him because he was smart and funny. I still think so. I was sad how things ended. I hate the idea that he hates me. I'd like to fix it. So, Jim, call me. Let's grab a bite. Or maybe have a beer summit. Bury the hatchet instead of a dog.
Since working for them was not a pleasant experience, I knew that writing truthfully about it, which I did, would probably not make Mike and Larry happy, that they would probably look to discount anything they could about whatever I wrote about them. If I were them, I wouldn't be happy with the way they behaved all those years ago either, and sometimes the truth can be funny and sometimes a little wincing. I wasn't trying to be vindictive either, just truthful and engaging and to find some humor in my misfortune, which is the best you can do with unpleasant experiences.
I can assure you that the piece was fact-checked, including with multiple ex-staffers and former colleagues who worked with them, know them, or knew them then. In fact, since the piece has come out, numerous colleagues and even current friends of theirs have contacted me to let me know that they found the story I wrote to be spot-on. I completely stand by it.
I also promise you that the comical amount of petty humiliations I lived through while working for them is correctly rendered in my piece, as those years are seared on my brain like a hot spatula that won't lift.
I can also assure you they made plenty of off-color jokes, but so did lots of people in the business. What I wrote was hardly the worst of it. I tried to give them a certain anonymity, which is why I chose to call them M_ and L_, but I wasn't going to change their identities or hide the simple truth of my experiences. This was a story that just wouldn't fade away even as I tried to let those years go, a story that stuck with me for 20 years, that shaped me in some ways, and that simply had to come out.