Someone ought to defend Thomas Gibson. Now that he’s been bounced off “Criminal Minds,” I guess I’ll have to appoint myself.
I’m not saying that TV stars have the right to kick writers in the leg when discussions get heated. They don’t. That regrettably is what happened when Gibson was directing an episode of the show that was written by Virgil Williams, who, according to TMZ, has anger and machismo issues of his own.
The irony is that both Gibson and Williams have reportedly been sent before to anger management camp to try to keep their tempers in check.
Simply as a matter of proximity, having a series regular direct an episode whose writer is present on the set seems to be asking for trouble. I am, obviously, sympathetic to writers, especially those who want to see their scripts turned into the best possible TV shows. But as an elementary matter of Hollywood politics, people who know what they’re doing need to be careful about allowing writers access to actual shooting. They can be helpful but if they’re tempestuous and immature, they can also be a pain in everyone’s tush.
Whatever the “artistic differences” between Gibson and Williams, they escalated into a situation where the actor (and episode director) was fired after being initially suspended.
Gibson was reportedly involved in an earlier on-set incident and had also been, separately, taken into custody in a DUI matter (which was legally settled). He is, it would seem, a fellow of strong emotions despite the stoniness we see on the air weekly.
And that is why I’m rising to his defense.
Let’s get real: TV actors are obscenely well-paid. And what they do for a living is a long way from digging ditches and emptying bedpans. If there’s tough physical stuff to do, that’s what stunt men and women are for. But Hollywood acting can be tough in its own peculiar way. Days are long and enervating and concentration is often suddenly intense after much boredom. Discipline is required.
Jimmy Smits, for instance, couldn’t wait to get away from “NYPD Blue” because he was sick to death of delivering dialogue given to him at the last second in David Milch’s scripts. Imagine a well-prepared high school teacher told three minutes before class time that’s he’s not teaching “Hamlet” today but rather “The Scarlet Letter.” Or told in the last five minutes what today’s lesson needed to be. That was the position actors have often been put into on Milch’s shows. Often there is, in fact, no script until very late in the shooting process
Gibson’s part as an actor in “Criminal Minds” is almost always aridly forensic and managerial. He’s the leader of the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit, which means he either recites analyses of things to local cops or manages everyone’s time. Almost every episode has him saying “wheels up in 10.” And that’s it. Sometimes the writers give him an endangered family member and a horrible trauma so the actor can pretend to have human emotions. Those are rare occasions.
It’s lucrative work, but it’s not what actors become actors to do.
His job is to show up and, as Alfred Lunt supposedly said, speak in a loud clear voice and not bump into the furniture. He’s the stiff who makes everyone else look human. Remember that before this, Gibson was comic in “Dharma and Greg.”
Letting him direct an episode of the show was obviously a diplomatic move on the part of the show’s honchos – unless, of course, the episode’s plot was deliberately fashioned to be provocative to him. It’s dimly possible that it was a way of needling the actor or giving him subtle grief for past sins.
And that leads to the most interesting and most important information that ever comes out of fractious TV cast stories. They are almost always told from the management side for a very simple reason.
In modern American journalism, access has been allowed to run roughshod over good judgment and even truth. Inside information about television is more frequently provided by those at the top than anyone else. As a consequence, versions of events usually serve management not the “talent” involved who are always at risk to some degree. Thoughtless journalists seeking to keep the info pipelines clear will just pass on info from those in charge, simply to provide a constant informational flow. Hence, most of the stories about troublesome “talent” make the “talent” look bad.
In the internet age, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram open up different avenues of information. When, for instance, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson seemed to tweet his annoyance at Vin Diesel for taking so long to show up on the set of a “Fast and Furious” movie, it trended.
What is seldom, if ever, taken into account for reasons of journalistic structure, are such matters as management envy of star prerogatives and Draconian maneuvers to keep self-respecting employees as off-balance as possible, for the sake of manageability. There is seldom any advantage for those at the top in providing an even-handed version of difficult events. And yet they are, most of the time, in control of the story.
It is no secret that egos and tempers and hard feelings can be as common on movie and TV production sets as they are in high school cafeterias. (Remember the old truism “show business is high school with money.”)
But while you’re in the neighborhood, remember your astonishment at suddenly reading about friction between Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic to explain the unexpected cancellation of “Castle.” Remember the absence of information before Roger Ailes was suddenly removed from the Fox News he created out of nothing by Rupert Murdoch’s money. Remember Josh Charles fleeing “The Good Wife” with no advance warning.
Inside TV information is proprietary to put it mildly.
I feel sorry for Gibson. He’s not bad at what he does. When the whole matter hit the fan, there were also reports that the actor and his wife had begun divorce proceedings a year ago.
So much private information would have explained a lot. What we got instead was a top-down tale of a leading the actor’s firing.
I know how hard it is for so many to be sympathetic to creatures of such wealth and privilege and renown. But if you can manage to steer a little in Gibson’s direction, it won’t be entirely wasted.
That’s my summation for the Court of Public Opinion.