They're doing what to get the job?

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The Independent Online
SO I'M sitting in a restaurant in Los Angeles called Muffins, etc. where they sell 64 kinds of muffin and at least 12 kinds of cappuccino. I'm eating my sugarless-peach-ginseng and drinking a fat-free frappe when my friend Alan the television director arrives, sinks to the table, and mutters: 'After 20 years in this business, you'd think nothing would shock me. Hah. I just came from casting a new show. You know what actresses are doing now? Every one of them is pulling a Sharon Stone.'

'You mean like in Basic Instinct where she flashes Michael Douglas?' I ask. 'They're exposing themselves? You are such a liar.'

'Four this week,' he says. 'Four actresses came in without underwear on, and they made sure I found out about it. It's very upsetting.'

I keep poking at him to see if he's just hallucinating, but he's not. I try to put myself into an actress's mind, try to picture her getting ready for her audition: blow-drying her hair upside down, plucking stray chin hairs, then thinking, 'What the hell, I really need this part', and throwing her knickers out the window.

'Is this the end of civilisation?' I ask, gulping down my muffin. 'Why would a woman demean herself like that?'

'It's just fashion,' he says. 'After Flashdance every actress I auditioned wore a sweatshirt cut to ribbons.'

I can't decide whether to laugh or be really depressed.

I MOVED from New York to LA a year ago because New York was too violent. So now I'm in Beirut with earthquakes. I hate it here, but not as much as I had come to hate New York.

The Eighties destroyed Manhattan. Money-lust took over, and instead of everyone wanting to be a really cool performance artist or belong to the weirdest punk band, everyone just wanted to wear an Armani jacket and get a good table at a trendy restaurant. Meanwhile displaced mental patients and crack addicts took over the streets.

My big problem out here is that I don't know who anyone is. In New York I could look at a person and know everything. A woman would push ahead of me in the subway and I'd think, 'Oh, poor thing - she works in a dry cleaner's, lives in Brooklyn with her elderly parents and a sick cat, her boyfriend is fooling around on her, and that dress she got yesterday at Loehmann's is cutting into her armpits.'

But in LA I'll look at a creature in white cowboy boots, lace stockings and miniskirt and have no idea why she looks that way. The only thing I know with absolute certainty is that she's writing a screenplay, and someday wants to direct.

I tried working on a television sitcom for a season. They make you sit in a room for 10 hours a day and shout jokes at each other. The one who shouts loudest wins. This is one reason why American sitcoms suck.

The other reason is the species we call the 'network executive'. A network executive is a 25-year-old guy with a marketing background who thinks that writing is no big deal. If he wanted to, he could do it with all his hands tied behind his back. But he doesn't want to; he would rather drive writers insane by taking every original television show and moulding it astutely so that it finally emerges as a hideous cliche.

Does the network executive do this because he is a sadist? No, he does it because he is terrified. He decides what shows go on the air. Every show he airs must be an instantaneous success or else the soap manufacturers and car companies that spend trillions of dollars to sponsor these shows will have huge temper tantrums and take their advertising to another network. Which means that the network executive will be fired and have no way to pay for his black Porsche Carrera.

Because he is so terrified, he cannot take risks. He cannot see the truth in front of his snivelling nose: the television shows that become hits are unique, creative endeavours. The network exec decides instead to clone other hit shows and always fails.

And writers put up with this. In fact they suck up madly to the network executives because they are paid enormous amounts to be treated like dirt.

I FANTASISE about moving to London where I always have the best time because I have lovely friends and lots of dates. Out here I have to date young people who think it's exotic to date a 40-year-old woman with a grown son.

'He's 27]' said my son about a recent date. 'Mom, what can you possibly be thinking?'

'Come on, he's cute and he has a very cool pick-up truck,' I told him.

'But he's 27]'

'Look, kid, all the men my age want a 23-year-old blonde with legs up to her neck. What would you have me do?'

'Knitting?' he chirps. He can't get dates either. All the girls he meets are going out with the old guys who should be dating me.

In London they're not paedophiles. They are insane, but I like that. In fact I met my best boyfriend in London 20 years ago. We were working at the Albany Empire in Deptford, south London, and were absolutely sure we were saving the world by putting on agitprop puppet shows in pubs and forming squatters' unions.

My boyfriend was kind and passionate and adored me. We lived in a soon-to-be demolished squat in Crystal Palace where the ceilings would periodically fall on our heads. He wanted to get me out of there and into a nice flat, he wanted to help me bring up my infant son.

So naturally I treated him abysmally. George Hay from Liverpool, are you married with five children? Have you emigrated to Australia? Is it too late?

ANYWAY I can't move to London because of your quarantine law. We don't have rabies in America] We haven't for years and years] My dogs could never survive six months in a kennel, and I could never afford the thousands of pounds it costs.

Could someone please repeal this ridiculous law? Come on, have a heart, I'm tired of dating children.

Lynn Barber is on holiday