On a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, on the back lot of the Fox studios, Mike White is frozen in the doorway of his office, chewing on a fingernail. He has just finished a long meeting with the network brass. His eyes are wide and unblinking. His strawberry-blond hair is disheveled. His face is florid. In a few days, he’s due to begin shooting the first episode of the new TV show he’s producing, a midseason replacement called Cracking Up.
“You’ve kind of hit me at a very, like, curious moment,” he says, gnawing now on his cuticle. His tone is childlike and wondrous—a fey little boy from the Valley, precocious and wanting to please, clearly annoyed, toe tapping. “This TV show just got ugly. Now I’m full of rage and hate.”
You want to take a minute and collect yourself?
He sits behind his desk. His computer is candy-apple red. It looks like a toy. White—the suddenly ballyhooed screenwriter with the penchant for writing himself into his movies—looks very much like himself. Like Ned Schneebly, the henpecked substitute teacher from School of Rock; like Corny, the evangelical security guard from The Good Girl; like Buck, the lovelorn suitor from Chuck & Buck. Like a nerdy, thirty-three-year-old outcast from Pasadena who set out to be a playwright and ended up the talk of the town.
“I’ll be fine,” he says. “You’ll just have a window into the true dark night of the soul. Here’s your angle: a desperate network trying to destroy the only show that can bring them out of their doldru...