Our Very Own Little “Sauna of Doom”

Morris restores order at the overwrought production meeting for the Anthracite Tonite talk show. People have just been delivered a gut-punch by Honus Kryburn, who takes the opportunity to get up on his high horse and tell everyone that one day they will pay exorbitant tolls on everyday roads, including roads you take to the corner grocery store. Vick Banzler then gets into it with Wendy Tavares over the toxicity of certain species of reptiles. Wendy wonders why the production can’t employ “everyday garden snakes” to motivate celebrities to do proper “live” reads. Vick takes great exception to this and points out to Wendy she isn’t even calling the snake by its proper name. Inez Unkley has a “drop the mic” moment when she calls the set of Anthracite Tonite a “Sauna of Doom.” Tony, the aged Director of Catering and Crafts Services, wraps a soggy piece of coconut cream pie in used tinfoil, as Morris runs late for the taping of the Silt Ridge Midnight News. Morris engages in a full-on war of nerves and pitches his dinner in the smelly men’s room before staggering into the snowy parking lot . . .

The Pit Viper and the Coconut Cream Pie

Sometimes a Bent Spoon is All You’ve Got 

The crowd of wannabe executive producers crammed into the back room of the Five-Points Highway Diner becomes unruly. There are a number of factors for this: the restaurant has backed down the heat in order to save money, so that now you can see your breath; the meals are taking forever to arrive; and everyone is up in arms about the latest prediction from Honus Kryburn about every street in America becoming a toll road.

I need to restore order. “People! People, listen up!” I clang a bent soup spoon across the side of my smeared water glass. “We’re gathered here to discuss the business at hand. Namely, the direction of Anthracite Tonite.” I drop the spoon atop the table. “Me and Vick Banzler have already made great strides this evening, choosing a sidewinder as our snake of choice for the celebrity live reads.”

“Could you go over that once again please, chief?” Wendy Taveras asks.

“Okay.” I make sure everyone has quieted down before proceeding.

Reading a Commercial and Living to Tell About It

I patiently explain to the assembled crowd how every guest celebrity appearing on Anthracite Tonite will be required to do their own live reads of commercial announcements. If they flub up at any point along the way, they will have to deal with the snake. It fits in with my “Game Shows with Consequences” mantra. We give game show contestants way too much leeway. “They need to start sweating if they blow an answer of something like that.” I then bring up the part about the Vegas casinos; everyone has to cough up money in order to win something.

Getting into the Weeds with Snakes

“I don’t know,” Wendy cautions. “If you want to involve a snake, why can’t you do it with a garden snake?”

“You mean a garter snake, Ms. Taveras!” Vick Banzler, the Graphite County DA, snaps to attention. “I can’t tolerate people referring to them as garden snakes. It’s a ‘garter’ snake. And no, Wendy, to answer your question, a nonpoisonous reptile will not carry the gut-wrenching drama of a fully engaged pit viper ready to discharge. Do you realize the adrenaline this is going to produce – not only in our celebrity guests, but also our audience? People are going to be glued to this show, positively glued to it, I tell you!”

“Well what about the people who have to work on the set?” Inez Unkley queries. “I’m handling hair and makeup. It sounds like everyone’s going to be sweating up a storm. This is going to become a sauna of doom.”

“’A sauna of doom’,” Vick Banzler purrs. “I love it. That has quite a foreboding, yet voluptuous ring to it.”

“I get verklempt when I think of the groundbreaking aspects of this talk show,” I am humble yet defiant. “Once we launch, it will be the bellwether for television in the future. No longer a passive experience; this is going to manufacture adrenaline and leave the pretenders in the dust. Me and everyone in the room this evening, we’re all on the precipice of greatness.”

It Should Never Encroach on Your Coconut Cream Pie

Tony, our overworked waiter and the Director of Catering and Craft Services for Anthracite Tonite, slides a lopsided slice of coconut cream pie on the messy table before me. “Mr. Crimpanfortis,” he says, “management wanted me to inform you that you left the top down on your convertible and your interior is filling up with snow. Are you aware of that, sir?” He draws away from the table, barely straightening up. “And there’s also the matter of your unpaid account.”

I salivate over the jagged slice of coconut cream pie, then glance furtively at my watch. Reality sinks in. I get a sinking feeling, knowing that the Silt Ridge Midnight News is next.

“Can I have this to go Tony?” They all look at me. “What?” I shrug at them as I slide from the booth. “I need to use the men’s room.”

You Have a Problem with Moose Hunting?

Production personnel for the upcoming nightly TV talk show Anthracite Tonite are in a festive mood on this dreary, windswept and snowy evening, proving how much we need the company of each other – particularly in the uncertain times brought about by the sporadic solar flare outbursts. Morris Crimpanfortis looks on happily as valued members of the production staff order freely off the menu. The tab for this evening will accumulate on the running total of the reciprocal trade agreement that Morris already worked out with the restaurant for airtime once the TV show is up and running (it has already missed its launch date twice). Amid all the decision Morris is being forced to make, including a heated search for a cohost, tonight he must choose a suitable substitute for desert, as the restaurant just announced it was out of peach pie – or “out of the peach” as they put it. Morris decides that “out of the peach” has a nice ring to it, and wonders how difficult it will be to trademark the saying for his exclusive use later on . . .

“Out of the Peach”

Free Dinner Attracts Wannabe Exec Producers

Other people show up for the weekly production meeting in the “Boca Grande Room” in back of the legendary Five-Points Diner: Wendy Taveras, Honus Kryburn, Wilmer Growens, Tink Herksely, Gandy Frommenkin, Fordham Oaknauer and Inez Unkley. Each has their own job title for the production of Anthracite Tonite accentuating their respective areas of expertise and spheres of influence.

The mood turns festive on this depressing winter eve, filled with the good cheer of friends and co-laborers. People start ordering off the menu, putting it on my tab. Since I’m broke, this will be a part of the preexisting restaurant trade with the TV station–I hope. Nothing is written in stone yet. I decide to splurge and go for a slice of coconut cream pie, since they’re out of the peach this evening.

Honus Kryburn Lets It Rip

Honus Kryburn, the chief automobile prognosticator and rant specialist for Anthracite Tonite, offers an unsolicited proclamation: “Can I have your attention? Everybody listen up” The radio guy’s grating voice echoes off the windowless wallpapered walls. “It’s time for another one of my copyrighted glimpses into the future.”

“I changed my mind,” shouts Fordham Oaknauer. “Can I have the rabbit stew instead of the pickled pike?”

Honus Kryburn rolls his eyes at the gauche interruption, forging ahead with another one of his patented visions. “You know, one day every road in America will be a toll road. And of all those toll roads, some will be designated unlimited speeds, like Germany’s mythical Autobahn.”

All about Self-hydration

Honus is heated up, talking about the future for drivers across the nation.

He goes on to explain how Americans will take the concept of the Autobahn and put their own spin on it. Being a market-driven economy, entrepreneurs and early adopters will sell knockoff Indy-style cars. If you are going to drive in the US, which in this case means “Unlimited Speeds,” you will be required to pilot one of the vintage racecar knockoffs.

You will also be required to dress appropriately. That means a Nomex head sock, Nomex leather-palm gloves, fire-resistant one-piece underwear, polyurethane-soled shoes, a three-layer fire suit, spherical safety helmet made of carbon fiber with a three millimeter sun-tinted visor, proper ear protectors and proof that you’ve properly hydrated yourself.

First Dibs on a Vapid Trademark

“Great Honus,” Fordham Oaknauer says. “But what’s that got to do with the price of vegetable oil?”

People start talking again, yammering about their children and their day jobs, trips to the teeming megalopolis of The Very B-I-G Allentown, anything but the business at hand. Wilmer Growens even goes so far to announce that he took the wife and kids moose hunting last weekend way out in Lank Holler.

I wonder if I should ask if they saw Bigfoot while they were holed up in the middle of nowhere like that.

“Now get this,” Honus says, oblivious to all the chatter at the big table around him. “Someday soon, even your rank-and-file motorist will be required to wear similar forms of safety equipment, just to go to the supermarket.” He nods ominously, letting it all sink in. “Mark my words.”

A Correlation with No Context

“Hey everybody,” I chime in. “I just thought of a new catchphrase I’m going to copyright: ‘Out of the peach.’ I don’t know exactly what it means, but I’ll think of something before filing the application with the Copyright Office.”

Everyone stops talking.

They don’t know how to respond to this.

Johnny Carson Would Not Be Impressed

When does something cross the line from being groundbreaking to gimmicky? That is the question that Morris Crimpanfortis must grapple with at this evening’s production meeting for Anthracite Tonite. Members of the crew meet in the “Boca Grande Room” at the legendary Five-Points Highway Diner to find out just what Morris means when he talks about a venomous snake on set. Morris pontificates about the halcyon days of television talk shows, dominated by the likes of Johnny Carson, whose intuitiveness for unscripted entertainment led to hours of watershed brilliance. Vick Banzler, the Graphite County DA and, an expert herpetologist, contends that Morris will really need to be at the top of his game if he plans on outwitting a rattlesnake for the entirety of a sixty-minute production. When it becomes apparent that the snake’s sole purpose will be to intimidate guests while they perform live commercial reads on the air, people wonder if Morris’ sister Noreen can talk some sense into him, before he makes a fool of himself and runs the whole production into the ground?

Sweating on the Set

What the Guests Don’t Know Just Might Hurt Them

Hadley Codfaldt grimaces. In his deepest radio voice, he tries to make sense of it all. “You’re telling me you’re having a poisonous snake on the set…as your co-host?” He makes an anguished, perplexed face. “Say it ain’t so.”

“Not my co-host per se,” I correct him. The snake’s primary role is motivational.” I glance across the table at Vick Banzler, the angular Graphite County DA.”I think that’s why we need to name it, don’t you, Vick? A member of the cast so integral to our success and with such raging star power demands to be called something more endearing than just ‘The Snake’.”

Vick Banzler does not respond, lost in the reverie of his freshly delivered root beer float.

“Will it be a union member?” Hadley inquires. “If so, I would imagine that they would want you to name it. Give it more star power and the ability to license merchandise.”

“Heavens yes,” I say. “I forgot all about the multiple merch angles.”

“What’s a snake gonna sell?” Tony asks, bringing us all new beverages.

A Forked Flicking Tongue is a Great Motivator

“Picture this,” I say, making a classic movie frame of my thumbs and forefingers. “My big-time celebrity guests laboring under the demands of doing a live read…and then I move the snake in two inches from their sweating faces. The audience will go bonkers. Based on the spiking applause meter we will determine if my guest aces the spot or not. And if they fail, the payback begins for real.”

Hadley is deep in thought. “I don’t know, Morris. Don’t you need a steady hand to hold a venomous snake two inches from someone’s face?” He shifts weight in his chair. “What you’re describing sounds a bit twisted. It doesn’t sound like you’ve left yourselves much margin for error in the event of an accident. Besides, what are the animal rights people going to say? Cruel and unusual punishment from being forced to perform under the lights all that time? Hah! They’ll come out of the woodwork. And the insurance companies for your celebrity guests–don’t forget about them.”

Totally ignoring Hadley’s concerns, I envision the snake’s tongue darting across the fevered cheeks of my laboring guests as I hold the reptile beside their sweating faces.

“At the end of the day what’s the point of it?” Hadley asks.

A Nod to the Past, a Writhe toward the Future

“It all comes down to this,” I say. “I’m ushering in a whole new era of television where the old rules are admired, respected and leveraged. But then I peal a lot of that back, modify it, and create a whole new way of looking at television that gives a nod to the past with a totally fresh take on things. I’m honoring what’s been done in the bygone days, then carefully stripping the superfluous away, leaving us with a complete and comprehensive new way of doing things.”

Feeling Pain at the Game Show Podium

One of those relics from the past includes the way we look at game shows. Throughout history, people on game shows did not feel any pain if they lost. “But my question to you is this: why should television be any different from the Vegas casinos? Don’t you have to make a commitment at a casino? Sure you do, you have to pony up the cash you have to spend money to make money as it were. Even if you’re playing the nickel slots, you’re anteing up the coin to make it possible to win.” I shake my head. “Why should game show contestants be any different? Why not let them sweat, knowing a piece of their hide will be lost if they don’t advance to the next round?”

I point out that the same theory applies on the backend. For losing contestants, instead of sending them home to Dubuque with a consolation prize, make them take part in a dangerous pursuit until they pay off their debt to the producers.

Nobody, including the snake, seems overly impressed with this scenario.