Batting Averages vs. Area Codes

Morris has been denied entrance to the stage door by a member of the security detail that he himself had hired. Undeterred, Morris lets himself in through the will call office of the Graphite County Opera House. Shuffling through the littered confines of his office, he whiffs the feint aftermath of another of Verona Kendermants’ patchouli soap masterpieces. He checks the fax for anything vital that had come in since he’d been at the Anthracite Tonite preproduction meeting. Morris recalls a reality show he pitched Noreen not long ago in which employees took odd jobs to support themselves doing something that they truly loved. Noreen scoffed at his proposal, calling it hackneyed and without merit. Morris senses the same sort of scenario with members of the news crew. They have been busting butt at their day jobs, just so they can support the love of their lives: televising the local news. Morris wishes they wouldn’t take everything out on him, to the point of wanting to kill him. But that’s not even the worst part. The night suddenly gets a whole lot more hostile and unmanageable . . .

Making News the Old-fashioned Way

Not So Sleepy of a Town

I let myself in upstairs through the door of the former will-call office. I pause in my littered office to observe the aftermath of another busy, nonstop day. I haven’t really stopped working since 7:30 this morning. When you consider the after-party won’t get over until around 1:30, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for sleep. Oh well, it’s all a part of Daddy’s plan to make a man out of me.

I wonder how that’s working out for him.

Dead-end Market Offers Hope

Wading through mail strewn across the floor, I pause at the fax machine, wondering if anything hot had come in during the time I was at the production meeting at the Five-Points Highway Diner. Everything looks quiet. Subdued.

Not at all like the boisterous voices from the production crew down the hall. Everyone is in high spirits as they prepare for another nightly newscast. I have to keep reminding myself that these people are dedicated professionals. It is not their fault that they reside in a small market with no traditional network television presence. They have taken drastic means in order to make ends meet so that they can pursue their first love: bringing the nightly news to a needful and sleep-deprived public.

As Elusive as Job Security

Noreen and Dirkie Tirk and just about everyone else in the Chicago corporate office make fun of me for putting all this effort into producing the news every night. I maintain it is vital to provide the informational lifeblood to the viewership of our isolated market. No one has ever measured the ratings in the overnights. I can’t help but think that we’re pulling close to a 35 – though it sometimes feels like 35 total households . . . not a 35 share,

As a sign of his mounting frustration, Daddy doesn’t fork over much in terms of payroll or for field remotes, not unless the story has national implications and he thinks he can score some much needed points with the FCC (which, may I remind everyone, hasn’t happened yet).

So I’m saddled with a cast and crew who have a diverse roster of day and night jobs: cab drivers, EMT personnel, mechanics, laborers, contractors, counselors, exotic dancers and scads of retail workers. The general sales manager delivers pizzas. Account executives perform a variety of jobs including waiting tables, tending bar and detailing cars. When you are doing your errands there is no telling when one of them will pop up, like at the very BIG New Allentwon Costco.

But the fact they get tired out doing these other jobs engenders a feeling of frustration and hostility that sometimes erupt into bitter tirades on the set. I try to let it go in one ear and out the other, but sometimes the scathing rebukes hit pretty close to home.

The Jerk Stops Here

This whole scenario reminds me of a pitch I did recently. As usual, Noreen shot it down. The weekly one-hour primetime reality show dealt with a fictional boss, new on the scene, who pretended to be a tightwad and came off as arrogant, entitled, conceited and critical. Employees quickly reached their fill of the jerk and become angry, jaded and bitter.

The whole point was to show how anger and bitterness can eat you alive. We all have it in us to carry a grudge, just like we all have it in us to love. The overriding question is: which will you choose?

So during the arc of the show, we get a real feel for the makeup of people and how they react in certain situations – both positively and negatively.

Noreen claims this is a tired old hack of a storyline that’s been done a thousand times before – and besides I’m giving myself too much credit.

“What are you talking about?” I asked her.

“Don’t try to sandbag me, Morey. I know you want to play the part of the boss.”

I hadn’t really given it much thought until now, but maybe she was right. Maybe I did want to play the part of the fictional boss who appeared to have so much fun being such an insufferable jerk.

It’s Showtime! Gulp . . . 

I glance at the clock on my littered desk. My gut clenches. We’re less than four minutes to air. But it only gets worse.

Bruce Shellerdahl fills the doorway to my office. “Boss, you’re on the switcher tonight!”

The bottom drops out for me. “Not again!”

Bruce nods. “Fenton called off, so it’s all up to you!”

WXX Newscast: Bare Wires and Bloody Fists

We meet some of the hardworking on-camera personnel who make up the tough-as-nails WXX Silt Ridge Midnight News broadcasts: It starts with a sprawling tailgate party with haddock tacos off a food truck as personalities gear up for another big night. Belinda Bessemer arrives in a late-model Mercedes limo, fresh from her first set at the Grilled Canary Gentlemen’s Club. Mindy Pentagee springs from the back of an ambulance, ready to deliver the latest weathercast, and Jerry Runcklastor rattles off a patented line that makes Morris think of a possible game show mixing batting averages and area codes. A security guard stops Morris from entering via the stage door, even though Morris is the boss and his dad owns the TV station. Morris resigns himself to entering the station another way, realizing that this is one more attempt on Daddy’s part to make a man out of him. He wishes it wasn’t so difficult sometimes. Now, he gears up for another gut-busting night of reporting the news, followed by an even more gut-wrenching after-party

Torture at Midnight: A “Typical” WXX Newscast

Let’s Get the Show on the Road (kill)

The snow lightens up as I drive slowly back through town from the Five-Points Highway Diner to the TV station. My sphincter clenches as I think about the upcoming upheaval of egos. Every edition of the Silt Ridge Midnight News is like a train wreck, where the passengers are akin to demonic trash-talkers. They may be stunned for a moment upon initial impact but then shake off the cobwebs and keep coming and coming like rude and determined zombies. Producing an installment of the WXX news would make a fine reality show, brimming with angst, egomaniacal drama and prima donnas run amuck; I just wish I weren’t the one starring in it.

Kicking It with Haddock Tacos

A glow rises above the back entrance of the opera house. Party lights are strung across the lot illuminating a bizarre form of tailgating. Bruce Shellerdahl, our food editor, fixes fish tacos for the hungry cast and crew from the warmth of his gourmet truck. Isn’t this grand? A knot clenches in my gut.

A Mercedes limo pulls up amid massive fanfare and pounding flashbulbs. Belinda Bessemer exits from the rear. She lights the cigarette dangling between her lush red lips and tugs at the revealing hem of her shear, tiger print kimono. I just hope like heck she changes into something more conservative before hitting the anchor desk.

As she struts in platform heels toward the stage entrance in back of the opera house, I wonder if I should question her most recent wardrobe choices. Then I pull up and realize I have bigger fish to fry. I hope against hope she doesn’t cross the threshold with that lit butt. Then I’d have to call the fire marshal, and man-oh-man, what a stink that would cause!

WXX Newscast: Tailgate Edition

An ambulance with siren blaring and its flashers on drifts into the dirt parking lot, ripping up clots of mud and snow. It skids to a clean stop beside Bruce’s food truck.

Mindy Pentagee, a competent and enthusiastic EMT, skips out the rear in heels and a way-too short skirt. It’s enough to make you blush. And she’s not even the stripper. Oops, I didn’t mean to say that. I’ve never seen Belinda at her place of business and I don’t know what she does – honest! I would never look, never in a million years!

Belinda, Belinda, Belinda! I glance around and see she’s detained at the side door, yakking with one of the horde of male stagehands who are always vying for her attention. She signs her autograph on his polo shirt, smiles dimly, blows smoke on him and grinds out the butt with a stacked heel.

I heave a big sigh of relief. Catastrophe averted.

I turn my attention back to Mindy. More blinding flashbulbs announce her arrival. I wave at her but she doesn’t wave back. It’s nice to have Mindy on set, because fistfights have broken out before, as well as people coming at you with exposed wires. Mindy always makes sure to pack some extra bandages.

Batting Averages vs. Area Codes

A Yellow Cab skids on a patch of ice, nearly sideswiping me. The tailpipe rattles after the engine shuts down. “Evening boss,” says Jerry Runcklastor, wrenching from behind the wheel with a butt dangling from his mouth. Jerry is our Sports anchor. “I feel a good one coming on tonight,” he says, blowing smoke. “I’m ballpark ready and home run hungry”

“Not bad,” I say. I mull it over in my head. “’Ballpark ready and home run hungry’.” I wonder if he’s taken out a trademark on that catchphrase. It’s definitely worth the money if he hopes to brand his sportscasts.

I get a flash for a new game show concept. It mixes batting averages and area codes. I don’t know if I should syndicate the show as a part of sportscasts or just fold it into a nightly syndicated offering in access.

Giving the Green Room a Wide Berth

As I step through the stage door, a security guy stops me. “You’re not allowed to go in there Mr. Crimpanfortis,” the burly man says. “I thought we agreed.”

“I know, I know,” I say sheepishly. “But that was then. This is now.”

“I’m with you, man,” the hulking man says. “I hear what you’re saying.”

“But you’re not going to let me through, are you?”

“You know the rules. You enter through your office and go down the main hallway, avoiding the green room.”

“The green room, of course,” I say. “But my father owns this station,” I remind him.

“I’m sure he’s a fine man,” the security guard says.

I strain to see past the maze of people, all carrying on and having a grand old time. I scream at them to knock it off and get ready for the newscast, but they ignore me. My voice is drowned out in all the mayhem. Here is the result of Daddy refusing to pay the news crew what they’re worth. They all need other jobs in order to supplement their incomes to do the thing they love.

Everyone knows Daddy is filthy rich and they blame me for withholding their paychecks, making them seek other forms of employment.

It’s just one more lousy excuse for them to beat me up.

Game Shows with a Gut Punch

Morris Crimpanfortis is in a bad way, a bad, bad way. He had a less-than-fruitful production meeting for Anthracite Tonite this evening. People are starting to get restless about him continually shoving off the start date. He doesn’t even have a credible co-host on board yet. Now he’s swerving down the snow-packed side streets of this long forgotten coal burg, on his way to another gruesome taping of the Silt Ridge Midnight News. In anticipation of this gut-wrenching experience, Morris loses his overcooked dinner in the corroded men’s room of the storied Five-Points Highway Diner. In a heartfelt “Memo to Self” Morris laments the mayhem and madness he’s about to encounter courtesy of the bad attitudes, nastiness and ugly energy of the Silt Ridge Midnight News players. He gets his mind off things by thinking about his new concept: “Game Shows with Consequence.” No longer can contestants blithely lose their shirts on a game show without subjecting themselves to a heavy dose of Adrenaline-induced Angst across America . . . 

TO: Morris Crimpanfortis V

FROM: Morris Crimpanfortis V         

RE: Game Shows with Consequences – Making ‘em Feel the Pain


Before I get ensnared in yet another foul episode of the Silt Ridge Midnight News, I wish to further a theory that I am developing, a theory that should have great repercussions in the network TV landscape for eons to come. It is, of course, the concept known as “Game Shows with Consequences.”

It’s Confidential – No, I mean . . . it’s Consequential

We’re going to get a taste of what that entails on my nightly show, Anthracite Tonite. Since this is a Memo to Self, I can state that I am climbing the walls over the delays to the proposed launch date. I know I need to do a lot of stuff before Daddy will greenlight the show, things like becoming a man and lining up sponsors, but enough is enough. This is going to be a groundbreaking show it’s high time we set a launch date.

I think about how well the snake is going to work, making my guests sweat. This will epitomize my risk vs. rewards theory that I vow to start enacting: if you’re a big-time celebrity coming onto my air to pitch your latest movie or hawk your latest wares, you better be ready to step up to the plate and pay the price. If you mess up even slightly during a live commercial read, you are going to have Mr. Sidewinder to answer to. This is a fitting introduction to my high-wire concept known as “Adrenaline across America.”

Contestants Risk It All

Likewise, there as to be something at risk for the typical game-show contestant. It’s no different than going into a casino and winning big. You’re probably going to lose something before you win. Nobody ever hit the jackpot for free, not even buying a lottery ticket. You still have to buy the ticket.

But these game shows will be the gift that keeps on giving because there will be consequences meted out after the fact for those who perform miserably during on-camera competition. So in most cases you really have it coming to you when you’re perp-walked into the parking lot and given your “payback sentence.” Contestants risk something upfront for the rewards of game show stardom, and they risk losing something at the backend as well.

Payback at the O.K. Corral

For instance, contestants who fail to advance in the rounds may be required to ride bareback through a row of burning hoops; they may be required to spend one minute in an MMA cage match; they may be asked to participate in tackling drills for Division I football players; they may be asked to spin around for five laps in a segment of roller derby; or stand on a track during the last ten laps of a NASCAR race; or be forced to ride backwards in a mile and a half camel race; or compete in a trans-Pacific sailboat race with a leaky hull. All of these pursuits become reality shows in themselves.

My game shows will be structured in such a way that there will be an ultimate winner every quarter. If you keep winning, there is definitely a grand prize at the end of the rainbow. If you win the grand prize, you obviously recoup all the money you put in to secure a place in the competition, and you don’t have to subject yourself to the ignominy at the end for those who lost at some point during the preliminary rounds.

Gamier than Bear Meat

Because so much is riding on these shows, viewership will be substantial. Contestants will sweat bullets because so much is contingent on how they perform – and what will happen to them if they lose. The prize money will be substantial, the rewards monumental. Winning contestants are guaranteed worldwide fame and acclaim. Those who do not fare so well become America’s roadkill – not that it won’t stop them from doing great things in the future. But it starts by putting your money where your mouth is. You need to pony up assets for a place at the table.

And oh, one more thing: all of these shows will be live.