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!”