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.