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.”