The assembled production crew of Anthracite Tonight, meeting in the storied “Boca Grande Room” in the rear of the Five-Points Highway Diner, has hit somewhat of an impasse. Hadley Codfaldt, world-famous radio guy (when all the satellites are working properly) asks for clarification regarding the need to have a full-time rattlesnake on set. Vick Banzler, the Graphite County DA and renowned regional herpetologist, explains the perilous nature of having a slithering time bomb like this on set.  Morris boasts that as TV talk show host, he has no qualms about letting a rattlesnake potentially upstage him. Morris asks the production team if they should name the snake, as it will have such a prominent role in the show’s branding. Vick Banzler rattles the rafters when he ask what a person has to do to get a root beer float around this place. Morris wonders if “Root Beer Float” isn’t a fitting name for their newest on-camera celebrity. And whatever you do, don’t call him a mascot . . .

Live and Direct from Blasting Cap

A Slithery Signature Element

Vick Banzler, the district attorney for Graphite County, explains why he chose a four-foot sidewinder from the family milking compound to figure prominently in the syndicated talk show Anthracite Tonite! “This fellow is going to be an integral part of the show. I would go so far as to say he’s going to be the signature element.” Vick Banzler embellishes his soliloquy with a bow as if he’s performing in front of a medieval jury.

I glance across the table at Hadley Codfaldt. “You realize, of course, how much self-esteem I have as a host to let a rattlesnake upstage me? You won’t see that from most hosts, they’re too insecure. I, on the other hand, have no problem with it.”

“So what’s the deal?” Hadley asks. “Are you going to sit behind the desk while you interview guests, letting the snake crawl on you?” He winces at Vick. “It sounds to me like you’ll have a tough time booking guests if that’s the tack you’re going to take.”

Pit Viper vs. Guinea Pig

“No Hadley, you’ve got it all wrong,” says Vick. “This is a pit viper you’re referring to, not some docile, domesticated guinea pig. You don’t just let a creature with this much malice in its DNA crawl all over you without reeling under the irreversible consequences.” He wraps up his line of torrid cross-examination, picking lint from the sleeve of his dark pinstripe suit coat. “It’s all the more reason why we need supervision on the set at all times and a ready supply of anti-venin.”

“Here’s the deal, Hadley,” I interject. “We have to make this talk show different than all the others on TV. It has to stand out, to rise above the competition. And the way we do it is with this snake.” I glance up at Vick Banzler. “Shall we name it?”

Vick shrugs as he takes a seat. “It’s your call, lad.” He turns his angular face to the crumbling ceiling and shouts, “Is there any way to get a root beer float around this establishment?”

“So what,” says Hadley, “are you going to keep it in a burlap sack on the set?”

A Cottonmouth Just Won’t Cut It

“Here’s the deal.” I pause to sip my water. That root beer float sounds awfully good. Maybe I’ll have dessert after all. “One of my bits is going to be a return to live commercial reads. Remember when Carson did live reads? You still do them on radio of course, all the time. They’re a staple of the industry–even when they’re prerecorded but still sound live.”

“Granted, I just did one today for free testosterone levels” Hadley nods. “But where does the rattlesnake factor in?”

Live Sponsor Reads under Intense Duress

“My celebrity guests will be required to deliver live sponsor reads during the time they’re on the set with me. They must execute the commercial announcement flawlessly, as judged by the applause meter for the studio audience. Added pressure will come from me holding the snake two inches from their faces. And if they buckle under the pressure, they will be subjected to an entirely new level of trauma after the spot has concluded.”

“What happens if you get bit instead of the guest?” Hadley asks.

I start twitching. “That won’t happen.” There’s a crack in my voice. “Will it, Vick?” I realize for the first time that hosting a live TV show can be very dangerous business.