All you need to know: This story, which I’ll have to serialize, was part of the 24 Exposures collection, which I wrote around 1999-2001. It’s definitely pre-911, pre smart phones, pre social media. This story, though, was largely inspired by my own career in television. Enjoy!
She held the thing in her hands, feeling its weight, admiring its elegant yet simple curves, sweeping up from the base and straining for the heavens with its big, round summit. It was huge. And heavy. Much heavier than she’d expected.
She lifted it up to her chin, then carefully slid it into place, backwards onto the high shelf, where two precisely arranged pin-lights perfectly augmented its gleaming golden highlights, its engraved plaque, upswept wings and wire-work globe. It was a woman, winged Victory or a take on Nike, carrying the world. It was a token that the woman looking at it, Pamela, had succeeded, finally, in a man’s world.
“The Emmy is up, let’s go out to dinner!” Pamela shouted, her voice booming off the high ceiling and enormous walls. Her husband, Oded, came dashing into the room, that worried look on his face that he’d done something else wrong. “Where are the kids?” she asked him.
He shrugged. “Walter, off with his friends somewhere. I think Althea’s in her room.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be watching them?” She was giving him that look he hated.
“Walter’s on winter break, let him enjoy it.”
“My daughter isn’t.”
“Uh… Althea doesn’t really like me following her around everywhere. She is seventeen — “
“Seventeen, not eighteen. Seven. Seven, as in not eight, not old enough, not an adult — “
“Okay, okay, got it,” Oded waved her off. He hated it when she started writing TV dialogue, and especially when she started spouting her own show’s party line, mid-argument. Frequent mid-argument, lately. “Should I go get her?”
“Yes,” Pamela blurted, volume up to emphasize the stupidity of the question. Oded hurried out of the room. “Well,” she thought to herself, “At least I managed to find the one docile Iraqi on the planet.”
She looked at the Emmy again, staring at it. At hers. It was the crown jewel of her life, new centerpiece (besides herself) of this four-million-dollar house with the full five-car garage, money pouring in hand over fist because TV was a mammon machine (for the right people), the servants, the garden, two kids, her husband. And an Emmy.
“Here we go again,” she thought to herself as she got to work very early on Monday morning, her office still stuffed with week-old congratulatory baskets and flowers and other clones of Things Executives Sent that were all bought at the same Store Where Executives Get Them. Well, more correctly, Where Executives’ Assistants Order Them by Phone, she thought as her assistant popped in the door, messages in hand. He was holding one out to her, saying words she hadn’t quite focused on yet. But she never let on to that. Instead, she had subtly conditioned her staff to over-explain everything, so she could catch it the second or third time around, then cut them off. Always make them feel like the dumb ones, that was the key.
“Narita called three times already. She said Mister wants to see you as soon as you’re in — “
“Now?” she asked. Her assistant nodded. “Okay,” she said, instinctively reaching for her purse as he stepped out the door. How did make-up always manage to vanish in the car? She touched up her lips and her eyes, checked the hair, the teeth. Made a mental note — collagen, no; Botox, god yes; have Louanne touch up the roots Friday; remember to get that cap checked. Good. Instinctively, she knew this was just going to be an official face-to-face congratulations for finally snagging the company its golden lady, a thank you from the old man for all her help. Still, any trip up to Mr. Torand’s office that hadn’t been scheduled three weeks in advance made her nervous.
She walked the long hall, came at last to the far lobby, and saw the guard pick up the phone the instant she was in sight, heard him say, “She’s here.” Before she could speak, he’d hung up and was buzzing open the door. “They’re expecting you,” he said, and she passed through to the inner sanctum.
They are expecting you. How did he mean that? “They” meaning the boss and his execs, or they meaning the boss and… network execs? Maybe, but they never went out of their way to compliment awards. Anyway, the pick-up for next season and the one after that were a slam dunk. That was all the compliment she needed.
Narita stood up and said hello, escorting Pamela to the big door. She swung it open and stepped into the room, where the boss’s big oak desk was dwarfed by the walls, looking a third its real size at the end of a long, white carpet. Mr. Torand was the only one in there. It wasn’t until she saw Narita that Pamela realized the guard was talking about the assistants when he said “they.” Well, of course he would. His “they” was not Pamela’s “they.” His “they” didn’t matter. Obvious now, but Pamela hadn’t thought of it before. At least it meant the meeting would be short and easy.
Mr. Torand was standing by a bookshelf, which was crammed with People’s Choice type awards, staring intently at a singing bass, which was going through its routine. He was humming along with it, laughing. Pamela approached cautiously. She was always amazed at what the boss found amusing. Sometimes, it was hard to believe he was the founder of a billion-dollar empire. He looked like somebody’s slightly ditzy grandfather, and preferred jeans, sneakers and sweaters around the office. He was holding a pipe in one hand, which he now brought to his lips and lit. He took a puff, chuckled at the fish again, then looked toward her, gave her a big smile. “Pammy, how’s my girl?” he asked. He was one of those people who was so respected that a comment like that never elicited any negative response. He was too old for it to have those connotations, a relic of a different world. “Like my fish?”
Pamela forced a smile. “It’s very funny. Where did you get it?” Of course, she knew damn well where. It was the sixth one she’d seen this month.
“Chuck got it somewhere for me, I don’t know exactly.” He looked at it again and chuckled. He loved animated toys. He still owned one of every Furby ever made, but he never used a computer.
“So…” he suddenly turned the fish off, trotted to the door and closed it, signaling to Narita, no calls. Bad sign, Pamela thought, getting a little nervous as she walked to his desk. He gestured her over to the sofa instead. Really bad sign, Pamela knew. She sat, sinking into the leather bedlam that spanned three walls. Mr. Torand sat in an armchair.
“You guys,” he began. “We finally have an Emmy.” He looked dreamily at the ceiling. He’d been in the business for decades but was never associated with that elusive “quality” that put TV shows into rarefied ranks. And yet, he’d had one hit after another, so he was obviously doing something right. Since his own peers did the nominating for the real awards, it was obvious they had begrudged him his success until, finally, acknowledgement had become unavoidable. At least, that’s what he’d thought when the winner was announced. He’d found out not long after that there were other reasons, and so the Emmy lost a little bit of the vindicatory power it had wielded on awards night. And sweet Jesus, he had to try to explain that now. How the hell was he going to do that?
Pamela saw the drifting look in his eyes, the slightly open mouth, avoiding her gaze. She knew that look. It was the stasis before disaster, the firefly moment when the news is telegraphed before delivery. It lasted half a second, and then the old man inhaled, flipped his hands, began.
“I don’t know how to tell you this,” he said. “But I just got the call from the network, and they’ve decided not to pick you up after this season. Your last episode will be next May. I’m sorry.”
The floor fell away. She couldn’t believe it. She stared at the old man, rage building. What were they thinking? Hers was the only show that had any kind of audience on that crappy network. The only one to ever even be nominated for an Emmy, much less win one. The only goddamn thing they had going for them, and they were pulling the plug?
“Motherfuckers,” she spat out. “Why?”
“They said that they felt the series had explored all the areas it had to explore and that it tapped out its potential, and nothing further could ever live up to how good it was in the past. They decided to end it on a high note.”
“I got them a fucking Emmy!” she shouted, then caught the faux pas. “We have done more for them than anybody else.”
“I know, I know, Pammy,” he said. “You guys have been doing great work. I fought for you, I really pleaded with them, said you had a lot more great material in you, could win them a few more next year, but… well, you know how political these things can be. What with Billy getting fired last year, and he was a big supporter of yours. Look on the bright side. Syndication.”
True, she thought. After seven years, there were enough shows in the can to make Father’s Daughters as ubiquitous as I Love Lucy. The money would keep rolling in for a long time. But, despite that, she was going to become the most useless commodity in the industry in eight months. Well, realistically when they wrapped, in six months: An out-of-work show‑runner.
“Anyway,” the old man went on, “we want to do something really special with the farewell arc and the finale. I’ll have Vince come by with our ideas later.”
And he was standing already. That was it. So she knew two things, at least. One, there was no way in hell the network would be convinced to change their mind, not by anyone, not for anything. Two, all the old man’s comments about fighting for her had been bullshit. That was par for the course. Pamela stood, walking to the door. The one thing of which there was no shortage in the television business was bullshit. The politics made it as horrific and treacherous as a junior high school playground.
Oh, but the money.
And syndication —money for nothing, and the tricks are free.
“But, come on, that show was over two seasons ago,” one of them said. It was Chuck, who had had more cancellations and resurrections than anybody else on the planet.
“True,” that was Cindy, his co-producer. “It was pretty tired last season. I’m surprised they’re even going to try to squeeze one more out of it.”
“Well, how many times can you do the ‘Father Rick Saves the Runaway Teen’ story, anyway?” Chuck laughed. “Bor-ing.”
Well, of course someone like him would find it boring, Pamela thought. His shows were always overheated soap operas, one couple after another playing randy roulette, no basic values, everybody out to screw everybody else, literally and figuratively. His shows weren’t like real life. They were like… hell, they were just like TV.
“Think she’ll manage to fire this staff before the series ends?” Cindy wondered.
“Why not? She’s done it, what, five times?”
Pamela drew herself up, thinking “God, what losers.” She decided this was the moment for the awkward end-of-act entrance, the big handjob that would bring the viewers back after the commercial: “INSERT Pamela, just off the lobby, listening. She reacts, then walks by.” No… “She reacts, then draws herself up with dignity and walks by.”
“Hello!” Pamela called out. Cindy blanched, but Chuck, ever the pro, smiled and waved as if nothing had happened.
“Hey, congrats on that Emmy,” he called out.
“Thanks,” Pamela answered, continuing on. She wrote the tag in her head. “Chuck and Cindy exchange a look. Busted. Fade out. End of Act.”
But not end of show. Not for one more season.
* * *