Jason looked out the window, daydreaming, when someone knocked on the door, snapping his attention back to the miserable reality he’d made for himself.
“Yeah, come in,” he mumbled dejectedly.
Three people burst into his office with a flurry of activity.
A man of indeterminate age, bald on top, wearing a plaid sport coat and polyester slacks sat down on the vinyl covered sofa. A young woman about twenty four, hair cut fashionably short, wearing heavy tortoise shell glasses and a wide dark swath of lipstick, sat next to him. He leaned back into the sofa, stretching his arms out along the length of the back, his left arm behind her. She sat energetically on the edge of the sofa cushion, carefully avoiding the long gash in the vinyl with the cotton batting spilling out. Her long bare legs crossed like some exotic species of pink Floridian waterfowl.
It was the third person coming towards him like a juggernaut that sent a shiver down Jason’s spine. She was a woman his own age, hair beautifully coifed, perfectly accessorized Chanel suit in place, Obsession wafting from her like an intoxication. She moved towards him with the relentless stealth of a heat seeking missile, programmed to find idealistic television producers and turn them to rubble faster than you can say Baghdad baby formula factory. She was Gloria, The WB’s executive vice-president in charge of teen and mature audience augmentation, otherwise known as 'The Terminator.'
He rose hypnotically to greet her.
“Jason, sweetie….” She cooed.
“Hi Gloria.” They bussed cheeks. Jason sat down while Gloria took the floor.
“Jason, here they are – your new producers. Cy and Skye. You can’t imagine how thrilled we are to snag these two.”
Cy pulled himself forward to shake Jason’s hand without letting his bottom disconnect from the sofa. Jason reached well over the top of his desk and exchanged fingerry greetings with Cy and Skye, adding a half-hearted “nice to meet you.”
“Cy worked on “The Fugitive!” Gloria continued.
“Oh,” Jason said, evoking some small amount of being impressed. “Over at CBS,” he continued.
“No, actually. ABC. I used to bring David Jansen his coffee.” Cy smiled.
“Oh he’s got credits up the wazoo…and stories!” Gloria laughed. The three of them laughed together.
Oh god. It’s a coven. Jason thought.
“Mr. Katims,” Skye spoke up. “I just want you to know how thrilled I am to work on ‘Roswell.’ I’m just glad Fox cancelled ‘Freaky Links’ in time for me to come over here… before it’s too late.”
Jason stared at her for a moment and then turned to Gloria.
“Gloria, I don’t really need any new writers. We’re having a heck of a time just trying to keep everyone on the same page as it is!”
“Jason, it was all in the memo. You got the memo? Well, nevermind. These two are absolutely fabulous and you’ll love working with them.”
Jason dropped his head into his waiting palms. How could this be happening…again.
“They’ll move into Thania’s old office and get right to work. I think you’ll be pleased with the ideas they worked out with the network. Just can’t wait. Darlings, must fly. Fall in love, everyone.” Gloria was gone.
Jason rose and walked around to the front of the desk. He leaned back against it and folded his arms, poised to give the “welcome aboard” speech that he’d given to so many writers before. He opened his mouth to speak, but Cy and Skye rose from the sofa as one.
“Nice to meetya, young fella,” Cy said. “Glad to have you on board.”
“We’ll get right to work on those Liz and Valenti scripts, Mr. Katims. Don’t bother, we know where to go,” Skye said as the two went out the door.
No, I don’t think you do, Jason thought.
He went back to his chair and let the enui seep into every muscle until he was staring aimlessly out the window again.
With the shock of sudden recognition Jason leapt from his chair.
“Liz and Valenti!” he yelled.
The next day, Cy and Skye were back on the couch in Jason’s office pitching their first idea.
“There’s a blizzard. Liz and Valenti get separated from the others –“ Cy started.
“Because they’ve all been out searching for some blahbitty blah alien thing -- Ron will work out the details –“
“So this blizzard comes up suddenly out of nowhere, see –“
“And Valenti finds this cave where they can escape –“
“Only Liz has twisted her ankle, and Valenti has to carry her, you know, he-man stuff –“ Skye shifted in her seat to look directly at Cy.
“I thought we were going to make it so Valenti gets a fever and Liz has to protect him, a role-reversal thing –“
“Whatever. Point being, they’re alone for a long time in this cave and that’s when they get the hots for each other.”
They suddenly stopped and waited for a response from Jason.
Jason slowly ran the flat of his hand over his receding hairline. He hadn’t slept well the night before. He wanted to choose his next words carefully. He opened his mouth to speak --
“—Or maybe it’s a flash flood,” Cy interrupted. “They get more flash floods than blizzards in that part of Arizona. In any case, they’re in this cave for a long time and—“
“Cy! Skye. Let me just tell you what I think It can’t be done! We can’t have Liz and Valenti become a couple. It’s statutorily wrong. It’s morally wrong. And it’s just plain wrong! And they’re in New Mexico, for god’s sake!”
“Jason, buddy. Let’s not get tempermental.”
“Cy, b u d d y. The audience won’t accept it. They won’t tolerate a story arc that puts Liz, a minor, together with Sherrif Valenti, a grown man.”
“Au contraire, Mr. Katims. We’re hitting your biggest demographic here, and thereby reaching your biggest fan base. Ratings show that females 18-49 form your biggest audience share. Females 35-49 outnumber females 18-24 by 1.21 to 1.”
“And the focus groups ate it up. Bill Sadler is very popular with the bluehaired ladies.”
Jason looked at them in shock. “Focus groups? When did you – Why wasn’t I –“
“We did that weeks ago, Mr. Katims. Seven focus groups in one day over at the West Covina Mini-Mall. Boy, that was a day, right Cy?” They laughed.
Jason looked at Cy. Then he looked at Skye.
I’m in hell, he thought.
“In other words,” Cy continued, “We’ve basically got the green light to go ahead with the Liz/Valenti premise.”
It's ABC all over again.
“Ok, look. See if you can come up with something more…tasteful. Less like, I don’t know, Lolita!”
“Got it boss!” Cy said cheerfully.
“We have lots more ideas to work up, Mr. Katims.”
“Thanks, Skye. Cy. See you later.”
He closed the door behind them but he could hear their muffled voices talking in serious tones on the other side of the door. He couldn’t make out what they were saying, but he imagained it was something like, “the human is not cooperating. We’ll have to terminate him.” Jason let out a big sigh.
During the weeks that followed, Cy and Skye tried out numerous ideas on Jason.
“Liz comes back from the trauma of being attacked by the skins and she’s having nightmares. She keeps dreaming aliens are after her, then out pops her rescuer and it’s Valenti! He’s dressed as Indiana Jones or he looks like Rambo, you know…comes out with guns blazing. A real enforcer protecting her.” Cy describes.
“Then Valenti is having these dreams about Liz like she’s Britany Spears, you know, on stage singing, hips moving to the beat. ‘Oops, I did it again…’ They’re falling in love with each other, but it’s all in their dreams.”
Jason said no.
“Valenti through some alien technology becomes 18 again – Ron can work out the details--, and he falls for Liz, only we see Bill playing himself as the 18 year old Valenti.”
“Liz is just being Liz, you know, pretty, coy, sexy, and it’s driving Valenti crazy in a ‘don’t stand so close to me’ sort of way. So he works out his sexual tension with Amy Deluca, but we know he’s really thinking about Liz the whole time.”
“So now he’s a pedophile and a pig?” Jason asked.
“Hey!” Cy said, becoming exasperated. “You said ‘tasteful’, we’re trying to do ‘tasteful.’”
No. No. No.
Finally, one late afternoon as the sun slipped into a dusky twilight, Cy and Skye were back. Only this time something was different. They had confidence dripping from their smirky smiles, like cats that are completely indifferent to their master. Jason knew something was up.
“Mr. Katims,” Skye started, “we have an idea we know you’ll approve. In this episode, Liz becomes more and more fascinated with Sherrif Valenti. He’s the man that saved their lives, the man that only she knew to go to for help. She was the first to trust him. Now she realizes that it’s more than trust she’s feeling. She realizes she almost had it right when she was going out with Kyle, but it isn’t the boy Valenti she wants, it’s the man!”
“So she starts to get close to Kyle again, to have an excuse to get into their house. She starts asking him questions about his dad, like how long he’s been a sheriff, did he like being a sherrif. Does he have any sherrif things in the house!”
Cy continued the pitch. “So Kyle starts showing her some of his dad’s sherrif stuff like a hat, a night stick. Before you know it Liz is getting really hot and starts doing a little striptease for Kyle. She comes out with just one of the sherrif’s shirts on and his hat pulled down over one eye and she starts dancing with the stick, you know, rubbing it up and down her thigh, in between her legs.”
“Yeah. Kyle’s about ready to jump out of his Calvin Klein’s watching her when they look up and see Valenti standing in the doorway watching. They get scared and scramble for their clothes, but Valenti’s cool. He offers to take Liz home.”
“And that’s how it starts!” Cy declared triumphantly.
“Oh god,” Jason moaned.
“We think it’ll be about a five-epi story arc, probably carry you right to the series finale,” Cy finished.
”The what?” Jason said, looking up with alarm.
“Yeah, the arc progresses through the death of Tess, the Parkers and Kyle because of some alien thing – Ron is working out the details. So Liz moves in with Valenti, and the rest is ‘tastefully’ left to the audience’s imagination.”
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” Jason said, turning pale. He opened the desk drawer and pulled out a half empty bottle of Maalox, swigging down all the rest.
“First of all, we can’t do this. And second of all,” he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand like a drunk, “it’s hideous! And third of all –“
The telephone rang. Jason picked it up.
“Jason Katims here. Hello, Gloria. Yes. Yes. Yes. I didn’t realize that. I see. All right then. Nice talking to you too. That would be lovely. Real good then. Bye bye.” He hung up the phone and looked at Cy and Skye.
“We start production tomorrow. Congratulations.”
Cy and Skye looked at each other slyly while Jason closed his eye and felt the Maalox curdle in his stomach.
He sat in his chair a long time not knowing the passage of time. When he finally focused again it was dark outside and in his office. He groaned at the memory of his last meeting and searched the universe with the depth of his feelings for any answer.
It came as a small glowing spot in the corner that grew bigger and bigger until it illuminated the whole room with a brilliant blue white light that radiated rainbow colors of soft pink and emerald green. Standing in the center was a beautiful figure of light smiling graciously at Jason, wisdom and compassion written on her face. She raised her arms and beams of light shot from her fingertips. It was Clare Danes.
“Clare, Clare is that you?” Jason asked, awestruck.
“Yes, Jason, it is I.”
“Clare where have you been? You’ve been away so long.”
“Jason, you must know that even if you cannot see me, I am with you always. Besides, Mod Squad stunk so I’ve been laying low.”
“Clare, it’s happening again. My beautiful vision corrupted by bastards who only care about ratings!”
“Do not be afraid, Jason. Take heart and have courage. Soar with the wings of eagles and don’t look down. A silver lining lights your way. Everything’s comin’ up roses. And a little child shall lead them.”
“Clare. Clare honey. What the hell are you talking about?”
“You must be brave for tomorrow. Your biggest trial awaits. But remember. If The WB cancels, maybe you can go into syndication on the Sci-fi Channel……”
The light slowly faded and Jason sat in the dark again with a stuperous grin on his face and a sad but happy feeling in his heart.
The next day the cast met on the set for the first read-through of the new script. Majandra looked gloomy as she received her copy.
“I heard it’s all about Liz. Liz. Liz. Liz. I haven’t had a good script since ‘Heat Wave.’”
“That’s not true,” Brendan said absently, thinking about the movie deal with Tri-Star his agent just wrapped up that morning.
The assistant director shouted to get their attention. “People!” Everyone gathered around the large table while gaffers restrung cables over their heads and someone pounded a hammer loudly off-set. Jason sat away from the rest on a folding chair by the emergency exit.
The read-through went well until the strip scene. At first Shiri chuckled nervously. Nick said “Woah!” once and then a couple times more. Shiri continued to read her lines but crumpled her forehead in disbelief.
“Eeewww!” Shiri said in disgust. “That’s so, you know, so gross.”
Nick started to laugh.
Then William Sadler read.
“What the hell is this crap?” he bellowed.
Jason knew if he tried to go out the door now the alarm would go off.
"This is the last straw!" Bill said, standing up and throwing his script down on the table.
"Well. I'm outta here!" Brendan declared.
"They can't pay me enough to keep playing a screwed up teenager on this show!" Majandra said, running to catch up with Brendan.
"I just don't get it!" Shiri said, staring at her script in disbelief.
The read-through disintegrated like a crouton in the rain. Out came the cell phones and people walked away from the table frantically trying to line up their next gig.
Only Nick seemed unaffected. He sat down in the chair next to Shiri and leaned his face close into hers.
"You know, Shiri, I was getting kinda hot reading that scene. Why don't we go to my dressing room and rehearse for, oh, two, three hours."
"Nick, I've told you before to leave me alone!"
Nick leaned over and tried to kiss her, leading with his puckered lips, when a strong arm grabbed his shirt collar and yanked him up, leaving his feet dangling under him.
"I've told you before, Wechsler. Leave the lady alone!"
Bill pulled his fist back and let it fly, socking Nick in the eye and sending him crashing against a step ladder some twenty feet away.
"Thanks, Bill," Shiri said gratefully. "He just won't take 'no' for an answer."
"Say, I've got some Scotch in my dressing room. Wanna join me for a drink?"
"Make mine, you know, a double!"
They walked off the sound stage together with their arms around each others waists, matching each others steps in perfect synchronicity. They paid little attention to the figure huddled on the folding chair next to the emergency exit whispering faintly, "Clare! Clare! I'm coming to meet you Clare!"