A Remember WENN story
by Linda M. Young Martin Jaystrom regarded his reflection critically in the bronze-framed mirror next to his desk, flicked a forefinger over a stray dark hair at his temple, straightened his collar and tie a final time, then turned back to his desk.
His own desk. A wooden desk, not tacky systems furniture or a metal horror. He looked around, pleased. His own office as well! No more sharing with that idiot Holly Edwards, with her Touched by an Angel programming mentality. He'd worked hard at the network for this day, ever since signing on five years earlier after finishing graduate school.
The office, of course, wasn't much. It was one of a line of "junior" offices on one floor of the network's new office building, but it did have windows, two small ones that overlooked the expressway. It still looked a bit bare, with only his MBA diploma and a framed Chagall print on the wall (he actually didn't like the Chagall, but he'd discovered the big boss was a big Chagall fan, and it didn't hurt to cultivate interests). He chuckled to himself, determined not to be in this cubbyhole for long. Someday it would be a corner office, with two large windows on two walls, and the other walls would be covered with plaques, awards, and testimonials he'd earned, since he intended to work his butt off to keep climbing the corporate ladder.
Even if he was standing on the bottom rung at the moment.
He returned to his desk, fiddled with all the cherrywood accessories, nudging them until they all sat in proper place, until it was a duplicate of an upper echelon executive desk. That's what he intended to be one day, one of the movers and shakers.
His intercom buzzed and he smiled again, broadly. His own intercom, his own secretary. No having to share Rogers.
"Your ten o'clock appointment is here, Mr. Jaystrom."
He glanced at his computer, where he had the calendar program running unobtrusively. Most of the screen was taken up with a wallpaper featuring a montage of the network's hit series. The bigwigs up at the top would learn he was all business, only caring about their properties, and especially about their hits.
"Elizabeth Roberts," the calendar said in the ten o'clock slot under November 19, 1999.
He sighed briefly. The bad thing about working yourself up was that you had to take the shit jobs at first. Talking to potential writers about their scripts and outlines wasn't his idea of a plum position. But he'd take 'em as they came. By this time in a few years he'd be having power meetings with the real meat in the television business: producers, studio execs, sponsors. Writers? Who cared about writers unless they were working on successful shows? And then he could still do without them. They always had stupid ideas for improving "their" series that would change the status quo of what made the series a hit when all that was needed were even better ratings.
He remembered this woman now. One of the execs has asked him to be nice to her, and certainly he would be. Not only was she an acquaintance of the big boss, but she also had been a noted radio writer in her daysheesh, radio writer! talk about a dinosaur profession!not quite up to that Corwin guy, but close, and had a couple of fairly successful books under her belt. She'd submitted an idea for a television series about a radio station during the 1940s which seemed like a potential moneymaker due to the big ongoing World War II fad, but her work would require revisions before they were able to work it up into a successful series that fit into their schedule.
His job was to talk Ms. Roberts into doing the revisions or, better yet, having their house writers do them, although he didn't have much hope for doing either. He could imagine her now, some dreary, bent old crone in a walker, reliving her "good old days" within her scripts. What a prospect! He glanced scornfully at the small pile of the scripts and outlines sitting neatly on the corner of his desk where Ms. Hearkness had left them. Technically they were superb. But Jesus...that dopey Disney broad Pollyanna was a pessimist next to this woman!
"Send in Ms. Roberts, please, Ms. Hearkness."
He was startled in the next moments when the door opened and a striking elderly woman walked in, then managed a warm, "Good morning, Ms. Roberts. So glad to meet you," as he extended his hand. Although she walked with a cane, her gait was steadyhe wondered if perhaps it was being used as a prop. She was dressed conservatively yet fashionably for her age, and her short, softly curled white hair framed a face with wrinkled, but well cared-for skin, subtle make-up, and shrewd, alert brown eyes behind fashionable eyeglasses. Even he could tell she'd been quite a babe in her day. She looked around the office, as if taking in the details at one glance, then offered him her hand, which was cool and dry. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Jaystrom."
"Won't you sit down, Ms. Roberts?" he asked, indicating the leather chair to the right of his desk. "Or is it Mrs. Roberts?"
"It's Ms. Roberts, Mr. Jaystrom. I am married, but I use my maiden name for my professional work."
He noticed as she moved to the chair that she did put subtle pressure on the cane, perhaps a small weakness in her left leg. But the famous Ms. Roberts was certainly spry for her age (he seemed to remember the big boss saying she was eighty-three), and took her seat gracefully, sitting erect, the cane leaned against one arm of the chair, her hands folded in her lap over her purse. He took his own seat, secretly pleased. The old lady looked proud but she wasn't some weepy bitch who would make him feel guilty if he wanted to change something. Maybe she had medical bills so her pride would relax with a little monetary advance: her scripts were the closest chance they had to capitalize on the 1940s craze. Everything else was that grim Private Ryan crap and while it might be a hit at the movies, nobody was going to watch it as a weekly series. A comedy would be their best bet and this was the only comedy submission they had received that had any merit at all. Some poor slob of a writer had even tried to pass off a rework of some forties-set 1980 comedy series called Goodtime Girls!
"Thank you for speaking with me today, Ms. Roberts," he added with what he considered his most sincere smile, "to discuss your idea for this series...Remember WENN."
"I hope you've enjoyed reading my scripts, Mr. Jaystrom," the elderly woman responded warmly. "I've been working on them for several years. They're based on my own experiences."
Jaystrom knew how to school his face to remain cheerful, but inwardly he groaned. Working on them for years. Enamored with her own words, probably. And based on her own experiences! Could things be any worse?
"Your scripts are very well written," he answered honestly, then added a little sweetener. "I see you spent many years polishing your craft. I understand your last novel garnered very respectable sales."
"It did well enough," she answered. "I never have reached the best seller lists. But the people who read them enjoy them, which is enough for me."
He found himself sighing inwardly again. His ex had been crazy about the Elizabeth Roberts' novels, which took place in small towns, or had small town characters living in the big city. He'd been bored enough one night to pick one up and then had preferred to return to channel surfing: just a plain story of ordinary people facing everyday obstacles. Minimal sex, little violence, sappy Jan Karon-type stuff.
"Your writing style is excellent," he repeated, then tapped on the scripts, "but these still could use a bit of tweaking, just minor revisions, you understand..."
To his surprise she laughed pleasantly, "Oh, of course, Mr. Jaystrom. There isn't a story or script in this world that couldn't use some minor revisions."
Encouraged, he picked up her first script from his desk. "Now here's your opening episode. Excellent characters, all of them, but some rework is needed. You've laid such an excellent framework you wouldn't even have to trouble yourself to do them yourself, you know. We could come up with some ideas and I could pass them on to our house writerswe have some great writers here that could really punch these characters up a little."
"As in?" she asked curiously.
"Your lead character, for instance. She's...just so nice. Ambitious, granted, very smart, but...doesn't seem to have any faults."
"She had...has many faults, Mr. Jaystrom. She experiences jealousy. She has lied. Made people angry with her. Caused misunderstandings."
"Maybe I'm not explaining it correctly, Ms. Roberts. She just doesn't have any real-life experiences behind her. You know, here comes this nice girl from a nice family, she goes to college, wins a contest, gets a job. I mean, come on. No one's life or family is that great! She has to have had some conflict with her parentsmaybe this was why she left home. In addition a problem in her background may lead to potential future storylineseven set the stage for a very special episode where...well, where an alcoholic brother shows up, for instance."
She gave him the oddest look. "Some people do have nice families, Mr. Jaystrom. And go to college without having problems."
He shrugged, not wanting to say he certainly didn't feel about his pushy mother the way Ms. Roberts' heroine felt about her parents. "But that doesn't make them interesting characters, Ms. Roberts."
She was silent, and he paged his way through the script, stabbed a line. "This station manager is a problem, too. He's basically well, a nerd. He needs to be more wild and unpredictable like he is in this story about talk radio, less erudite. People don't care for characters who are too intelligent."
Her eyebrows arched, but he ignored it, instead turned a page, then smiled. "Now this stuck-up actress, here's someone with real meat on her. We could tweak this character up tremendously. Make her another Mimi Bobeck or Roseanne Connor type. Emphasize her makeup and ego, sharpen her tongue considerably. You do realize, Ms. Roberts, that even when your characters are insulting each other they're still not very mean!"
"Perhaps I don't like truly 'mean' humor, Mr. Jaystrom."
"Perhaps you don't, Ms. Roberts," he said confidently, "but our audiences do. Insult humor is a staple today, so we would have to play up this woman more as a shrew. Of course we'd always knock her down in the last act. People like that, too, seeing characters like this Miss Booth made to look stupid. For instance, in this outline for the story about the Rudolph Valentino movie, you have her looking positively sympathetic at the endsame with this story about the blind girl. Who's going to believe that? She's a bitch, period."
"Perhaps she's something like a real person, Mr. Jaystrom? One who has several aspects to her character?"
"Oh, Ms. Roberts!" he chuckled, leaning forward and patting one of her hands. "This is television. Characterization like that is for books. Television audiences prefer broad characters. They like to know what to expect out of each character from one week to the next, all the time. You can't have this Hilary person be a bitch one week and kind the next. People would get confused."
"Are you saying your audience is stupid, Mr. Jaystrom?" the elderly woman asked innocently.
"Of course not!" She hoped he wouldn't see how rattled he was. "Our advertisers certainly wouldn't want them to get wind that we thought that! Audiences simply appreciate...consistency. I mean, hell, who would care about Seinfeld if Kramer and George got a clue like real people would after a while?"
Before she could answer, he continued, "Now, about Betsy..."
"Betty," she corrected demurely.
"I'm sorry, Betty. Betty and this Comstock character. You know, I didn't even realize until he left that he and Betty had this...'thing' going on. Surely you could have spiced up their relationship...just a little? As you described these folks, she's gorgeous and smart and he really gets off on that. A behind-the- scenes affair would get these two out of the office and liven them both up a good deal."
"Young ladies just didn't go out and have affairs in those days," she retorted with some asperity. When he opened his mouth, she added, "Oh, for heaven's sake, of course people had affairs and there were illegitimate children back then. It's happened throughout time. But it was the exception rather than the rule. I was trying to be realistic for the times."
"This is the 1990s, Ms. Roberts. People aren't interested in how it looked on the surface. They want the dirt underneath."
"Evidently," she said dryly.
He sat back in his chair. "To be frank, Ms. Roberts, if this were my project I'd leave Comstock out of the story entirely. He's a bore. This Sherwood character you introduce later on, now there's a findboth sexy and amoral. Why not toss out these first few episodeswe can reuse the situations later in the series with some minor revisionsand start fresh? Sherwood and Betty could arrive at the station on the same day, clash in publicbut secretly lust over each other in privatefrom day one. Then we throw this Maple LaMarsh into the mix. Big trouble with these two women. Lots of catfighting, funny dialog, great schtick material there: dirty looks, maybe a party where one of the girls pushes the other butt first in a punch bowl! And in the meantime this Jeff Singer guy makes a play for Maple on the side. They'd make a sexy couple as well. Imagine him wanting to hang around an older woman when he could have a bombshell like that."
Jaystrom smiled, becoming comfortable with talking to her. "Of course we'd have to make sure the actress we cast for Maple has a good bod. Dress her in lots of tight or low-cut stuff so the guys in the audience will get an eyeful, like that Seven of Eight girl, or whatever her name is...you know, on the Star Trek program, the one they use on all the billboards. You can get good mileage out of a character like that, especially for advertising purposes."
The woman regarded him with a curious face; he could have sworn she was laughing at him, but it was impossible: she was too proper to do so.
"How about the other characters, Mr. Jaystrom? What are your ideas for them?"
He leaned forward, his eyes glittering with the prospects. Maybe the old gal was getting interested. She'd probably never looked at the characters like this before, kept them in their little 1940s straitjackets. "I did have one idea, Ms. Roberts. You know at this network we like to push the edge of the envelope with our series, so I'd like to try a little gimmick with your Mackie Bloom character. I'd make him a just little bit more testosterone-enhanced, if you know what I mean. Add football jokes, digs that women don't belong in radio, x-rated stories to embarrass the girls. And the kicker will be..." He paused for effect.
"I can hardly wait."
"He's gay, of course. Maybe even a flaming queen at home, with lipstick and women's clothing, completely at odds with his public persona."
She didn't laugh. "Mr. Jaystrom, I assume you do know that it was not very comfortable back in the 1940s to be homosexual. Things were a little more free within the entertainment industry, but in general back then that lifestyle was not a laughing matter."
"Certainly it was, Ms. Roberts! I didn't mean to imply-"
"Yet you would use his dress and makeup, I assume, for humor. To make fun of him."
"In context only, Ms. Roberts. Certainly we would not do anything-"
"-to offend any gay rights groups, I'm sure. Heaven forbid. It might drive your advertisers away," she said cynically. More quickly that he supposed she could, she rose to her feet, grasping the head of the cane tightly. With her free arm she swooped up the small stack of scripts and synopses and settled them comfortably under her arm.
"I thank you for your time, Mr. Jaystrom."
He was on his feet in a moment. "Ms. Roberts, I'm sorry-"
"I'm sorry, too, Mr. Jaystrom. I assumed from speaking to young Mr. Ballinger that your network was looking for something different from typical network programming. I see he was mistaken. Good day, Mr. Jaystrom."
He said quickly, "But your series is exactly what we need-"
She interrupted him yet a fourth time with a gaze that would have frozen a deer. "-to cash in on World War II nostalgia. I am familiar with what's going on in the industry. Yes, Mr. Jaystrom. But to be frank with you, Mr. JaystromI wouldn't allow you, or your stable of writers, to touch my series with that proverbial ten foot pole. Probably not even a one-hundred foot pole-" and then her eyes twinkled, "-or a Russian for that matter. Good day, Mr. Jaystrom."
And then she was gone.
He sat back down in his chair, stunned. He'd certainly blown that one. And he'd considered himself so good with old peoplehad always been able to bamboozle his grandfather for extra cash. And what was that about Russians? Was she a little bit senile?
Still flustered, he checked his next appointment, then relaxed. Now this fellow he could handle: retired lawyer, writing a series of legal-themed thrillers that had been bestsellers, then fallen off the market. Old guy had a lawyer series he was desperate to get on the air so he could make the mortgage payments on a big house he'd bought before he was a has-been. He'd certainly be more amenable than some stubborn old bitch who used to work in Pittsburgh on some loser radio station...
* * * * *
He answered the phone on the second ring. "Hello?"
"Hi, sweetheart," Betty said in a tired voice.
He said immediately, "It sounds as if it went very, very badly."
"Badly would hardly describe it. Do you remember his telephone message about the stories being perfect, but needing minor revisions? Minor my foot! You should have seen how he wanted me to manipulate the show, to make it like every other cooky-cutter series on the air today, bastardize my characters..."
He said gently, "Hon, you're preaching to the choir here. I know what you wrote was quality material. Don't worry. We're well enough off. You don't need to prostitute it."
"I know, but I thought..." For a moment she choked on tears.
"Are you coming home," he asked gently, "or going to do some shopping?"
"Much too dispirited to shop," she said, trying to laugh. "Aren't you lucky?"
"I've always been luckyat least from the time I met you," he said fondly. "See you in a little bit. I'll have a cup of cocoa waiting and you can tell me the entire sordid story."
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