Sunday, June 28, 2009

In which the Ground Shifts Yet Again.

So we did the next show as a sit-down, bad pun, nothingburger show. Our wonderings whether the guys had received the same talk were answered: the studio mood was glum, with lots of questions of "What are you going to do?" We did think about doing the show so snarkily bad as to Make a Point, but to who? Conceptual n artistic purity uber alles is a nice 19th century concept, along with the lack of room for commerce in art, and for that matter naivete trumping cynicism because it's naicer (well, that might be Rousseau, the creature); but we thought that indulging in a public display of temper tantrum would be neither productive nor entertaining. Best to disengage without regrets -- we got to play with a teevee station, test out whether our ideas of structuring an entertainment program would in fact be entertaining in the inhospitable environs of Central Kentucky, and got paid for it. Good enough, and time to start working on our personal future plans.

BTW, Bill loved that particular show. He left an ebullient message that he knew we had it in us, and looked forward to this week's show and more of the same. Definitely time to walk away. So along with the script, we prepared a letter that advised Bill that this would be our last MT, thanks for the use of the hall, etc.

The weekly script drop-off routine was to visit Keith and Doug in the master control room, talk with them about the overall plan, point out particular segments that would need attention, sometimes they'd have some reactions or ideas that we'd incorporate into the final polish, and visit a bit about this and that. They were more surprised that we'd be back for a last week than they were that we'd be gone after this week. Somebody was hollering down the hallway, which was unusual. I stuck my head out to see who was hollering, because it seemed to be esaclating.

It was JD. And he was hollering at me, trying to get my attention. Now what?

I knew JD from my college days in the early 70s. He was one of three noobs who were engaged by the Harvard of the Midwest as the managers charged with the daily management of student life n activities. JD's activities oversights included the campus filmmakers' group and the theatrical groups unaffiliated with the formal theatre program, which groups I passed the time and effort left over after the formal theatre program's demands. In this exalted position, JD got to be one of the boots-on-the-ground managers of the great university's response to the stoont activitists who took over the campus at the height of the antiwar protests. Not fun times, didn't do much for his sunny outlook on life, the university's crisis management was ineffective at best, no one was crowned with glory, and generally anyone part of all that probly leaves it off their curriculum vitae. So I was less than sanguine about engaging with JD on any level -- who knew how raw all that 70s foolishness still was?

Anyway, here's JD calling out "How ya doin got a minute come on in let's talk got some things to catch up on" in a good ol' Midwestern run-on sentence that was not a question. Ah well, not like there was anything else to do. So into JD's office we go.

"So what's up with your show. It stunk." Good old Midwestern directness, haven't heard that in years, but I am very weary of this particular trope from management. "John, we've been over this with Bill and we responded to the issues he raised, and yada yada yada managementbabblespeak and ..."

JD cut me off. "What show are you talking about? I'm talking about last week's show. It stunk. What happened?"

WTF? "John, we were led to believe that WLEX management hated the show we were doing. We were given a directive to do the show in the standard monster movie host format. We disagreed with the directive, we did it anyway. We were told to do this week's show the same way, that this was what WLEX wanted and if we didn't do it you would engage someone who would."

JD nodded. "Bill told you this." It was not a question.

The mental alarm bells start going off that this is not about our silly little show. "Bill is our official contact with WLEX. He speaks for management."

"I'm WLEX management. He doesn't speak for me." Ah. "So Bill changed your show and you didn't call Larry." Deeper and deeper WTF.

"John, I had a very nice chat with Larry a couple of months ago, but this is Kentucky. There was no reason to think that was anything deeper than the Boss being polite to the Help."

"That's what I told him you'd say." I don't like where this is going. "What's that?" pointing to the envelop I was carrying.

"This week's script. Bill wants to see the script before broadcast."

JD nodded. "You're quitting, right." That also was not a question.

"This will be our last week." JD nodded. Then --

"I don't think we've been entirely clear with you, so let me clear things up for you.

We like what you did with the show. Keep it up.

Don't talk to Bill anymore. Don't talk to anyone but me about the show. Don't talk to me unless you're doing something you think I need to know about. I'm not worried about you, never have been, I know your work." And he tore up the script and the letter.

Well, this puts a different light on things. "So what are we paying you?"

"Fifty a week for Barb, up to twenty-five a week in reimbursable hard costs."

"Seventy-five a week. You invoice us? Redo your invoice for last week and leave it for me. Is there anything that you want to do different?"

"Well, we'd like to get away from the live show and do it live-to-tape. "

"I thought live was your idea."

"Um, no. Bill thought it would keep us spontaneous ..."

"Forget that. What do you want?"

"I want to tape it."

"Done. Tell your guy Keith to set it up. No, I'll handle that. By the way, we're going to do a second run of movies. Here's a list of titles we're looking at -- pick out the ones you want to do. Anything else?"

Well, there were two things. Let's do the easier one first. "John, I don't think Bill told you that our intentions are to leave Lexington this year."

Pause. "No, he didn't. How soon?"

"Don't know. It depends on how things work out. Could be as early as August, could be later."

Pause. "Well, we'll deal with that when we need to. Doesn't change anything now. Anything else?"

Into the deep waters, folks. "John, you know we've been poking fun at a studio suit on the show that we call 'JD' ..."

JD laughed. "Yeah, that's pretty funny. My friends kid me about it. I think it's a hoot. What about it?"

"I hope you're okay with that."

"Why wouldn't I be? You going to do more like that?"

"Now we are."

With that, the interview ended. I poked my head in master control on my way out. Barb was visiting with Keith and Doug, wondering where I was. "I think we're going to punch that script up a lot." And told them what happened. Barb, Keith and Doug were very happy. I told Doug that I had one request for music that week, and I'd bring it with us. It was a Ry Cooder version of an old jass tune -- (Big Bad Bill) is Sweet Willie Now.

Now the real fun began.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

In which the Hammer Strikes

I may, and probly am, compressing time a little here. Just to set the history straight.

February was sweeps month, and we had big plans for building on the momentum of the Carpet Monster show. Although we didn't have a say in the selection of the first run of movies, we did have a say in assigning the air dates; so we had selected what we thought was a strong selection of the available cheese, building up to Plan 9 from Outer Space at the end of the month. We knew that we could pull off the kind of show that we wanted to do; the production fixes were relatively minor, and would be nailed if we could move to live-to-tape. And we were convinced that the Carpet Monster show would yield a shower of praise from the teeming masses, covering us in glory and convincing Bill to approve the minor production shift.

Well, wrong on one count and right on the other, but not the way we expected. Nary a peep from the Teeming Masses on the Carpet Monster show. A quite large peep from Bill on Monday, instructing Barb and me to come over to the station tout de suite about last weekend's show. We came in on Tuesday, to learn that Bill was Not Amused by the show.

Not Amused At All.

Appalled, outraged, dismayed, consternated, dumbfounded, aghast, stupefied, and enraged would be closer to the mark.

For him, the Carpet Monster show displayed everything that was wrong about our concept of the show. It moved too fast, it was too in-jokey, the characters were unappealing, it was impossible to follow, the production values were so sub-par as to be unacceptable for student work let alone the output of a professional major market teevee station. In case we hadn't noticed, this was a business and not a playground; and WLEX had made a sizable investment that he was not going to jeopardize during the all-important ratings sweeps month.

And while he was at it, where did we get off making public fun of station management? Didn't we realize that this undercut their position in the marketplace? It was embarassing for him and the rest of the senior management to constantly have to defend a foolish little show every time they showed their faces publicly. One thing was certain: nobody in the higher echelons of Lexington media had any clue what MT was about, and that reflected badly on WLEX management, of which he was one.

And so henceforth, not to be deviated from one jot or tittle, by order of the Supreme High Command of WLEX, and without mercy or hope of appeal:
  • No more crew interaction
  • No more snarky dialogue
  • No more Bobs, Nathans, studio visitors, pizza deliveries, phone calls fake or otherwise
  • No more puppets
  • No more references to anything outside of the movie
  • No more reading viewer letters on the air
  • No more run on graphics, crawls, or animation
  • No more roaming around the studio on air
  • No more sound FX, visual FX, or any other FX
  • No more nothing that wasn't funny jokes and puns about the actual movie
  • The show will be Millie in a chair talking about the movie. Period. And if we didn't care to offer that, somebody else was available and waiting for the opportunity.
Well, that was plain enough.

Out in the parking lot we noted that this was Tuesday, which was our crew's day off; so we figured they didn't know that the hammer was coming down. We talked about what we wanted to do about this; neither of us wanted to put any time into anything that wasn't fun, and staying up to 3AM Sunday to recite bad puns was not high on our list of fun things to do. Besides, Barb had out-of-town auditions coming up for grad schools; that would be our future life, far far away from Lexington. This foolishness was now a distraction that was jeopardizing our plans for our particular and immediate future.

OTOH, we did have a loyal audience of some unknown size; and we did have a studio crew that we had convinced to become part of what now appeared to be a fiasco of epic proportions, which would surely make their particular short-term careers hell. We would be gone anyway in a few months, we were going to write off our Lexington reputations as dust in the wind anyway. But we had some responsibility to them, to try to ensure that there was no lasting professional fallout poisoning their livelihoods.

So we decided: we'd give Bill the show he wanted. For two weeks. And then we'd leave. Obviously it was time to go. The Future Beckoned!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In which we Parse the Show, Part Deux

But wait! There's more!

0:10 Here's Bob with a handful of Real Mail. Keith would hand me the week's mail when I checked in with him; we usually received between five and ten pieces of mail per week. I'd scan the letters and pick out the sections of each letter that we'd respond to on air; I'm pretty sure we acknowledged each piece of mail received each week, even if we didn't read the letter. Sometimes Barb would read the actual piece of mail with the on-air section hi-lit; usually we'd rewrite it with a Sharpie so that she could read it quickly. I'd bullet the response and she'd adlib around it. We'd stick the letters onto the set, so that everybody would see the letters every week.

0:42 I'm sure glad we didn't hear half of what Dougie was putting out for the soundscape, because I have no idea what he's doing with the FX.

0:56 This was a live show, so we didn't do the loop repeat gag. We must conclude that Mr. Mike created the loop for his buds at Morehead. We knew Morehead was a bastion of Milliedom, so this is not surprising. Recently, we learned that Asbury College was, too. Sakes! Who'da thunk?

1:38 This letter was not a setup; that was a real letter from a real fan. We used it as a Clever Device to integrate the plot into the show. If you listen carefully, you can hear the plot wheels creaking in the background.

2:14 The week's obligatory Punky Brewster running gag. Barb and I found this show vastly amusing for all the wrong reasons, including finding the words "punky" and "brewster" highly risible.

2:50 This is the week's single fake letter, which not only sets up the fake mailing address but is Secret Clue No. 2 to dating the broadcast.

3:07 This week's fake mailing address. The post office box is WLEX's main post office box. We put the joke header on in the first few weeks out of amusement at the conniptions it would give whoever sorted the mail. Imagine our surprise when people actually started sending letters to the fake address. Keith told me that it actually worked in our favor, because we got our own little mail cubby out of it. We'd occasionally use a cancelled envelope as the background to a bump shot, just to acknowledge that real people sent mail to the silly addresses and the Postal Service processed it through. I guess if they accept letters to Santa Claus, North Pole they'll accept anything. Of course, this was back in the day when mail was handled for the most part by humans. Our youngest son does not understand why you would write something on a piece of paper and send it when you can just email somebody.

3:08 Dougie has now shifted to his planned soundtrack, so we're back on the script -- the BG music is ripped from the movie.

3:09 Can't even read my own script, and give the wrong ZIP code. That's why we needed trained actors!

3:23 Get us out of this scene, Keith! We got nothing left!

3:51 Position 4 -- in the reception area -- note the on-air feed to the big honkin' console teevee. This was one of the early meta "watch ourselves watching ourselves" gags; but it's real function was to cue Bob; we didn't have enough cable to extend the headsets out for the two or three crew guys needed for the shot. So Little Jeff had the live headset, because as the cameraman he needed to hear the director. When Bob saw himself come up on the teevee, that was his cue to head for the conference room.

4:12 And here we are in the conference room. Shot just the way they left it at COB Friday. Usually we used the conference room for Barb's makeup and dressing room. Later on we discovered that the offices weren't usually locked at night, and we'd shoot "JD" in the real JD's office. Yes, folks, now it can be told -- we shot JD, not Kristin.

5:11 And speaking of the real JD, he had just given us a list of movies that they were looking at for "season 2" of MT. That was the first hint that we had that WLEX was committing to extending the show. So we selected and programmed the second wave of 26 movies that followed the "first season"; season 2 started with the Bela Lugosi Dracula.

5:27 Position 5. This sequence was written for Officer Elmer, but he decided that night that he didn't want to do it. This was an unpleasant surprise; we'd told him about it when we dropped the scripts off Thursday night, and gave him his pages, and he was up for it. Go figure. We needed to recruit somebody to stand in, in a hurry, so Terry did it. But Millie's posturing about a security breach makes no sense as played to Terry; Millie's on-air relationship with the production guys was amped-up Talent 'tude (go back to her manhandling Richie and Jeff in position 1). Well, we figured that anybody who stuck through the broadcast this long wasn't interested in strict internal logic n consistency.

6:09 Oh, look! More dead video air! That's because there was only one minicam, and it was set up at the film chain; Barb had to run over to it. We actually tried to get a pedestal camera out into the corridor for a cover shot; couldn't get it out the door.

6:25 The lens flare kills the payoff. The bookplate reads "Property of WKYT-TV". Guess we should have rehearsed that one.

6:54 Our first experiment in slipped synch. Doug had discovered that he could take an audio feed, loop it back through the audio rack, and throw the audio out of sync with the video. There was a noticeable degrade of the sound quality, but hey it was MT. We thought it might be interesting to have Millie's audio dubbed after going through the whole silent movie shtick; and we figured that people watching were half-asleep and if they noticed would think that their exhaustion was causing their eyes to play tricks on them. We played much more extensively with the slipped synch in later shows.

7:28 It's "je ne sais quoi", folks.

7:53 The Devil's Hand -- A Swedish anthology movie featuring Lon Chaney, Jr. as the devil, recovered from having his hand nailed to the set. He stays seated at a desk, wearing what looks like one of his personal shirts through his scenes, which were the wraparounds for the anthology stories. At the end of the movie he blows up the world.

8:06 The third Secret Clue to the air date. The show aired either the week before the Super Bowl, or the week of. We guys were vastly amused by Da Bears, not because we were football fans but because it was Ditka and Da Bears; we shared a brotherhood of punkdom. The out music is Da Bears doing the Super Bowl Shuffle.

8:32 Barb is adlibbing her way out.

So there you have it. We were pretty happy with it; this was, truth to tell, how the First Show would have played if we had had the chops to pull it off. We had the celebratory pizza afterwards, and everybody was feeling very good about this. We left the station sure in the certain knowledge that the cards n letters would pour in, congratulating us on our artistic accomplishment.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

In which we Parse the Show -- Part 1

Thanks to good ol' Mike the Carpet Monster show was saved for Posteriority:

So here's what was going on that fateful night.

0:08 SMPTE leader was a Clue that we were going to show a movie around the movie.

0:18 Dougie's soundscape was the first show-length soundtrack. For this show he ripped the music from the movie itself, and stacked his effects cassettes (regular old cassette tapes, not the carts that disc jockies used to use) in front of his decks. He had marked his script where he was going to play specific effects, and had others that he would drop in as fast as he could cue them up. Usually, he didn't send the soundscape out into the studio -- it would get picked up by the mics. So we never knew what the soundscape was until we played the show back. O that scamp Dougie!

That's Mike and Little Jeff fussing over Millie in the open. The blue cloth she was wearing was our Instant Blue Screen; if we wanted to matte in some thing, we'd put it on a little pedestal, drape the Instant Blue Screen over the pedestal, and put the whole thing in front of the permanent blue backing.

That's me doing my fake plummy FM radio announcer voice. I didn't have the pitch or resonance that a real plummy FM radio announcer had, but I knew what I wanted. I was trying to match the tempo of the movie's voiceover, hence the deliberate pacing of the VO; the normal MT show tempo would have been twice as fast.

0:23 If we repeated something, we wanted the audience to Get It. Repeating "zany" was that week's giveaway that we hated the word "zany" ICW MT. Ordinarily, we would have beat the repetition into the ground, but we had to get into the setup.

0:38 The Farrah Fawcett movie is one of two internal references that date the broadcast. If we had old teevee guides, we could pin it down for sure. The second internal reference puts the air date as either January 18 or 25. I'll tell you about it later.

0:45 "Horror Beyond Imagination." That's what the movie's original advertising promised. 1986 was also the year of Star Wars III (or VI), which to keep the fanboys away had the working title of "Blue Harvest" with the tagline "Horror Beyond Imagination". So there's our obligatory fanboy throwaway reference for the week.

0:51 That's the film library. All of the "on location" rooms were shot with available light; we had a little Lowellite on a stick to augment. So that's why the "on location" rooms are greenish; the lighting was moved from room to room, and we couldn't colorbalance the camera for each setup. A real DP would have pre-lit each room. Meh, we didn't have the lights, sue us.

Who knows why Doug put the woo woo into the soundscape here? Guess it was to show an alarm going off. We probly couldn't get a Star Trek Red Alert FX here, there was no Internets to pull down the file; if you wanted a sound effect, you had to go get the record.

I was way off to the side in the studio reading, as close to the mic as I could get, so that we had no background noise; I might have been up on the news set, can't remember. Barb could hear me live, but Bob was in another room; so Doug set up a monitor speaker for him to hear the VO.

Bob is tapping the bookplate on the film to set up the final joke. The bookplate reads "Property of WKYT-TV". The idea was to zoom in on the bookplate in the final segment; since this was a live show (we said so on teevee so it had to be true), unfortunately we had to remember to do so and cue the zoom -- and in that particular segment, things got rushed. Oh, well.

1:09 Yes kids, that is a Film Chain, and they actually still used it. When we showed the movie on the show, the movie was dubbed to videocassette, and the deck was cued automatically from the control room. But it arrived as a 16mm film, and Keith's first MT Job O The Week was to transfer the movie to videotape, using this very machine.

1:27 Another trope, this one from Michael Keaton in Night Shift: "Is this a great country or what?" We quoted a lot from not-quite-popular movies.

1:41 The standard show format by this point was an intro, five internal segments (mail is segment 3 or 4, depending on the film pacing), and outro including the preview. So this is Segment 1.

1:58 Doug has genuinely perplexed Barb with the "Secret woid" clip -- nobody knew that was coming, and he put that one out into the studio since there was no narration. So her look of puzzlement is not only in character, it's real.

2:06 That's Richie. He was floormanaging, so he went first. Since the cameras were generally locked down, the camera operator stood next to the camera during the shot.

2:23 That's Little Jeff. He was the minicam operator for the show. It was his tryout on the minicam.

2:45 Bill had grumbled about the writing being "glib and facile" at one point. So of course we had to call attention to the show's glibness and facility.

2:50 Barb was listening to Frankie Goes to Hollywood at this time, with the tee-shirt tag line "Frankie Say Relax". So we tried to work in "Millie say" at least once per show.

2:54 And speaking of live teevee and nobody knowing what someone might do, which as we all recall is what Bill hoped for back in the day, nobody knew that Barb would close out the segment by blowing a raspberry; we might have gone with live audio for that.

3:10 Here's Barb in the film room, and the lighting stinks. It didn't look so bad in the Bob sequence, because the blanket was green to begin with; but Barb's makeup and costume was in the reds, lavenders and blues. And since we all remember that teevee tubes broadcast light, and the primary colors of light are red, green and blue, and that under green light red and blue go black ... the perils of live teeveee with a half-hour setup taught us that we had to pre-light the next time we did this.

3:29 The "Clue" joke came from the Hard-Boiled Dick show (remember the Miami Vice montage?)

3:40 Self-referencing jokes in full mode here, folks.

3:50 Here's a geography lesson for the studio, showing how small the places really were: the Film Room was accessed through the Mail Room, which was right across the hall from the Control Room.

4:07 We are not above bad jokes. We were one of the few couples in our circle who thought Airplane was a great movie, and that quantity of jokes would work as well as quality of jokes.

4:20 The lighting in the Control Room stinks, and Terry has to fix it by dialing up something in the shot. After this show, Keith pronounces that we can do no more Control Room shots until we figure out how to fix the lighting.

4:28 In the writing, we saw that we were getting too off-track and that there was no way to get back to the so-called plot of the show; so we used the deus ex machina of the viewer call-in. We really wanted to get "real" viewers to call in, but that never happened. Probly for the best -- I don't know if we could have controlled the call. Bill Cosby was great at leading people into setting him up, when he felt like it.

I'm still reading in the studio; Barb is getting her cues from the room and booth monitors.

4:50 What in the world is Doug doing with the sound FX?

5:02 Finally, after all these years, I get the sound joke at the end of the bump.

5:19 Millie's crank calls were a staple of the show. We had the doo-dad where the call audio ran through the mixing board; when we did that live, she called the Control Room and one of the guys would answer (or call her in). That was a working extension she was dialing on, unplugged for this show.

She's calling for outside help because the previous movie segment had the Esteemed Scientist called in by the Sheriff. The Esteemed Scientist had explained the Secret of the Movie Monster to the stoic young Hero Guy. How did he know what the Secret of the Movie Monster was? Because he was an Esteemed Scientist from a University. I met one of those guys the other day.

5:32 The week before, Larry "Bud" had made a series of crank calls on Letterman using these exact jokes. Wonder if anybody remembered? He only made two calls; gags must always run in series of three. Running gags must always top each other, and run in odd-numbered series. Larry "Bud" made only two calls. Alert the media.

5:36 Now I'm in the ad-lib act; don't know why I thought the nyuk-nyuks would help the bit. I probly did it to irritate Barb, who to this day does not find the Stooges funny.

6:12 Here's the third joke. It's un homage to Willy Elder and one of his Mad chicken fat gags. A no-prize to the Merry Marvel Marcher who can identify which story this one was buried in.

6:32 Well, by this time he was established as a staple. I don't think that's my arm up the puppet's hinder, but it could have been.

6:43 Here's the Tape Room, which was behind the Control Room. This was the very room ripped up by the Real Engineers. Note that they're not quite finished yet -- they've still got masonite down on the floor where they were staging equipment to keep it clean.

7:09 Note the high-tech state o the art Sony decks.

7:12 Snappy-dressing Bob and his snappy dressing shoes. I would have sworn he was wearing Chucks.

Friday, June 12, 2009

In which we Can Has Cheezburgers

Well, I was wrong. The Creeping Terror stunk.

Now I am willing to stipulate for the record that people are entitled to their dreams; and it's obvious that it was The Creeping Terror's director's dream to make a Real Movie. And I am willing to stipulate for the record that the director likely scored a used 16 mm camera and a used splicing block. And I am willing to stipulate for the record that the director likely knew a guy who knew a guy who was willing to write a Gripping Space Age Adventure for beer money; and that after he got the script, the director more n likely talked his friends n relations into coming up to the lake for a couple of weekends to act in his Dream Real Movie. And I am willing to stipulate for the record that the director very likely maxed out his credit cards on lab fees, and dubbing studio time, and wound up with one or two prints of his Dream Real Movie. And I am willing to stipulate for the record that the director highly likely spent a year or two pounding the pavement knock knock knocking on producers' doors until finally somebody wrote him a check for $.05 more than his out-of-pocket expenses, so he could live his life happy n secure in the knowledge that he made and sold his Dream Real Movie to a real Hollywood Producer Guy, and actually made money on the deal. While I'm at it, I'll stipulate that the director was a nice guy who loved children and puppies, and I'll throw in a veliciopede for good measure. I'm perfectly willing to stipulate all these things, because this is what makes our country great.

But I'm not willing to stipulate that Achieving Your Dream necessarily results in a Good Movie. In the case of The Creeping Terror, it didn't even result in a competent movie. O, it would be too easy to fisk the movie; besides the MSTies already did it years later. No no, sitting in our living room watching the thing play out ... well, fisking the movie would be like taking candy from a baby. Like taking feathers from a chicken. Like taking an honorary degree from Notre Dame. What's the fun in it?

Now I would not have said it this way 23 years ago, but this is what I thought about the Work, this is what I teach my kids about the Work, and this is what I still believe about the Work: you gotta get up and do the Work, every day. You set your daily Work time, and you show up for Work, and you do your Work during your Work time. If you write, you write during your Work time; if you draw or paint, you draw or paint during your Work time; if you play music, you practice your music during your Work time; if you design, you sit at your drawing board (we're still in the 80s, folks) and you design during your Work time; if you dance, you take class during your Work time; if you garden, you garden, etc. Whatever it is that you do creatively, you show up every day (6 out of 7 is good, 5 out of 7 is pushing it, 4 out of 7 is Right Off) during your Work time and you do your Work. You do not wait for the Muse to hit you in the eye with a big pizza pie, because that's not going to happen. You show up, you do your Work. Later you can take a break, drink a beer, hang with the gang, whatever. So it was pupu for me, Joe, that The Creeping Terror didn't inspire me with th' Muse o Wackiness -- but it was Work time and I had to write a teevee show to amuse n delight dozens, and it was due Thursday and we had the same three days we had had all season to do it. So I had to start writing on that yellow pad and not stop until I had broken the show.

It would be lovely to report that I saved the breakdown and the script; but they're long gone. But I sorta remember the thought process. And it went something like this:
  • We don't know what the ratings are, but we can count and we've been on the air more than 13 weeks and nobody's kicked us out yet. Matter of fact, the "real" WLEXers seem a tad friendlier. Maybe it's mere familiarity; the signs n portents suggest that The Powers That Be are happy with the numbers, which means that MT must be making itself felt in audience land.
  • If MT is gaining share, it's either because more people are continuing to watch teevee and turning to MT, or it's attracting viewers away from The Other Movie. Or both.
  • If The Other Movie on The Alpha Station is not growing, or is losing audience, they would not be happy about it. Especially if it was a result of no-count shabby upstarts like nous.
  • If the Millie-verse extended beyond the walls of WLEX, and The Alpha Station behaved like MT's "WLEX", they would react by making an inappropriate choice and following it all the way through.
  • If that were the case, the appropriate Inappropriate Choice would be to indulge in industrial sabotage.
  • If The Alpha Station were to indulge in Industrial Sabotage, it would do so publicly. Which means it would sabotage the program. And since no one on the program appears to be paying much attention to the movie, the weak link would be to sabotage the movie.
  • There's the show.
So I ran the idea past Barb, who was not all that interested because it sounded too High Concept, and High Concept doesn't play very well. Plus, there were rumblings that we were getting too far from Hosting a Movie, which is what we were supposed to do. So if we did this storyline ... but staged and played it mimicking the movie we were showing ... heh ...

The show pretty much wrote itself over the next two nights; we did very little in the polish beyond tightening here and there. We decided that since the movie seemed to be popularly known as The Carpet Monster, we'd use that as our Monstrous Device. Why the Alpha Station would employ a monster as its agent o mischief was irrelevant; this show took place in the Millieverse, so of course they'd use a cutout agent for plausible deniability. Duh.

When I dropped the script off at the station, Keith handed the audio copy to Doug, they both started reading, and started smiling before they finished the first page. Doug looked up first: "You need music for this, right." It wasn't a question. I agreed that a cheesy movie soundtrack would be a Very Good Thing. Keith looked up next: "You want to do this in black and white?"

Huh. Didn't know that was an option. It was very early for dropping the script off -- we usually dropped it off around 8:30 - 8:45, this was closer to 8, so the station had just gone to the network's feed for prime time programming, the guys had just taken over the studio for the night, and there weren't any local commercials to plug in until the half hour. So we pulled the bookcase flat out, turned on the light, and pointed a camera at it while Keith, Doug and Terry futzed with the electronics. I watched over their shoulder while they tried various things, and after a few minutes we all concluded that we probably couldn't make this work -- for this week. The set was lit wrong, and it looked like without some significant lighting adjustments we wouldn't be able to get enough sep between foreground (Barb) and background (set) to be able to clearly read Barb in the studio. It also looked like there would be real problems in the various building locations, which were all usually shot with available room light. One of the guys pointed out that if we did the whole show B&W, the only color would be the commercials; and after thinking about that one for a minute, we all decided that this interesting concept needed more work and we'd come back to it later.

Later, I thought this was a very good thing indeed -- the guys now own the show, they're taking ownership of production and working the problems. All we needed was to plunk a piece of carpet on Bob and do the show, and we just happened to be throwing out some old exhibit booth carpet from Ruckus Etcetera that very night. So I went dumpster diving, came up with a piece of carpet, and threw it right back in the dumpster -- the thing was so stiff it wouldn't drape worth a hoot toot, and was so heavy nobody could wear it. We decided we'd use a bedspread instead. (Still have that bedspread -- it's on The Michael's bed even as we speak.)

At this time, we're still doing the show live; so we show up at the studio very full of beans n mischief, Barb tells Bob he's going to have some fun tonight, we make our obligatory faces at Mike n Mindy as Mike sonorously advises the viewing audience to "stay tuned for SNL followed by MT, where tonight they're showing The Creeping Terror -- sounds like fun."

It was.

Next posts, we'll parse the YouTube clips.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

In which we'll be Right Back after more Stuff

Wait a minute -- oh! that music!

In which we Engineer Victory from Defeat

We're going to take the dramatic license of compressing real time into story time. The incidents are mainly true, but not the implied timeline.

Keith is, dare I say it, actually twinkling one night. It seems that the Engineering Department has completed its due diligence, scheduling, solicitation of approved overtime, whatever fetlock-scratching was required and the rumored installation of the new electronic whizzbangery is scheduled for next week! With any luck, it will all be in by next week's show! Then we can do some Stuff! Hoot toot!

Well, all righty then; and although I can't swear to it I'm sure we rose to the occasion and wrote some bit that required some heinously complicated videographical nonsense for the punch line. So it was of course wholly to be expected that when we arrived for that night's Fun with Millie, he was about to kick Wags, the OBPP halfway from New Circle Road to East Kuala Lumpor. It seemed that the Engineering Department had encountered some Unforseen Issues in the installation of said new electronic whizzbangery.

And the installation was behind schedule.

And all of the old electronic whizzbangery was disconnected, with great gaping holes in the equipment racks where some devices formerly lived; and ripped-up wires hanging over the faces of the other devices.

So we were limited to the regular pedestal cameras tonight, and to regular old cuts -- we could have a fade to and from black, but nothing that involved going from one buss to another, because the X buss was also disconnected. So no Fun with Chromakey.

And he wasn't so sure that we could have supered titles or graphics, so no run-on crawls.

And no minicamera, either. It seems that the Engineering Department hadn't gotten around to hooking up the minicamera in the studio for us.

Because even as we spoke, the Engineering Department was in the dreaded Back Room, with all of the electronic whizzbangery spread out all over the place and the floor pulled, trying to figure out what the problems were and trying to get the system back up, online and functional for the Sunday public affairs show.

And he was under orders to "keep that show's rowdiness down and not disturb them" because they had to get the Back Room working in less than twelve hours, and frankly this little throwaway show wasn't worth jeopardizing the rest of the studio's operations over.

Well, all righty then. I note that the door is open, and I also note that -- hello! -- the A-Team studio crew is back, up to their pupkuses Laocoon-like in electronica and wiring. Now, I really am sympathetic to the problem -- deadlines is deadlines and not to be trifled with, and M's MT really is a throwaway show in the Grand Scheme of Things, and if you've been working away at installing many racksfull of electronic gear for any application it's not going to work the First Time, or the Second Time, and it is No Fun at any time, and you are going to wind up Starting All Over on Over Time, and it's just about certain that you're going to be pulling an All-Hands Allnighter at the end of the project, and you'll Get it Done (won't be pretty and will take some Junior Woodchuck the better part of two weeks at least to clean up whatever it is you did that finally got it Working, and you can bet your rosy hinder that the newest one of our guys will be the Junior Woodchuck anointed to take on that pleasant task In Addition To and at No Extra Pay). I am deeply and truly sympathetic to the problem, with a bushel and a peck of empathy thrown in for good measure. And I also know that M's MT is a real, regularly scheduled WLEX broadcast program that happens to making some kind of modest profit for the station thanks to a reliably watching audience that is going to be reliably watching in about an hour, and is therefore entitled to a show that has a certain minimum expected production support. So I hunker down with the Director o Engineering, who is in fact down in the floor and understandably not in the happiest of moods right about now.

Basically, the pitch is that we're known within the station as being a scripted program; the script was submitted properly, vetted and approved for certain camera n production gags; the Talent praise be unto her has rehearsed and prepared the show around the approved camera n production gags; the Talent n staff have regularly demonstrated collective team playery for good ol' WLEX; good ol' Larry would probly prefer not to refund paid advertising fees to the snazzy surplus store owing to a precipitous decline in viewership caused by the unfunny show we seem to be about to air; so what minimum electronica could we get back by air time, while otherwise not affecting the debugging and rebuilding?

D o E makes makes and once again for good measure makes the point that he really can't spare anybody or anything, is doing us a favor by even acknowledging our existence (of course I'm hunkered down right on the floor panel he wants to pull up next, and he knows it and I know it) -- and then relaxes a millimeter and says that he might spare one guy for five minutes. Because whether he likes the show or not, and don't think for a minute that I might like your show because I don't, it is a WLEX show and they shouldn't have made it impossible for us to do the kind of show that we do.

Well, if we can get the minicamera and maybe get the character generator to properly superimposed over the live image, we can fake the rest.

This, it seems, is possible -- possible, mind you, and he sends off -- heh -- our A-Team Director to accommodate us, remarking that ya know, the minicam doesn't really cut in properly with the studio pedestals and maybe while they're at it and as long as they've got everything torn up they might work on that next week, we might see some improvement, not promising anything now. Promises of buying a beer are exchanged and forgotten while the minicam is set up, Dougie looming over the operation just to make sure he understands how it's set up tonight so he knows what's different from usual -- Dougie's about twice the size of our A-Team guy normally, and is now trying to inflate like a puffer fish for maximum intimidation.

All this is fine n dandy, and an excellent manifestation of interpersonal skills I normally choose to not manifest at all, preferring to favor the Dangerous Angry Artiste persona -- but we have to rip up a segment now and come up with something new, and set up for the show which is going live in twenty minutes or so, and walk Barb n Keith through whatever this new segment is going to be. So Keith and I go through the script to see how we're going to do this. My habit is to paginate each segment separately, because Keith will hand out segments to certain of his team for a particular task -- usually the roving camera segments, or the chroma segments. Nobody gets a full script but Keith and audio, although Dougie has been known to pilfer Keith's script from time to time. So we're taking each segment and reordering the show sequence on the fly, because the fiendish chroma sequence of course was the open.

In a few minutes, we've got a new rundown that looks like it will hang flow together, with mail in its accustomed place. Don't know if it will make any sense for the movie we're showing that night, but that hasn't been a priority for a while. But we still have either Sequence Two or Sequence Three that basically doesn't exist any more, and we don't have any bright ideas about what to do to fill that dead air.

Barb has an idea. She tells Keith that she wants Dougie and the minicam, and a hand mic, and she'll do the rest. Trust her -- she's an actress. Mmm-kay; we got nothing else, and we're out of time -- once the show starts, we have learned that we have to go with it, we can't stop to fix or discuss anything. So we get through the open more or less intact; first position is a Millie sit-n-spiel; and that bump she tells Dougie to get ready with the minicam and Richie, who has graduated to floor manager, to just stay ahead of her and open doors.

And we're on the air. Barb announces that tonight we have a real treat: we get to go on a field trip to a Real Teevee Studio where we're going to see Real Teevee Guys doing Real Teevee Stuff. And off she charges for the studio door, Richie sprinting ahead of her. She marches into the control room, introduces Keith and berates him for hiding behind his Big Desk all these weeks, introduces our Audio Guy and Switcher Guy of the week, introduces Terry our Fake Engineer -- and then tells the camera that now we're going to meet the Real Engineers, and marches into the Back Room.

Of course, this is the time when the Real Engineers have chosen to take a coffee break, so bam! through the door comes Barb in full Millie flight, Dougie hot on her trail, and Barb triumphantly announcing "And here are Real Engineers doing Real Engineering Stuff, whatever it is that Real Engineers do. And you are?" she asks, thrusting her microphone into the phiz of the D o E, who is spluttering What what what what are you people doing? Since we get to see the On-Air feed in the studio, we note that Keith has helpfully put a graphic up: Real TV Engineers. Millie is continuing, "And how long have you been doing whatever it is that you do?" The D o E manages to get out "Don't you have a commercial to cut to, or something?" Millie takes the cue and gushes that she just noticed that Real TV Engineers shop at our title sponsor surplus store, where they get their -- and Keith punches in the commerical, that hot-starts with the immortal lede "Snazzy Duck-Head Jeans ..."

We're all pretty helpless with laughter by this point, while our pal the D o E is shaking his finger in Keith's face "Don't you -- ever -- do that again!" Except that his authority is a little undercut by his guys' breaking up; one of the A-Team takes the opportunity to remark that, well, we got them good; and besides, it was pretty funny. So the D o E thinks about it, resummons his dignity, and repeats: "Like I said -- don't you ever do that again -- tonight!" Then he grins marginally and throws us out of the Back Room.

After we wrap for the night, I ask Keith if I need to come in on Monday and smooth things over. He's not worried; and it was worth it to see their expressions on camera when Millie burst into the room. Then he hands me next week's cinematic masterpiece and says, "I don't know about this one -- it's pretty bad." I look at the tape on the back of the cassette -- The Creeping Terror, it sez -- and say, "I dunno. How bad could it be?"

Sunday, June 7, 2009

In which we Start Shrieking a Lot.

The bogus interview being a staple of teevee parody shows n skits, we threw in a bogus interview with a werewoof. Being tragically short of trained actors or werewoofs, it seemed logical to use a Cookie Monster puppet purchased from the same toy store as Wags the Obnoxious Etcetera Etcetera. It also seemed logical to put that puppet on my right hand, since I had run out of options for recruiting talent, Talent, or ta Lent.

Barb and I used to amuse ourselves on roadtrips with bogus puppet acts, which as they were performed in the privacy of our car for our own private entertainment (as the disclaimers on home entertainemtn require) were often at the expense of co-workers, other performers, academics, distinguished Lexington landed gentry, and anyone else who popped to mind. This was mindless riffing to while away the miles up n down I-75; so we had our own private rhythm, timing and general understanding of where the other one might go riffing. We amused each other with Monty Python pepperpot voices, abandoning fake British accents after attending a particularly unfortunate local production of something-or-other that featured the worst stage British in recorded history. So, the hell: it was a throwaway bit, it was within budget (most of which was being spent, when it was spent at all, on soundtrack), it was amusing in concept to co-opt a kid's puppet, badabing badaboom badabam. Done, moving on, next.

Except that when we watched the show playback, Barb said "That was pretty funny."

We had years of critiquing and noting each other's work; and I am not a performer, hate performing, and go out onto a stage only when I am dragged kicking and screaming. So I would have preferred to remain safely off camera, and was still deluding myself that the show would get to full improvisatory state in another two or three weeks; but the ten or twelve weeks of the show's broadcasts to date had pretty conclusively demonstrated that we'd gotten about as much performance out of our friends n crew as we were going to get -- and I for one wanted more than what we were getting.

It seemed to me that the show still wasn't crowded enough to overcome the audience's 1AM torpor. We were steadily increasing the additional production gags -- the crawls, the chroma, the music and sound gags -- and had pretty much found the Millie character, and some viable comic foils -- but the next step was obviously to pick up the pace of the show. And with only one trained performer, the pace was entirely dependent on Barb's timing. And with a live show/no audience, Barb's timing was driven by the pacing dictated by the script and by the cues from her foils. So if we wanted to speed things up, we had to give her a foil who could work fast with her, who she trusted and could play with, and who could take some of the heavy lifting performance load off Barb.

With no other alternatives, that would be me. We still kept up the good fight trying to recruit our Real Actor friends, who were grudgingly admitting that MT did appear to have some legs; but they were still unavailable for show. Lots of hair being washed at 1AM. Well, it was plausible, not worth wrecking friendships over, and we were still committed to pulling up stakes and moving Onward within a year so the friendship-wrecking would likely sort its own bad self out.

So ... the pieces are now all here.

Millie gets the show running. When she is setting something up, she starts at medium tempo and revs up to fourth gear or so -- when she is establishing the segment's concept, she starts normally and as it heads into ridiculosity her speed and pitch increase.

"Keith" slows the show down. "Keith" tries to get the show back on track. "Keith" is a foil for Millie, but does not interact with "Bob".

Millie occasionally incites "Keith's" crew against him, usually "Dougie", by playing the "studio crew" against the "control room crew". "Dougie" becomes Millie's partner-in-crime in the studio; when he moves into the control room and takes over audio, "Dougie" might side with either Millie or "Keith", depending on his mood. Millie can charm him, but "Keith" signs his time card. "Dougie" can interact with "Keith" and Millie, but not "Bob".

"Bob" works at a leisurely tempo. He doesn't change much; he's the straight man. "Bob" generally does not instigate; things happen to "Bob". Millie uses "Bob" to illustrate a ridiculous concept. "Bob" allows things to happen. Eventually "Bob" starts subverting this rule, as real-Bob starts working some of his innate snarkiness into his performance.

The puppet becomes the Clampett runamok. The puppet will run at full intensity, and will be used to wreak havok. The puppet should be used sparingly; no more than once a show, and not necessarily every show. That's 'cause the puppeteer has an irregular work schedule, and is having to work some late Saturday nights, although not as frequently now that he's shifted from theatre operations to convention operations. The puppet can fluster Millie, because the puppet is the only character that will not play by the rules. The puppet can do whatever it wants, but only once a show. Eventually, "Bob" and "Dougie" will also become anarchists when required.

There's some sense in this role for this particular puppet. The original Sesame Street was far more anarchic than the mid-80s version, and is unrecognizable compared to the current politically correct edition. And the Cookie Monster was the Id-beast loose: the only puppet with the googly eyes, constantly threatening to explode out of the scene and destroy not only the set but anybody else in the scene who wasn't Kermit. That puppet was designed to lunge and leave debris in its midst; so our borrowing would be un homage to its origins.

Yeah, right. Only problem is, I'm not a particularly good puppeteer -- and the shrieking voice is not picking up well on mic; can't make out what the thing is saying half the time. I want the puppet's closeups to be generally shot with the minicam, with the lens zoomed back as wide as possible and the camera pushed forward to get the shot. That would distort the perspective, so that when the thing is pushed into the camera it will balloon onto the screen, like the manic Daffy Duck of the late 30s and 40s. Keith reminds me that he's the director, and that maybe if I'm not happy with my performance I should go work on that instead of setting up shots. Then he takes charge on the set: "Okay, let's get Millie and the Blue Guy in place."

Well, that's as good a name for him as any.

Friday, June 5, 2009

In which Bob suffers Two Indignities

Once in a while, we felt compelled to fool our friends, amaze our enemies, and insert some monster movie fanboyderie into the show.

There was this werewoof movie in the PRC list; the werewoof makeup, as I vaguely recall, was a poor piece of work indeed. But we did have a makeup artist who had signed on to be humiliated on demand on the air, and we had some useless trivia about Jack Pierce that cried out to be used, and we had Learned our Lesson: attacking or implying attacking small persons with tools or cooking implements was verboten, but attacking large persons was okey-dokey.

In those innocent pre-Internet days, if you wanted to clog your own personal bandwidth with useless trivia, you got it the old-fashioned way: from "printed materials". Most of these printed materials came in the form of "magazines", which could be either purchased through the odd "bookstore" or ordered through the "mail". Yes I know, hard to believe, you had to perform a certain amount of "physical effort" to track down these "magazines", you had to actually physically turn pieces of "paper" and "read" every word in order to find the trivial poop you sought, most of the time you would "read" the entire "magazine" "cover" to "cover" and not find the trivial poop you were looking for. Whew! thank gooness those days are gone gone gone never to return along with the drive-in movie theatre and the Polaroid Land camera! We can far more efficiently waste time waiting for the NIC card to find a network in range and the screen to load.

There were a couple of these odd little bookstores that I frequented: one on North Limestone near Transy, the other on South Limestone near UK, indulging my Cinefex/ Cinefantastique/ Film Fan Quarterly or whatever jones (and yes, as a beardless youth I read Famous Monsters and actually had a first print run of Dick Smith's Monster Makeup Handbook, but those are long since returned to midwestern humus). Some of the wunderkinder of 80s effects actually knew the heritage of their crafts, and would occasionally write appreciations of the master craftsmen of the 30s and 40s. In one of these mags Rick Baker wrote a two-page or so article on Jack Pierce, who created the makeups for the original Universal movie monsters. Baker was clearly a fan of Pierce's craftsmanship, from his character analysis to establish a motivation for the makeup design to the use of old-fashioned (by 1950s standards) materials to handcraft the makeup directly on the performer. I'm a big fan of hand tools and painstaking craftsmanship too; and notice that I'm not using a knife-sharpened quill and a piece of lamb's vellum to write this.

It seemed to me that underneath the admiration for the work ethic there were hints of a certain unbecoming misanthropy in Pierce's handling of the Talent, to wit: it seemed to me that Pierce didn't like the Talent very much. Really didn't like the Talent very much. Went out of his way to let the Talent know that he really really really didn't like the Talent very much. I knew a little bit about some of the materials and techniques that Pierce used for his monster makeups, and these were maximally uncomfortable to wear on your body -- as in potentially painfully uncomfortable. In watching one of Pierce's werewolf transitions, it was obvious that the film technique was a series of dissolves, with six or seven progressively more complete makeups dissolving on top of each other in sequence -- A to B, B to C, C to D, etc. -- with holds at each stage that showed the makeup. The first time this was done, the actor was not reset exactly into the same position between takes, so the overlap was not seamless -- probably ooky enough for 1941, but hardly ooky for 1985. And apparently not ooky enough for Pierce, who had a simple solution for the next movie: he nailed the actor's hand down.

I quote Dave Barry: "I am not making this up (copyright 1985, Dave Barry. All rights reserved.)" Pierce apparently used very fine brads and drove these brads through the skin webbing between the actor's fingers, so that the actor couldn't move his hand without ripping the nails through his skin. The actor in question was Lon Chaney Jr., who was big and ornery enough to throw Mr. Pierce through one or two of his makeup mirrors, which might have been a career-limiting move but I'd bet he did it anyway.

Well, such a factoid had to be used on M's MT; and with a werewoof movie on the schedule, that was the perfect opportunity to do so. We thought this was going to be The Bit Everyone Remembered from that week's show. Barb rattled Millie's more-or-less accurate description of Pierce's process while she drove 16d nails "through" Bob's fingers. Barb's a better carpenter than I am, so I had no worries about her accidentally smashing Bob; Bob was less sanguine about the prospect, but we plied him with beer and he was good to go. Bob splayed his fingers, Barb actually nailed next to his finger webbing, and we shot with the minicam so that we could drop it down to the table height and cheat the perspective; the big pedestal cameras would have tilted down onto the setup and given away the gag. I told Bob that he couldn't say anything or move; he had to gradually wilt into a cringe or grimace for each indignity, but it had to be s-l-o-w, the slower the better and funnier; the slowness would sell the gag while Millie yammered obliviously on.

Anyway, after Pierce nailed Chaney's hand down, he then glued the Special Custom Yak Hair on to Chaney's hand. He'd do a little; the cameras would roll; he'd do a little more; the cameras would roll; he'd do a little more; the cameras would roll; et cetera. Now, the thing with applying hair to a live actor -- not a wig or beard (which is called a "ventilated hair piece" in the trade because the hair is sewed on to a fine mesh net, hair by hair, and the net is then attached to the Talent), but applying crepe, human or Special Custom Yak -- is that you can't apply this in clumps: you apply it one hair at a time. Which meant that Herr Chaney sat with his hand nailed down for one whole day of shooting while Herr Pierce applied one -- Special -- Custom -- Yak -- Hair -- at -- a -- time. Gluing, pressing on, teasing out, trimming. I could imagine Chaney boiling, Pierce knowing Chaney was boiling -- and probably smoking a cigarette while he was working. And of course all this stuff -- the glue, the hair, the wardrobe, the finger extensions -- were highly flammable.

So I'm sure Millie was waving her cigarette holder around while she applied her "makeup" to Bob. To illustrate the process, we used a gallon of white glue and we globbed on handfuls of easter egg grass; probly equalled the discomfort of the spirit gum and Special Custom Yak Hair, but it sure took less time. By the time that particular bit was over and Richie had called us clear, nobody could hold the laughter in any more. We couldn't wait to get home and play that bit back; we were sure we had a winner.

Funny, though: when we played it back after we got home, it somehow didn't play as well as we thought it did. It was funny and all, but not the high point of the show. On the other hand, there was some possibilities in a throwaway bit we had tossed off, that involved Millie and a cookie monster puppet that was supposed to be a werewoof.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

In which we Find, and Lose, Wags (the Obnoxious Battery-Powered Puppy)

Shopping malls have service corridors that snake behind the stores. These corridors connect the back doors of the (usually not anchor tenant) stores to a corridor that leads to loading docks, trash dumpsters, restrooms and other common space necessities. There was such a corridor in the Mall at Ruckus Arenus, which connected to a Secret Passage that led down to the service areas of said Ruckus Arenus. This Secret Passage was very useful for engineers who might need to get into the stores, or "tenant spaces" as we quaintly referred to them, for the various mechanical adjustments occasionally called for during the busy shopping day. It was also very useful for most everybody else to get up to the Mall for coffee and lunch breaks and dashes over to Triangle Park and the Opera House.

The Secret Door to the service corridor was in the corner behind a store that for the longest time was a toy store. Outside of the toy store was a large drum table with a high lip surrounding the edge. The lip contained the toys on display, which were battery operated little squeaky dogs. These dogs did two things: They squeaked, they sat down, and they backflipped. Well, three things. The little squeaky dogs were set out at a height appropriate for small children to pick up a dog, bond with it hopefully and present it to the accompanying parent for immediate purchase n gratification. This seldom happened, because of the dogs' continous irritating squeaking. The squeaking was irritating, very irritating. And it was continuous -- from the time the store opened until the time it closed. Since most RA hourly and technical employees went in and out of that door several times daily, the little squeaky dogs were known to and loathed by all.

A few years earlier, Woody Allen released a gorgeously photographed and otherwise disturbing film, Manhattan. The disturbation came from the plotline that Allen's 42-year-old doppelganger was infatuated with a 17 year old high school girl, not that life imitates art or anything. The film also offers the equally amusing subplot of Allen's doppelganger putting the moves on his best male friend's new obnoxious girl friend, Diane Keaton. O the humorous n sophisticated hijinks among the New York literati of a certain age n time! Pip ho, wot? One humorous n sophisticated scene featured humorous n sophisticated witty repartee among Allen, Keaton and BMF Tony Roberts in the Keaton character's tiny Manhattan kitchen, with everyone continually interrupted by Keaton's tiny yapping dachshund, Waffles. Loathsome characters with a tiny little loathsome dog in a confined space ... loathsome little squeaky dogs ... hmm ...

Thus was born Wags, the Obnoxious Battery-Operated Puppy. The idea was to have Wags squeaking continously throughout random segments, with Millie completely oblivious to Wags while Wags drove everybody else crazy. We'd run this from time to time to establish that Wags was going to be allowed to run through the whole bit. After a few weeks of this, we'd then start the Overreacting Comic Retaliation. I envisioned crazed camera operators, maybe even a crazed Keith coming out of the control room, throwing Wags across the room, blowing Wags up real good, attacking Wags with hammers. In order to get the point across, every time we would use Wags we would throw up a helpful title: "Oh, No! It's WAGS -- The Obnoxious Battery-Powered Puppy!"

Didn't work. For one thing, Barb was driven to distraction by Wags. It's one thing to pitch a metajoke, but pitches have the luxury of ignoring certain realities like whether or not you can actually do it. Barb could not concentrate with Wags squeaking away, and after all there was no show without Barb holding it together.

For another thing, we also finally got called on going over the line of Public Decency. Around this time we discovered that Dougie's many talents included a pitch-perfect imitation of a crying baby. He had achieved a certain notoriety in certain social circles for performing this imitation in certain crowded, inappropriate, dark environments and setting off amusing scrambles by People who Weren't In on the Joke to find and shush the baby. Accordingly, we immediately worked up a segment featuring "Millie's Babysitting Tips for the Misanthropic". Dougie cried off-camera while Millie offered various inappropriate ways to calm a crying baby (a doll in a teeny dolly crib, fashioned from a beer carton conveniently donated by one of the guys), culminating with a deft whack upside the head with a 12" cast iron skillet. And of course we showed the skillet, slammed it down onto an off-camera metal counterweight (to produce a resounding clang), whereupon Dougie immediately cut off his piteous wails -- prompting a seraphic smile from Millie and a bridge into some other bogus tip. Being selfish childless boomers obliviously assuming that our entire audience consisted of selfish childless boomers, we failed to anticipate that there might be a) young parents watching, who b) did not find child abuse jokes funny and who c) had telephones and typewriters and d) knew how to use them.

Their use of telephones and typewriters brought an immediate appearance of the previously invisible Bill, who made it very clear that whacking defenseless off-camera suggested anythings was not what he had in mind when he contemplated Zaniness and Wackiness. Had we no decency, no sense of shame? Did we not realize that small children were watching? (Monster movies? At 2 in the morning? On a church day?) WLEX was not going to be party to an epidemic of random frying-pan attacks on the defenseless, apologies all around to the entire viewing community and the senior management of WLEX for putting them in such a parlous predicament, you know the drill. Bill stood over me as I called one particular lady on a speaker phone to abjectly apologize; she seemed very surprised that I would call, said she thought the segment was really pretty funny otherwise and loved the show, the frying pan just seemed a little over the top to her is what, asked for an autographed picture, at which point Bill decided that I probably didn't need to make any more calls on the station's behalf.

But no more cruelty to children or small animals. Real or imaginary.

On the other hand ... if we were to record these shows in advance ... then it would be possible for management to ... prescreen the show and catch any potentially ... unseemly ... content before it aired. So live-to-tape, at least, went back onto the table.

On the third hand ... Wags as an ongoing obnoxious comic foil was no longer an option. Back to the drawing board.