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.