Meeting of the Minds

Mondays were always hell for the UBS network. The UBS network of the modern era intended to be a classy joint with quality programming befitting of a family. Years ago, UBS was synonymous with degrading, lowbrow entertainment.

For a time, the head of UBS programming aggressively pursued this “new” direction, only to find out that amorality and debasement were unprofitable in the long-term future. After three years of constant smut, snuff and snark, affiliates began dropping the network’s most controversial shows on the fall line up, which were coincidentally the network’s most expensive shows to broadcast. This led to numerous salary disputes and the cancellation of nearly 50% of UBS’s primetime schedule.

By the time Alf Kingsley was appointed President of UBS Entertainment, the situation had become dire. Kingsley was appointed directly by the President and CEO of Ruth-Less Dynamic Energy, Jason Poppin. Contrary to urban legend, Alf was not given power because Poppin happened to be a fan of the popular 1980s alien sitcom. Many speculate that Kingsley was appointed because of his proposed new format, which involved dismantling the core of UBS and restructuring the network as a family-oriented, politically correct haven for decent people. Kingsley envisioned a UBS that would stand bravely against a strong current; it would avert its eyes to the simulated violence of CBS, disinfect the rampant fornication of NBC, and resist the raucous ululations of FOX. The only competitor that would challenge its legacy was ABC, super charged and ultra-funded by that over-caffeinated mouse. Wouldn’t you know, Kingsley pulled through and found the network’s new angle.

ABC’s current lineup had been perceived as a political disaster. Their hour-long dramas mocked the racial diversity that America tried so hard to create. Middle Eastern men were either depicted as terrorist sympathizers or weak-minded family men, desperate for understanding and ready to sell out their heritage for a small sampling of Americana. Homosexuals were scripted to be brand-name obsessed fashionistas, either unapologetically whorish or utterly sexless. Female protagonists or love interests for male protagonists all shared the same physical features: DDD cups, thin waists and flawless white faces. Blacks and Hispanics were relegated to supporting characters, while obese individuals and the Chinese did not exist in this TV-friendly universe. ABC was already feeling the heat from GLAAD, the NAACP and even the Parents Television Council, who resented too many large breasts appearing in the family hour of 8:00 PM.

Kingsley knew that if UBS were to aggressively target ABC’s disgruntled audience they could chew off a piece of the network’s 7,510,000 regular viewers. The angle would be that UBS would distance itself from ABC’s political fallacies; UBS would be vigilant and would strive to accommodate its culturally and behaviorally diverse audience. The UBS of tomorrow, as Kingsley sold it, would be “concerned about society.”

Kingsley decided it was only prudent to oversee the development of all of UBS’s new shows, from the initial pitch to the filmed pilot. On July 24th, Kingsley met with UBS’s most creative minds to discuss new ideas for primetime. Among the big names assembled for this network meeting were Braden Bradshaw, head of UBS Sports, Stella Thornton, Vice President of First Class Productions, UBS’s most important production company and David Driars, President of UBS Daytime. The President of UBS News, Jeffrey Sessler, was unable to attend because of a prior commitment. David Driars informed Alf Kingsley that Sessler was attending sensitivity training at the urging of his long-suffering wife. Kingsley reckoned that not only would the specialized training assist Sessler personally; that same positivism could be incorporated into UBS’ new mission statement.

Kingsley started the round table discussion that day, a “meeting of the minds”, as he proclaimed it. He encouraged his board to speak freely, and to deconstruct every great idea to ensure that it doesn’t “offend the sensibilities or ignite the prejudices of UBS’s mainstream viewership.” Kingsley excitedly introduced the new comedy-drama series The Journey, which was already in pre-production. Before committing more of the network’s resources, he wanted reassurance from his most trusted team that it would be a stalwart project, one completely in tune with UBS’s aggressive new stance towards Pacifism.

Kingsley started the presentation by emphasizing the show’s strong character-driven plotlines. “The main character is named Leonard Blumrick. He is a middle-aged man, and a former advertising analyst now pursuing a teaching career. His quirks are that he loves music, reading and dabbling into science. The complication is that is he preoccupied with his estranged wife named Marva. Now isn’t that a fascinating character arc?”

Stella hesitated before objecting. “At first glance, he is a likable character. However, a few things bother me the more I think it over. Why is he separated from his wife? I think it could be perceived as insulting to viewers who are actually going through separation or divorce.”

“Right, right,” Kingsley replied. “I did perceive that problem. However, the character arc of a teacher is a good foundation to begin with, right?”

“Not necessarily,” David said, shifting in his chair, worn out from a long day. “Teachers are usually perceived as villains by mainstream viewers. At first glance, the audience will either see him as a power-hungry stickler or a student-ogling lecher. Couldn’t we find a career more identifiable, more wholesome?”

Kingsley agreed. “Yes, we’ll find something else. We’ll put him on hold for now. Now his wife Marva, I really like. She is about ten years younger than he is, attractive and a bit plump. She is very flirtatious and very likable. She is not well educated but ambitious. She is an aspiring singer, perhaps an American Idol wannabe. She represents the common woman of today. Opinionated. Strong. Complication is…or was…the estrangement from her husband. That, of course, we will fix. Any comments?”

Braden shook his head, unable to remain silent another moment. “Honestly, this is a very offensive portrait. Who are we to imply to our viewers that older men somehow deserve younger women, as if middle-aged women are something repulsive? I would prefer the would-be lovers to be the same age. I don’t like the fact that she’s flirtatious and chubby. This somehow implies a sense of desperation, as if our plump viewers are so desperate for intimacy that they would aggressively pursue every man they meet. I don’t see why we have to make her uneducated. Many women today are highly educated and many may balk at the mere suggestion of becoming an ‘American Idol’ instead of pursuing a practical career.”

Kingsley gradually nodded, starting to see the dangers. “You’re right. She is a rather dangerous combination. We’ll put the two main characters on hold. Let’s discuss the supporting cast. Next, the role of the funny and eccentric neighbor. Now we’re trying to elevate our characters above the old Don Knotts, Michael Richards clichés. We want to make Steve, the neighbor, a highly intelligent man. He is a younger man who is currently attending college and he wants to be a writer. He has a short temper and is prone to drinking. This is complication, you see, because he was extremely religious as a child, a baptized Catholic. But after a death occurs in the family he is struggling with issues of faith. That makes him interesting.”

Stella made an “ick” face and sheepishly raised her hand. “I appreciate where you’re coming from. I’m just very worried about this character offending a large portion of our viewers. I would cut out any discussions of death or religion. Viewers are tired of hearing religious debate in their entertainment shows. As far as I see it, it is their choice whether to believe in God or not. They go to church for faith. They watch UBS to be entertained. I’m not thrilled about Steve wanting to be a writer. Writers are usually very eccentric characters and have various personality disorders. I definitely don’t want a show featuring a character in college. It implies that he’s part of a frat house and prone to overdrinking and anonymous sex. The PTC would freak out at half the plotlines we come up with.”

David agreed, “Frankly, I don’t like any discussion of college. It could depress high school graduates who couldn’t afford college or offend college students if the lifestyle is not accurately depicted.”

Kingsley breathed deeply, maintaining his calm. “I understand all of your points, I really do. However, I want to hear more ideas on how we can fix this show, not kill it. I’ve already given a starting budget to three producers, and they are already holding auditions. So we don’t like the separation plot. Let’s axe that. Now how do we make Leonard into a more likable character?”

David thought it over. “How about just Leonard, a man with an ordinary job? He doesn’t have any pretenses. He’s not here to change the world or give some poor student a hard time. He’s just a regular guy, the type of man that you like talking to. He likes to smile and laugh. But not a comedian. He’s very normal.”

Stella interjected. “Let’s not specify what his job is. That way, we can retain the interest of both upper income and lower end income households. Maybe he’s poor or maybe he’s rich. It will appeal to more viewers overall. We could even make a continuing mystery out of what he does for a living.”

Braden focused his criticisms elsewhere. “I’m far more concerned with Marva. If we make her fat then we have to address health concerns in plotlines, and that’s just depressing. We also run the risk of upsetting fitness freaks. What if we were to put the show on Thursdays before The Physical Challenge with Howie Mandell? It would be a slap in the face to everyone who just heard for an entire hour that exercise is good for you.”

Stella chimed in, “Not only that, but if we bring up a bunch of issues about health and fitness just because we have a chubby character, we’re really going to upset some activist groups. The National Organization for Women, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance…the list goes on and on. I prefer we just not even address it.”

“Why not just make her skinny and white?” David shrugged. “Then we avoid all the problems. Very few people dislike skinny white women. Who can argue with that?”

“I say we make her a woman who aspires to make a difference,” Braden said.Generalize it just a bit. She doesn’t want to sing. Maybe she wants to be a doctor or a lawyer.”

“Not a lawyer,” Stella growled.

“Oh, right. Sorry. Somebody decent. Maybe a pet trainer?”

Stella nodded half-heartedly. “Actually, viewers really respond to female characters who love pets.”

Kingsley enthusiastically stood up. “So we have a man who is an ordinary Joe and a woman that he likes ”

David interrupted. “He has to love her. He wants to marry her. Otherwise, it’s just sexual tension, which means premarital sex without love is bound to happen. Then we lose support of our religious viewers.”

Kingsley was frustrated but conceded defeat. “No…no…I know you’re right. Without a strong foundation in family, then we’re nothing better than the filth the other networks are broadcasting.” Kingsley sat back down, stroking his chin. “What about the neighbor? The well-read, religious writer? How can we clean him up?”

Stella thought it over a moment before a bulb went out in her head. She opened her eyes and raised one finger. “He’s a high school graduate. He believes in God, but doesn’t really like to talk about religion. And he’s a little slow.”

“No,” David disagreed passionately. “I don’t want any ‘slow’ characters. The more dumbed down characters we put on television, the more we make fun of the mentally handicapped. That’s all we need, protests on behalf the mentally retarded.

“Yeah, now those people are hard to argue with!” Kingsley exclaimed.

“I think he’s referring to the AAPD.”

“Ah. My apologies.” Kingsley stood up one final time to describe his new UBS hit, gesturing for emphasis. “So we have the story of an ordinary Joe who is in love with this beautiful woman, about the same age. And his neighbor is a smart high school graduate, young and wise. Is he white also?”

“Probably,” Braden said, “It wouldn’t be fair to have just one African-American, Hispanic or Asian. Then the cultural diversity would be imbalanced. We could give him four friends in the building, each of a major race. But then we would have too many characters to keep track of. Plus, it might seem like artificial casting for TV critics.”

“I don’t want the neighbor to be too slow, though,” David warned. “Maybe he just takes longer to respond.”

“Right,” Stella echoed, “Because he’s always smiling and he has to take some extra time to think over his response. That doesn’t mean he’s slow or smarter than the average viewer.”

By Friday the show’s developmental hell would be completed. Tuesday they would create plot points, Wednesday they would commission a script and Thursday they would meet with the show’s producers. Kingsley envisioned a hit for UBS and became more excited about the project as the weeks progressed. At last, he thought, here was a show that truly spoke to average viewer and could serve as a bulwark of television, bravely protesting the cultural and behavioral insensitivities of the masses.

(C) 2009 The Late Mitchell Warren< ><–>