The Television Business
(an except from The Glen Headwood Show)
Benny’s office was bare and new. A desk, a second-hand table with three matching chairs – the fourth had mildewed while it was in storage – and two floor lamps. The ink had just dried on the frosted glass door. The Glen Headwood Show / Benjamin Camden / Executive Producer. Leave it to his father – nobody called him Benjamin but the old man.
The sun had set, leaving the window dark except for the streetlights from the parking lot one floor below. Frank Sinatra crooned from a radio perched on the window ledge. The cool evening air floated in from outside as a car horn blared loud and hard, followed by two soft taps.
Benny ripped the page from his typewriter and laid it carefully face down on a neatly stacked pile, sliding another into the gears. He rubbed the fatigue from his eyes before he noticed the traces of ink smeared on his fingertips. He pulled the fresh handkerchief from his jacket pocket and soiled it as he wiped his face. Henry Louden stepped through the open doorway, taking a look around. “Nice digs,” he said with a cool grin, tapping his fingernails against the round table that still had bits of Scotch tape stuck here and there. “You hot in here?”
Benny glanced at the handkerchief as he returned it to his jacket pocket. “Bad ribbon.”
“Have you seen Headwood?”
“He was supposed to be in makeup an hour ago for the Sunday night promo.”
Benny slid the last cigarette from a pack and tossed the fatigued cardboard in the wastebasket. “I don’t know where he is.” He flicked at his lighter, producing nothing but sparks, and tossed it in the trash as well, letting the cigarette dangle from his lips.
“Your father’s down there raising hell. He’s been late three times now.”
“I’ll talk to him.” Tardiness had been one of Glen’s coachable traits in grad school as well.
Henry wiped his nose with a finger. “How’s the script?”
Benny picked up the pile and clicked the pages tight. “Episode nine’s on the third draft.”
“Good. That’s good.” Henry scratched a chair over from the table to face the desk.
“What’s on your mind?” Benny asked, fumbling around in his top desk drawer until he pulled out a matchbook with three matches left. He struck one and held it steady against the tip of his cigarette.
“Something I need to talk to you about. Tinker called. Apparently the boys over at the network are throwing things around, making some changes.” Benny took a deep drag and leaned his right hand on the desk by the wrist, rotating the cigarette between his fingers. Henry laughed, hollow. “I tell you, they’re really excited about coming down on Thursday. Good tidings.”
Benny blew a strong puff into the air and watched him, reading his face – a skill he’d been refining since he was a child. “But?”
“There’s a new guy there. Big new sponsor. Just met him last week. Nice guy, a little naïve. He’s throwing a lot of money around. Car wax or something. Some new patent, guy’s loaded. Doesn’t have a broadcasting background. Doesn’t really…” He laughed again, but it came out forced. “The point is, they’re looking for a new show, live show. And they’re not pushing anything through until November. Which means they’re looking at one of their new properties.”
Benny choked on a lungful of smoke, turning his head to the side as he coughed. “Are you kidding?”
“Live shows have an honesty and intimacy you don’t get from–”
“Who is this guy?” Benny glanced at the pile of pages on his desk. “You can’t just say live and make it live. Glen’s never done live. I’ve got nine scripts finished, and now you’re telling me we’re going in hot?”
“No, no.” Henry raised a hand as if to put a ceiling on his concern. “The ten we’ve got are good. They’re sticking to the deal. But they want to finish out the season live after that.”
He flicked away the first of the ashes, watching the red tip crackle. “I don’t fucking believe this.”
“Glen Headwood’s not a live show. That’s like running The Twilight Zone live. Show’s over, it’s done.”
Henry nodded, looking around at the makeshift office. Benny took a quick drag and puffed out gray. “All right. I get it, I do,” Henry said. “I feel the same way, honestly. But here’s the truth. NBC’s bought ten episodes as is. If we want a chance of making more, this is the way it’s going to be. And I get the feeling that if we say no, they’re just going to bury the episodes they’ve already bought.”
Benny growled and picked up the receiver. “I’m calling Grant right now, and we’re going to straighten this out.”
“Tinker’s not there,” Henry said. “And he’s on our side. But the network’s having trouble, and this is the way it’s going to be. Take it or leave it.”
He gripped the receiver for another moment, shaking it before letting it fall back into place. “I thought they weren’t going to buy more episodes until they see the first four.”
“And that’s still the case.”
Benny bent the matchbook hard, feeling the last two matches snap between his fingers. “This is bullshit.”
“I know, kid.” Henry said. “Welcome to the television business.”