TV FICTION PACKAGE: The host, producers and writers on a late-night network talk show scramble. Part One. 2,633 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
"We’ve got ‘Dog President,'" said Mitch as soon as the elevator doors opened and Andy appeared. "And half a monologue. And two out of seven writers in the writers room."
"Amy and Kurt are on Wall Street right now doing ‘Shoe Shine Guy,’" said Andy.
"Eric is working out of Arnold’s Coffee because his internet went out. Just his. I think he’s lying," Mitch said angrily. “This is so–"
"Mitch," interrupted Andy, "have you eaten yet?"
"Just a Kit Kat," said Mitch, sheepishly.
"You’re doing that thing you do when you don’t eat. Get yourself something and come back to me in an hour. And take an actual break. Don’t just stand around the hallway gobbling candy bars. That’s creepy. You’ll make the property value of this place go down."
"OK, Andy," said Mitch. He started off towards The Andy Perry Show writer’s room and knocked on the open door. Everybody inside spun around. "Andy’s here, but Amy isn’t," he warned. "Send Andy what you have. We’re going commando and emailing Andy the jokes ourselves. "
"We’re not wearing underwear?" said Eric, rounding the corner beside Mitch and entering the room. Eric was attractive in a way that writers never were and used it to his full advantage.
"No, smart-ass. We don’t have a head writer because in his infinite wisdom Andy sent Amy with Kurt down to Wall Street to film a bit today. That takes care of the B-slot. We still need jokes for the monologue and more topical jokes for the swing from first commercial break to first guest. So get your minds out of your phones and please start riffing with each other.”
Mitch paused to draw a breath. “I’m going to lunch."
Kurt and Amy sat in the white van somewhere around 14th Street in the midst of a snarl of traffic snaking lower Manhattan. The subject was comedy.
"I’m not good at delivery," said Kurt, "I’m just not. Besides, being a straight white guy in the modern era is like being a CD player. I’m basically irrelevant. And an ever diminishing circle of hipsters only find me interesting from a novelty standpoint."
"You should write that one down," advised Amy, "You’re funny when you’re not trying."
"I didn’t mean it that way," said Amy, noticing. "Don’t take it so hard. You put a lot of pressure on yourself. Just riffing Is a lot funnier than meticulously putting together a bit. Not everything has to be so measured, so precise."
"No audience wants to see someone up there flailing," countered Kurt.
"The audience doesn’t want anyone to fail," explained Amy, "They want to see you be human. It’s a lot more interesting seeing someone up there being vulnerable. I’m not just saying that as, like, the head writer. I’m saying that as a friend."
They were quiet for a while.
"OK. I get it," Kurt said eventually. But it was debatable whether he actually did.
Amy knew, deep down, that she was probably one of a half dozen other women that Kurt would view in later life as "saving" him as they flashed past him in a Capra-esque moment of clarity in his twilight years. Men, it seemed, were result-based animals almost to the point of parody. She envied, to a certain degree, the simplicity of men’s thought. To them, entire relationships boiled down to a gesture or hunch. There was little room for nuance. It was this all-or-nothing approach to thought that explained politics, sports and business. You either won an election or lost an election, lost a game or won a game, bought a company or sold a company. You picked a side and fought for it until the bitter end. And it was in that moment of hyper-analytical overthought that Amy realized she was starving.
"Are you hungry?" she asked Kurt.
"Is pizza OK? There’s a cheap pizza place up ahead. The traffic is gridlocked. I’m going to get out and get us a couple of slices."
And then Kurt was alone, listening only to an Elvis song playing on the radio and the sounds of the traffic outside. For the first time in his 28 years of existence, buoyed by the effusive thrill of a job well done, Kurt could both figuratively and physically in the driver’s seat. All he had to do was maintain the illusion of control. He would later be disappointed to find out that adulthood was a lifelong repetition of the same process.
"I don’t care," said Andy. "What the fuck is going on. Is mercury in retrograde?”
Those were three of Amy’s top fifteen least favorite words in possibly his least favorite order. "No. Please tell me you don’t believe in that stuff."
"I just need something to blame today on. It’s two hours before show and we have three-quarters of the monologue, no bridge, one filmed bit from Kurt and Amy set in Wall Street that should be in editing by now, a first guest who’s cancelled and a whole segment open. This has never happened before and we need to bring this plane down slowly and pray that there’s a nice big field for us to land somewhere. How was the shoot? I had to come back here to, you know, run the show."
"It was good. I still need to go to editing," said Amy. She did not mention it had gone great or watching Kurt finally fulfill his potential. And hers, too, it occurred to her in the moment.
Tony walked by the door. "We lost our first guest," said Andy, "We need your help brainstorming.”
Amy’s cell phone vibrated with a new email. She inhaled sharply and shoved her free hand into the kangaroo pouch of her hoodie. "I have good news and I have bad news," she announced.
“Please start with the good news,” instructed Andy. “I don’t think I can handle much more of today.” He scratched the back of his neck, and this was unusual to say the least. A tiredness crept over him like a warm breeze.
" Willie Nelson is here," said Amy. “He just arrived. He’s tonight’s musical guest. We booked this back in March and completely forgot about it.”
"No fucking way. He’s in the building?" asked Andy.
"Just chilling, apparently. His bus is in the parking garage. They want to know if there’s food available. Munchies.”
“We should raid the vending machines for him," said Tony.
"We can stretch his segment to two songs," said Andy.
"But who’s going to be the first guest?” asked Amy.
A pause to have brunch in.
Andy put his hands in his hair and head-butted the desk. ”You have got to be fucking kidding me. This is a disaster."
"OK," said Tony, diving on Andy’s verbal grenade to spare the room from a dozen more,.“Why don’t we just assume that the monologue will get taken care of by me. So we need a bridge from the monologue to the first bit. Amy, do you have a pen?"
"Can you take notes?"
Amy rolled her eyes. "OK," she said, tapping the screen of her tablet computer awake. "Taking notes."
"Then we need B-material for the intro to Kurt and Amy’s bit,” noted Mitch. “Patter. We need patter."
"Tony is on monologue," said Amy, nodding at Tony who nodded back in accordance to nodding law. "I think Eric can work on the bridge."
"Great. If we pull this off, this going to be…" said Andy, although he chose to abandon that sentence midstream, "Then we have Kurt and Amy’s segment, then a giant open spot. I need somebody to go over to PR and scramble to get a guest. A comedian if possible. Schumer. Louis. Anyone in town. If not, get anyone who’s been on the front cover of any magazine. Get a famous dog if necessary."
"Louie is on tour and Schumer is in Los Angeles," advised Amy, "And we need permits for a dog on the show and those have to requested at least twenty-four hours in advance."
"Then get someone who’s recognizable in media. Sports. Business. There has to be someone."
"Those are not fun interviews," said Amy.
"We need to fill that gap," reminded Andy.
“I emailed Tom Hanks’ people," said Amy, “But that’s a long shot.”
“Didn’t you have bad news? In the email?” Andy asked.
Amy was aware she was about to let loose a sentence that would inevitably bring down the atmosphere in the room even further. “You have rehearsal,” she looked at her watch, "In six minutes.”
"Well. If you’ll excuse me," said Andy, getting up out of his chair and walking out of the door towards set. It had been a tough day so far what with the slow-motion trainwreck of a show.
And then he no longer was Andy Perry but rather the best possible version of Andy Perry his audience would ever have the honor and privilege to meet. It was his time to escape.
"Good evening, good evening, good evening!" he said, all eyes and all smiles. "I’m your host, Andy Perry. We’ve got an incredible show for you this evening!"
The editing bay was dark, and cool, and thankfully only two flights of stairs away from the blink-and-you’d-miss-it cafeteria legally mandated to exist in a far corner of the building. Amy watched the footage of Kurt from three different angles: the camera in the car, the camera in the show shine gear, and the camera in Kurt’s sunglasses. Kurt was eating again.
"Do you have to eat so loudly, and with your mouth open?" snapped Amy, "I’m wearing headphone and I can hear you smack your lips."
"She’s right," said Jay. He was a line editor on the show and Amy’s favorite person in production, largely because he was not a comedian but had the impeccable timing of one as she watched his hands move around the editing deck. He wore a skull ring on the middle finger next to his wedding ring and together they made a faint tink-tink sound as he worked.
"Whatever," huffed Kurt. "Fine, I’ll eat outside." He picked up his plate with both hands and stomped off into the hallway where he finished sitting on the floor, staring bitterly at the linoleum as if it owed him something.
Amy said to Jay, “Cut there. He pauses too long. Nice. I like it."
"I really think you’ve got something here," Jay said. "This is special."
"You think so?" she asked, waiting for the sucker punch to her confidence.
"This bit actually says something. I think Andy is going to be really pleased. Kurt is good in this. But don’t tell him. The guy doesn’t need praise. Not from you."
When the piece was done, Amy confronted Andy. "Why aren’t you nervous? You have a giant hole in the schedule. Curtain is about to go up on a fucking disaster."
"Amy," said Andy, folding his arms, "some people choose to believe in a creator of some sort. I choose to believe in the process of getting things done. You have to trust that something or someone out there is doing their job. I believe in all of you that this will work. Look, I haven’t been myself for years on this show. I realize that if I want to regain control of this incredible vehicle that I’m riding in," he motioned all around him, "then I have to regain my voice. I lost my voice. But I think today I might know where it is. Basically, Amy, If I want control over myself, then I have to let go of the things I have no control over. That is why I am not nervous."
Amy started the first half of a big sigh but failed to complete it.
"Look. I only went to AA a couple of times because the whole hand-holdy bit isn’t exactly my scene," Andy continued. "But they teach you to believe in something bigger than yourself. My trust in this process is bigger than me. Do you understand?"
"I can respect that," she said.
Andy turned and walked away from Amy and she was left standing alone in a busy hallway. Mitch was trailing Andy now as Andy hurried to set. The whole show was about to tape and Andy was walking at such a clipped pace that Mitch began to wonder if at any moment Andy would break into a full run.
Amy was slightly behind Mitch and nobody quite knew what to say. All of them were about to venture into unknown territory. They reached the door to Andy’s dressing room simultaneously. Amy’s phone beeped. She stared at the screen in bemusement.
"I think Tom Hanks is on his way," said Amy.
" Finally, some decent news. Alert security that he needs to be let in the building," said Andy. "Can we go on-air with it?"
"At the very least, we have this email from his publicist," Amy noted.
Andy stepped out into the spotlight. "Good evening, good evening, good evening. I’m Andy Perry," he said, all smiles, teeth and eyes, "We’ve got a wonderful show for you tonight. But we’ve never had a night like this before. Our first guest — I repeat, this is not a drill — our first guest cancelled tonight."
The audience let out a large groan. Andy feigned sadness. He had this. He was in control.
"But…" said Andy. He let the moment hang in the air. "We have something extra special in store for you tonight."
Hold for effect.
"Tom Hanks is on his way here!" exclaimed Andy.
"And that’s not all." Andy waited as long as possible. "Our musical guest tonight… who is in the building…" Andy let the wave wash over him, that tingly feeling when he’d sold a bit. It was a hard thing to describe to other people, whatever that marriage of ego and id was. "…Willie Nelson will be performing. In our house. Tonight."
Andy walked back to behind his desk. He sat down and drummed the desk. “First up, from Wall Street, here’s our very own Kurt Weinerhund in a new segment that you’re really gonna like. We like to call this character: ‘Shoe Shine Guy.’"
A large video screen to the left hand side of the stage showed the fruits of Kurt and Amy’s effort. The video was getting an interesting reaction from the audience, who didn’t know whether to laugh or not. Kurt backstage saw his name appear on the screen. It was strange seeing it up there in quite large letters in front of a whole lot of people he didn’t know. He glanced over at Amy, who at that moment just happened to glance over at him. She was giving him a thumbs up and a smile. Just before the lights came up, Kurt looked up at Amy, and the two of them finally had an honest moment. He nodded a thank you towards her, and she reciprocated. Kurt was so pleased with himself it was as if he were a cat that not only had the cream but also successfully ran a cream factory.
“We never did Kurt’s ‘Dog President,’” said Andy after the show.
“The world will recover from the loss,” Amy commented.
“I liked it. The dog had a chief of staff. And the staff was a stick. It was a pretty clever bit, actually,” reviewed Andy. “I mean, if you tried to explain that old SNL ‘Land Shark’ sketch to someone they’d… Will you tell Kurt I liked the bit?”
Television Fiction Package for Emmy Season