A brief diversion from the current storyline.
“I bet you thought I wouldnt do it, didnt you!” Doc laughed as he ran down the steps. “Hah! Never try to tell a karaoke queen not to sing!”
Grinning, Tom loosely held his arms around Paul. “Not bad, not bad at all. Little heavy on the vibrato and certainly far showier than I’d ever do!”
“This from a man with a flaming red car!”
“Hey! I didnt choose the colour!”
“Sure you didnt,” Paul laughed. “Okay, who’s up for another drink?”
“Lead on, MacDuff!”
The three made their way past grizzled cowboys and ER technicians and countless generic policemen (“We’re seeing way too many of them these days,” said Tom as they passed two who seemed intent on dusting anything and everything for fingerprints.). At the bar, the stool once occupied by the woman named Jane now bore a blond belly dancer accompanied by two men in Air Force uniform, both of whom kept a watchful, possessive eye on the other.
“These three, nothing but trouble,” Sam said with a roll of his eyes. “This is what happens when the network tries to pass off one character as another. Never works. Never.”
Three girls in dresses whose skirts were supported by an outrageous assortment of petticoats flitted up to the bar. “Hi, Sam!” they said, almost in unison.
“Ladies,” he grinned in response. “Where’s Kate?”
“She’s on a date!“
“He’s a Captain!”
“With his own boat!”
“Oh? And where did they do on this date that they couldnt find entertainment here?”
“Oh, he took her on a cruise around the bay. But they should be back in a few hours.”
“Did you see his first mate?” one of the three giggled.
“Omigod he is so hot!“
“Wait,” Doc said. “Short guy? Striped shirt? White bucket hat?”
The three girls nodded with a delighted sigh.
“I probably should mention,” Tom whispered, “that they’re trying to get a re-boot, so he’s been working out. A lot. I mean, a lot, since that seems necessary for any show these days that wants to cut it with the 18-to-34 demographic. You wouldnt recognize either of them now.”
“Yessir,” Tom continued, “gotta stay abreast of the times. People may remember the old shows, but they dont want to really see them that way anymore. Or at least that’s what we’re told. Now, it’s all about marketing and positioning. And it’s kinda sad when you see what’s getting dumped here now. Characters now… they’re just not happy, I guess is the best way to put it. Angry cops, angry politicians, everyone’s so angry all the time. That’s why I’m glad no one’s bothered to give me a second conceptual shot… well, with one exception, of course,” he laughed as he kissed Paul on the head.
“What’s going on?” The crowd parted as the man from FEMA stormed into sight. “What are you doing?“
“Huh? Having a drink. Join us?”
“You can’t — !” Chris looked red enough to explode on touch. “What did I tell you? You’re TV! He’s movie! Forget about it, right now!”
“But,” Paul said quietly, “I was kinda hoping you’d let me stay here.”
“I dont want to go back.”
“Tough. That’s where you were written.”
“Now wait,” Tom said as he put a possessive arm around Paul. “We had characters from Dynasty show up in Flamingo Road. Why — “
“Because he’s movie, you big idiot! It’s too dangerous! You’ve seen what happens when TV characters try to cut it in the movie world. It’s even worse when movie people try to come down to this level! Do I really need to remind you about the Oz Kids? They’re still in therapy! And on our dime! No!”
“But I dont want to leave!” Paul said defiantly. “I love him!”
“Love? How long have you two known each other?”
“Longer than a second commercial break!”
“I dont care! No!” His cel phone rang, a midi version of the theme from Night Court. “Yes!… What? No, there’s no room here for — No!” With a near scream, he shut down the phone and ran for the stage. “People! People! Listen up!” The crowd silenced almost immediately. “I need all of you to get back to your camps right now!”
“Why?” someone in the crowd shouted.
“Because they’re rebooting V!“
The panic was instantaneous, and Doc was suddenly thrown hard against the bar, with Tom sheltering both him and Paul from the rampage. “Okay, we gotta get to my car. I know a safe place.” He grabbed both of them with a firm hand and tore through the pandemonium. There was a sudden loud groaning noise, and Doc looked up to see a gigantic alien craft, now slowly descending on the partygrounds. There was a bellowing sound of metal grinding against metal, and Doc lost his grip on Tom’s hand. Frantic, he watched them disappear in the frantic mass of people. “Hey! Wait up!” he shouted, running as fast as he could after them. Behind him, he could hear the sound of gigantic locks opening, and a sudden hot brush of wind knocked him to the ground, followed by an intense white light, so bright it threatened to wipe out any hope of darkness, flooding everything with —
“Excuse me, sir?“
Doc’s eyes fluttered open as his copy of Entertainment Weekly fell to the carpet. The steward professionally smiled at him. “We’re going to be landing in just a few minutes.”
Okay, Doc thought as Paul and Tom dragged him through the crowd, I’ve been to wild parties before… but this…. They had only been there for perhaps five minutes when he was astounded to see everything from Solid Gold Dancers to all five captains from Star Trek to a horse and a model T engaged in a heated conversation about the virtues of garages versus barns. On stage — because of course there has to be a stage! he thought giddily — Josey and the Pussycats were jamming with Ricky Ricardo’s orchestra, while the Flintstones and Joel and Andy were rave dancing in front. “Cavemen,” Tom shook his head. “Well,” he shouted over the din, “I guess we should be glad that bunch from Cop Rock isn’t here tonight! Hey! Check that out!”, he pointed at a table where a pair of drunken Cylons, one original, one reboot, were arm-wrestling for the delight of the crowd.
“What’re you boys having?” asked the bartender — Omigod, that’s —
“Hey Sam!” Tom grinned. “Beer for me and my boys.”
“Two of them tonight?” Sam grinned in return.
“Nah, only one. Even FEMA’s rewrites have their limits, not unless I want to show up on HBO. Besides, that one’s audience.”
“Really? He’s not, like, from Candid Camera or something? Damn. Well, welcome to the other side of the screen!”
“Freshen mine up, Sam,” said a slightly drunken lady sitting on the barstool next to them.
“You sure, Jane?”
“Damn straight. You try living with a kid whose IQ is eight times your own and see if you can get through it sober six nights in a row.”
Sam laughed as he pulled another beer. “I bet ol’ Elroy’s a handful, huh.”
“Trust me, you have no idea…”
Beers in hand, the three men found a relatively quiet spot, on the side of a hill overlooking the pandemonium below. Tom and Paul sat in an easy embrace under a tree while Doc, wide-eyed, watched a squirrel and a nun flying hand-in-paw over the crowd. “Is it like this every night?” he asked breathlessly.
Tom grinned. “Hell no. We’re not even supposed to do this kind of thing, to tell the truth. FEMA thinks it might lead to too much inter-production familiarity, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. But there’s a whole bunch of us and only a handful of them, and I think they know better than to mess too much with us. After all, if they really tried to shut this kind of thing down, we could always inflict a little Manimal on them,” he added with a laugh. “Y’know, I still cant get over the fact that you’re… you know… audience.”
“I’m having enough trouble myself,” Doc laughed. “I fully expect to see Rod Serling any moment now.”
“Nah,” said Tom. “He never comes to these things. In fact,” he whispered,” you can usually find him down on the beach with the Log Lady and Dale Cooper. They’re making… pie,” he winked.
“So you ever perform?” Paul asked.
“Me?” said Doc, mildly surprised by the question. “In a manner of speaking, I guess I do. But not like you guys. Ray and me sometimes do some karaoke, but that’s about as far as it goes. I”m much better watching and applauding than, you know, doing.”
“So you like to watch, huh?” Tom said with an evil grin. “Well, know what? I think it’s time you earned your keep. C’mon.” Not waiting for a response, Tom grabbed Doc’s hand and dragged him to his feet, then threaded a path to the stage. “Hey Tom. Who’s this?” asked the emcee-maybe-bouncer, an avuncular man who looked suspiciously like…
“Hey, Wapner. Say hello to audience.”
Judge Wapner’s eyebrows rose. “Really.”
“And I thought maybe he should entertain us for a change.”
“What? Me? Hey, no!” Doc cried. “I cant — “
“Hey, I’m down with that. Anything to keep from having to watch the Huxtable family dance again. Face it, they aint June Taylor material, and besides, I swear, those sweaters are gonna put someone’s eyes out. Okay, kid,” he said, hauling Doc after him. “Let’s see whatcha got. Dont worry, no one worries about ratings here.” The crowd grew mysteriously silent as Wapner grabbed the mike. “Little surprise for you guys tonight.” He pointed at Doc. “Meet someone from Audience.” There was a sudden gasp. “And he’s gonna perform for you for a change!”
Over the eruption of applause, Doc tried to grab Wapner’s sleeve. “Look, I — “
“Bud, this isnt the People’s Court. Just relax. Sing something. Anything. Not theme songs. They hate that.”
“But — ” But Wapner was gone, down the steps to join Tom and Paul, who were both grinning up at him like frat boys who’d pulled the best prank ever. Oh yeah? Doc decided, we’ll see about that… Ricky, baton in hand, was suddenly at his side. “We know just about everything, “he said in a thick Cuban accent. “After Glee, we figured we’d better start keeping up if we want to go anywhere. You start singing; we’ll catch up easy.”
Doc looked at the crowd. I grew up with so many of these people. It’s gotta be rough for them now, trying to eke out a slot against all that reality TV and procedural crime shows. They gave plenty, and now they’re just… forgotten. What would I want to hear if I were them? Then, almost immediately, he knew.
I’ve paid my dues
Time after time.
I’ve done my sentence
But committed no crime.
And bad mistakes ‒
I’ve made a few.
I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face
But I’ve come through.
The crowd roared its approval and burst into song with him.
We are the champions, my friends,
And we’ll keep on fighting ’til the end.
We are the champions.
We are the champions.
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions of the world.
The applause was relentless. He felt a slight tap on his shoulder. Ricky, grinning, whispered in his ear. “Attitude like that, you last as long as The Simpsons.”
Tags: Dynasty, Magnum PI, Sex and the City, The More You Know, Wild Wild West
“My name’s Tom,” the driver smiled.
Like you need to tell me that, Doc thought as his thighs went warm remembering that light baritone voice that carried his heart through high school. “François.”
“Paul.” Uh huh, Doc grinned, you remember it too, dont you, Paul…
“You guys new here? Get in, lemme show you around.”
“You take shotgun,” Doc whispered. Paul beamed like he was six and just found a pony under the tree. The Ferrari whipped back into the lane and sped towards the ocean….
… except it seemed like the ocean wasnt getting any closer. We should have reached the shore by now, right? Tom glanced back at him and grinned — that same stunning grin — “It kinda fools ya, this place. The Island gets bigger and smaller, depending on how many properties need to be shelved here for refab. Where you guys from? Wait, dont tell me. Melrose Place? I heard they were sending that one back. Yeah, I could see you two walking off that set.”
“No, I’m… I’m actually movie, not TV,” Paul stammered, clearly doing his best not to act like a fourteen year old who’s just discovered what to do with his hands and failing miserably. “Airport 79.”
Tom’s eyes went huge as coconuts. “Movie? Really? Wow. So how’d you wind up — “
“I was subbing for a friend. Oceanic 815.”
“No crap?!? You got mixed up with that bunch? Man… They’re having real trouble getting that one in syndication, but that’s what happens, I guess, when you’re too linear, right? Me, I was episodic, so I can go for decades if I want. Rumour has it they want to try the PI concept again. Eh, if they do, they do. I’m cool. Until then, I’m fine with just cruising the island… What about your buddy back there?”
“… He’s audience.”
The car slammed to a stop, and suddenly Tom’s deep brown eyes were trained like a laser on Doc. “Audience? What’re you doing here?”
Dont look at me that way, or I’m gonna melt right into this seat. “Got on the wrong plane, I guess.” Or the right one, depending on how you look at it.
“So you’re not staying, are you. I mean, I dont think they let audience stay here for more than an episode or two. The only audience I knew to stay all that long was laugh track. That’s not you, is it?”
“No, Paul and I, we’re supposed to leave tomorrow.”
“We? Oh.” Was Doc imagining it, or was that a hint of disappointment in Magnum’s voice? “So… you’re going back too?” Yep, that’s the sound of disappointment.
Paul shrugged. “I’m supposed to, but I’m not so sure I want to deal with widescreen anymore. Maybe it’d be better to try out the small-screen life for a change. I’m kinda hoping they’ll let me stay for a while.”
“Oh!” Tom’s smile flashed teeth like a snowstorm. “That’d be… pretty cool.” The car lurched into motion again, and Paul gave Doc a questioning look: Huh?
Doc just grinned. Roll with it, bud. ‘Cause if you dont, I will.
They streamed past Wild West towns and Denver mansions and a block of sterile, concrete bunkers (“PSAs,” Tom grinned.). “Hey, I gotta show you this!” The car braked to a halt, and Tom almost leaped out of the car. “You’re gonna love this! C’mon!”
“You guys go on,” Doc smiled. “I’m gonna just stand and stretch my legs. That back seat’s not the most comfortable.” He watched, almost envious, as his high school fantasy disappeared into the bushes with Paul in tow. You’re a married man, remember! he chided himself.
But the air, the sun — even if it was all TV fantasy, it still felt good. Warm, embracing, just as addictive as sitting in the chair at home and watching endless reruns of Route 66 or Simon and Simon. No matter what, things got resolved in half an hour, an hour tops. Pity life cant be like that, Doc mused as his eyes closed for a break. Then (How long had it been? He had no idea.) the brush parted, and Tom and Paul, both looking slightly disheveled, came into view. Paul noticed Doc’s eyes go slightly wide and sheepishly whispered. “FEMA rewrite… for a more contemporary audience. I sure hope it sticks.”
“You’re not the only one. So… uhm… where’d you guys go? Should I ask what he showed you?”
“… Sex and the City,” Paul grinned.
“Hey!” Tom laughed, as he casually ruffled Paul’s already substantially ruffled hair. “You guys up for a party?”
“Look,” Chris pointed at the map on the wall. “See all this? This is how we’ve gotten everyone sorted out. Network here. Cable here. Reality show — uh, right… here. NBC, CBS, PBS, MTV… everyone has their own HQ. Everyone has special needs, but they’re all television! You movie guys… sorry, you’re way out of my league. You’ve gotten way too complicated for FEMA to help; that’s why we keep you on the mainland.”
Paul stared agape at Doc. “So you’re audience? I’ve never met real audience before. Wow. I thought you were, like, a TV movie or something. I dont much about Canadian production, so I just figured you were a MOW or something, maybe an indie film of some kind.”
“Well, it’s slightly more complicated than that,” Doc said. “But no, I’m not… an indie film.”
“Look, kids,” Chris said with a slight edge of frustration, “this is all sweet and everything, but I’m on hold here, and I also gotta arrange transport for you two off this place. And I got a whole bunch of Broadway theatre people showing up in a few hours, and that’s a mess that’s gonna need everything we can do for it. So do you mind? You leave tomorrow. In the interim, dont get into trouble.”
They watched the waves in silence. “What’s it like?” Paul finally asked.
“What’s what like?”
“Being, you know, audience. Just sitting there… watching us.”
“You make it sound kinda creepy,” Doc laughed. “I guess it kinda is, isnt it. Probably just as unsettling for me right now as it must be for you. Somehow I dont think I”m gonna be watching TV or movies in quite the same way anymore.”
“We dont think about it, y’know? I mean, we just sorta expect you to be there. And you usually are. But we dont really notice you that much. You’re sorta like, you know, part of the scenery. So what’s it like?”
Doc shrugged. “I dunno. I mean, I watch TV more than Ray does. And sometimes Ray tells me I’m getting too involved in the lives of the characters. Especially soap operas. I admit it: big soap opera junkie here.”
“I know some soap opera people,” Paul said brightly. “They kinda keep to themselves. Probably just as well, because they’re such high drama most times. If they’re not plotting each other’s murders, they’re getting abducted by aliens. Nah, not my kind of crowd.”
“I bet. So all those actors…”
“They’re not actors, Doc. They’re characters. Big difference.”
“I”m sorry. I just dont quite understand.”
“Well, it’s simple, when you think about it. I mean, look at it this way: an actor creates a character, right? Well, once the production is over, the character doesnt exactly go away. They all live on, one way or another. Sometimes for a long time, sometimes not so long. But they do.”
“So there’s a chance that maybe someday I’ll meet Tyler Durden?”
“Tyler?” Paul mock-fainted. “You have no idea how hot that guy is.”
“Believe me, Ray and I’ve worn out enough DVDs of that movie to know.”
“Everyone asks when they’re gonna make a sequel. But Tyler’s made it clear he aint interested.” Paul looked out at the horizon. “Y’know, I wonder what would happen if I didnt go back, just stayed here, on the Island. Maybe I’d get picked up for something else… anything to get off that damn Concorde,” Paul added with a laugh. “Hey, look out there. See it?” A large, white cruise ship had suddenly appeared in the bay. “Recognize it? The Pacific Princess.”
Doc sat up. “Wait. The Love Boat?“
Paul nodded. “I heard from someone back in the village that it puts in here at least once every five years for a refit. But it’s one of those properties that FEMA just cant help. I wonder what else is around this place.” He stood up and brushed the sand from his pants. “So when do we leave?”
“Fine. C’mon. Let’s go exploring.” He was already deep in the brush by the time Doc had a chance to get up. They walked through the jungle, then suddenly found themselves on a paved road. “I dont remember a road leading into the village. Do you?”
Doc shook his head. “Let’s see where it goes. Not like this place is so big that we’re gonna get lost, right?” They hadnt gone more than a score or so steps when a bright red Ferrari roared into view and screeched to a stop. The driver’s window rolled down, and a dark haired man with a thick moustache winked at Paul, then smiled broadly at both of them. “You guys need a lift somewhere?”
“If that’s the case,” Paul asked pensively, “what am I doing here? I wasnt even supposed to be on that flight: I was just helping out a friend!”
“You dont work for Oceanic?”
“No! You kidding? With their safety record? Not a chance! I work for Federation World… well, I did anyway. Havent done much work in a long time, so when this came up, I jumped on it.”
“Federation World? I dont know — “
Paul shrugged. “I’m not surprised. We were a big thing in the late 70s. Now, not so much.” He studied the map. “What I dont get is, why is FEMA here?”
“Maybe we should find out.”
They returned to the control room. Chris, still on the phone, looked up to see them and clearly resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Fine. Sit down…. Yes, I”m pressing 1!… Stupid idiots in — “
“We saw the map,” Doc started.
“Kinda hard to miss, so I’m not surprised.”
Paul put on his most engaging flight attendant smile. “So, why are you here?”
Close to exasperation, the man from FEMA sighed. “Think about it, huh? Some of these shows are expensive properties! We’re trying to salvage them so they can go back into secondary distribution! Look — ” he pointed at a large chart on a side wall. “See that? We got 42 series on this island, everything from sit-coms to reality shows. Some of them went into re-distribution too early, and it was a disaster, a complete disaster, the kind of screw-up that makes Sandy look like a pleasant day at the park. And when they failed, everyone just walked away… except us. We stepped in, and now we’re doing what we can to save them from complete destruction: shoring up poorly constructed story lines, reinforcing characterizations, providing them with new points of view… You think that’s easy?”
“So… it’s because of you guys,” Doc asked, “that Dallas got a reboot?”
“Okay, sometimes it doesnt work so well! But at least we’re trying! Not everything reopens as smoothly as the freaking Jersey Shore!” He suddenly gave Paul an intent look. “Wait. Who are you? You I know about — you’re supposed to be in Disney for training, but you… I dont recognize you.”
“I was a sub flight attendant.”
“Fed — ?” Chris gasped in horror. “Federation World? Oh great. Just great.”
Paul looked at Doc in no small bewilderment, then back at Chris, smile now plastered in place. “I’m sorry, I dont under — “
“What bird do you regularly fly?”
“The Concorde, of course.”
“… I knew it. I freaking knew it!” He pointed at the chart again. “Look at that! What do you see?”
“Old TV shows.”
“What dont you see! Movies!“
“But — “
“You’re supposed to be on the mainland, you and the rest of the cast of Airport 79! I dont handle movies; I’m strictly TV, and my department’s resources have been stretched thin by all the crap that’s been produced for the past five years! Why are you here?”
“I — “
“Okay, this is a real disaster. We gotta get you off this island pronto! Yes, you as well, but you’re kind of a lower priority.”
“Lower?” Doc asked, mildly offended.
“Look, bud, with all due respect, no one else cares about the audience, so dont expect me to be the first.”