It had seemed like forever since Ian had been in his office. The three weeks might as well have been years. He was grateful and relishing what few moments he was to be allowed at work. In many ways, it seemed like he had never left.
Other than applause and Willa’s special breakfast casserole, the morning power meeting was delightfully normal. David Turner had become a staple in Ian’s absence, with Wella all but running the show. Today, Ian slipped right back into the team. Things were clicking right along.
“We have an idea.” Turner turned to Ian. “We’ve been waiting to run it by you and get your take.”
“Epic.” He typically paced the floor and bounced energetically around the room during power meetings but today Ian grinned from his chair. “That’s Ronnie’s new word.”
The old man nodded to Lee who stood up. “It seems that the Fall Campaign has kicked into high gear and we have more people checking out our line up than we have had for years.”
“That’s great news.” Ian nodded. “But also bad.”
David grinned. “You are worried that the new demographic checking us out will tune in, not find anything they like and tune right back out.”
“And never come back.” Ian had to affirm. “It’s the blessing and the curse.”
Lee grinned. “We’ve been thinking that maybe we should go ahead and dump most of the line up that will disappear in the fall anyway.”
“The ones that aren’t getting a bump from the new demographics.” Wella assured him.
“That’s probably the best way to go.” Ian said. “The problem being what do we have to replace them with? We can run second showings of a few of the stable returning shows, but quite frankly most of those don’t fit the demographic either.”
“Our thought is by July to have made all the moves planned for the fall save the new shows that won’t be ready until September, give the new schedule a head start.” Turner said.
“That would certainly give us a heads up as to what will work in the new time slots, and maybe get it fixed before November Sweeps.” Lee checked his notes.
“Once again, great idea.” Ian reassured them. “But that leaves us with ten hours a week to fill and nothing to fill it with.”
“Maybe, maybe not.” Daryn stood up. “We did a little digging and discovered a Simon Kent maneuver that may work in our favor.”
“That sounds like the impossible dream.” Ian smirked. “Oh that it were true.”
“It seems that Kent made a few contractual concessions for the International market.” Turner reminded him.
“Yes, you and I discussed that earlier.” Ian remembered. “He lowered the financial aspect of running several HRT programs in return for broadcast rights to their programs, none of which we’ve ever bother to…” The bell rang in Ian’s head.
Lee handed him a stapled list. “Here’s a number of programs, all made in English that are actually available to us for broadcast. We thought to pull a number of those, most of which have only six to ten episodes per season, some of which have won International Emmys and have never been broadcast in the U.S. or dropped to DVD in the states.”
Ian began to look through the list. “We can run some of these in the holes, and what takes off we can use as backup and or continuous summer programming.”
“Exactly.” Lee reached for another file. “And Blake and I have unearthed some treasures in our own vaults; films and specials that haven’t been seen in years and some of those only once.”
“Are they in good enough shape to broadcast?” Ian looked at Turner.
He nodded his head. “A good amount are, the rest we are in the process of restoring for our Signature Rerun series.”
Ian looked up. “You found “Breathe”?” He was excited. “I’ve never seen it.”
“No one has since it finished it’s run in theatres.” Turner said proudly. “A perfect copy has been sitting in the vault at my Penthouse. We thought about running it on the Fourth of July, since the first scene takes place in the final battle of the Civil War.”
“First of all, I don’t know what you guys waited for.” Ian pointed to David Turner. “You’ve got the man who makes all the decisions right here, and he seems to be 100% behind this.”
“True.” Wella said, “But we also knew that once you heard the idea, you’d figure out a way to run with it and make it even better.”
He smiled. “Thank you for the vote of confidence. Let me look over all this information and on Monday we’ll shore up some final decisions. Initially, it’s a great idea. It falls into our “Legend Continues” theme.”
Ian was still perusing the lists. “You know it’s too bad some of these people aren’t still around to introduce these, maybe even make the promos.” He looked up. “Daryn is the website for “Is That On Tonight” up and running?”
She nodded her head. “Overwhelmingly. We’ve already got more uploaded videos than we can use this year.”
It was Ian’s turn to tap his cane of the floor. David Turner smiled. “Good, this can work. Let’s use the website to announce the classic programs we are going to run and ask the public to upload their memories of them. We can edit them together as bumpers and teasers.”
Wella looked at Turner. “And what if we used some of those sketches and videos edited together in half hour format to fill in a few more holes?”
Lee’s eyes brightened. “What about using them as a reality program?”
“Reality program?” Turner turned to look at Lee and then back to Ian, who was suddenly fighting the urge to get up and pace excitedly.
“You’re right.” Ian almost shouted. “Run them all summer long, and let the audience pick the best. Let them choose a best video, actor, blah blah blah. Anyone who wins gets a development deal with the network. That was the initial idea for the website, to cultivate new and untapped talent.”
The grin on David Turner’s face was lethal. “You have been missed Young Justyn.”
“It’s good to be home.” The smile on Ian’s face matched his, and all those in the room. The ideas on the floor snowballed. In a few minutes, the excitement was full blast and members of the team began to break off to research their aspects of the day’s task.
Both Turner and Ian were helped up and meandered their way into Ian’s office. The moment his door opened Ian stood at the entrance and stared at the painting on his wall. He sighed. “Have I told you how much I love that painting?”
Turner patted him on the back. “I’m glad, my boy. I had it moved from your old office and hung right behind your desk. It was a little guarantee to myself that you’d be back with us.”
“Was there ever any doubt?” Ian took his first sit behind his desk in his new second floor office.
The old man sat across from him in an expensive leather chair. “Unfortunately, there were a few days when none of us were sure.”
“Simon Kent…” Ian mumbled.
“It had nothing to do with the Kent debacle. No one with any day to day contact in the office ever took him seriously. Ian, our concern was with your health, not the determination of a mad man.”
“I was never in any serious danger.” Ian smiled.
“Yes, Young Justyn.” The smile on Turner’s face disappeared. “Yes, you were. I was not at your bedside, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have consistent contact. Until you regained consciousness there were doubts, serious doubts as to whether or not you’d wake.”
Ian looked out the window. “That’s all over now. Let’s not dwell on it.” Turner nodded his head. “So, we meet for contract negotiations with Mike Hartman. Anything I should be aware of?”
“That’s totally your choice. You’ve decided one has to go, either Hartman or Zaundra Gleason. Personally, with the changes I’m not sure either is better than the other.”
“They both have equal reasons to be kept and to be let go. I’m not going to offer any bump in salary, that may be the deciding factor.”
“I agree. In fact, I’ve been taking a much closer look at the program, all our programs, and I must say I’m embarrassed. “America Alive” as it stands is dreadful. The directions you and Warner are headed in are exciting; a good combination of tradition and change.”
“Thank you.” Ian’s intercom buzzed. He looked up at Turner. “Do I dare touch this?”
David chuckled. “Do we have a choice?”
It buzzed again. “Looks like we don’t. Stand back, just in case it goes off.” Ian hit what he prayed was the right button. “Yes.”
“Lance Crawford would like to speak with you.” It was good to hear Blake at his post.
“Does he want me to call him?”
“No, he’s standing in front of me.”
“Oh, send him in.” Ian touched the button again and the light went off. “Okay, the electronics didn’t implode, but Lance Crawford is on his way in.”
“Maintaining battle stations.” Turner scowled.
“How have things been going with him?”
“He missed a few days with a flu bug, but other than that he seems to be taking all the changes well. Can you handle it?” Was Turner’s main concern.
Ian nodded. “As long as he remembers that we’re equals and keeps his personal opinions to himself.”
“But you aren’t equals.” Turner sat forward. “Young Justyn, you are his boss, even more so now. The only person with more control at this network than you is myself or don’t you realize that yet?”
Ian sat back in his chair. “It really never occurred to me.”
“It has to everyone else.” Turner gripped and leaned on his cane. “You’ll be seeing and feeling a lot of changes as you ease back into things. I look forward to the drama that unfolds.”
There was a knock at the door. “We’ve all been through enough drama, Mr. Turner. Let’s look at it as an adventure and just enjoy the ride.”
He nodded with a grin as Ian told Crawford he could enter. “Hello, Lance.” Ian smiled but did not stand. “I apologize for not opening the door for you. I’m not getting around as easily as I did last time I saw you.”
Lance grasped the files he had with both hands and nodded. He looked at the floor a moment and then directly into Ian’s eyes. “Although our last meeting was not one of my better moments, I hope you know how relieved I am that you are back with us and going strong.”
“I appreciate that. Please grab a seat and sit down. The old man and the cripple can’t be of much service in that, but what else may I do for you today?”
Lance rolled a fancy leather chair to the other end of Ian’s desk. “I’m hoping to grab just a moment of your time to catch you up on a few promotional items.”
“Good.” Ian opened the calendar on his desk. “The doctor’s are still limiting my time at the office. I’m trying to follow their orders, so I apologize for any limitations that might put on you.”
“What time you offered in the past has always been quality. I have no doubt that will continue.” He handed Ian a file from his hands. “Here is a listing of what I have planned. All I need is your okay, and I’ll take care of it. Mr. Turner, a copy for you as well.”
“Two birds with one stone.” Turner took the file handed him.
“Just took a chance.” Crawford smiled. “If you weren’t here, my next stop was your assistant. Ian, I have been inundated with requests for personal interviews. I’ve made a list of the requests. I’ll schedule any you choose. I took no liberties, telling everyone that I could make no guarantees. You would make those decisions as soon as you felt it possible. I hope that was alright.”
“Actually, that’s perfect.” Ian said, perusing the list. “Most of these, I have no interest in. I prefer only to schedule interviews about HRT, not anything personal.”
“I understand.” Crawford said.
“But?” It was Turner who added that.
“No real buts, Mr. Turner.” Crawford turned to him. “I just want to subtly remind you both that at this point in time any appearance Ian makes there will be questions.” He turned to Ian. “Ian you have become the hot topic in the country right now, everyone wants to know anything and everything.”
“I understand.” Ian tried to say with sincerity and appreciation. “I’m very uncomfortable with that.”
“I understand that as well.” Crawford stood. “I am not suggesting that you do so. However, with all respect, let me remind you that you are under absolutely no obligation to divulge anything personal, but you are now one of the most powerful men in the country and a celebrity in your own right. You need to find a way to get comfortable with being in the spotlight that comes with the job.”
Ian nodded his head. “Yes, you are absolutely correct. Sit back down, Lance, unless you need to run off.”
“Well…thank you.” Lance sat back down. “May I ask how you are doing?”
“Of course.” Ian said. “I’m bored senseless and eager to forget about this whole nightmare. Unfortunately I am reminded of it every time I try to take a step, but I am making progress. I understand you had a flu, are you doing well?”
“100% recovered.” Lance made himself comfortable. “One of those things going around. I thought I could conquer it, but have to admit it knocked me on my butt for a few days. I hope I didn’t spread it around the office.”
“Those things always sweep through.” Turner told him as he looked through the folder he was given. “I see there are several other items here that look like more than requests for interviews.”
“Ian’s presence would be a coup for anyone right now. My assumption is “no” to all of them, but I’m waiting for word from Ian.”
“Dancing With the Stars?” Turner looked up.
Lance laughed. “That gave me a good laugh. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure you’d be great, but the offer came just a few days after your accident.”
Ian threw back his head and laughed. “I was hooked up to wires and drip bags. If they’d gotten one look at me, they’d have thought it was funny, too. Wait…Minute To Win It?”
Crawford nodded his head. “They are doing some celebrity episodes to raise money for the Charity of the celebs choice, to be aired I think the week of Thanksgiving.”
“Ronnie loves that show.” Ian said. “I have to admit, I’ve never seen it. It’s his personal time with Tippy and Colton so I don’t intrude.”
Turner smiled. “I actually enjoy that one myself. Don’t tell anyone I’m watching another network’s shows though.”
“Would you like me to look into that one?” Lance asked.
“Go ahead.” Turner told Ian. “It’s on another network, but it is for charity and we can use the appearance to help with the new image.”
“New image?” Crawford asked, realizing that he was being left out of the loop.
“I apologize Lance. So much has been decided from my bedside. Our new variety series, “Is That On Tonight” every penny made from it will be going into an educational fund we’ve started. The website, all videos, every bit of time and talent is being donated and the proceeds go directly into the fund.”
“No money coming to HRT at all?”
“Not a penny.” Turner smiled. “We decided it was time to give back, in a big way on a regular basis. We have some other changes as well, Ian and I will be announcing at next weeks press conference.”
“When is that scheduled for?” Ian looked at Crawford, pen poised at his calendar.
“When do you want it scheduled?” Lance asked.
Ian smiled. “That’s your department Lance. I’m allowed to be in the office three days a week, four hours at a time. You tell us when you can get it all together, and I’ll make sure I’m there and at full capacity.”
“I’ll meet with you later today, if that’s all right to discuss the details.” Turner told him.
“Well if you will excuse me then, I’ve got a few balls I need to get rolling.” Lance stood and seemed to sincerely smile. “It is good to have you back with us. I look forward to working with you.”
Ian stood himself and put out his hand. “I as well, and Lance let’s not worry or dwell on anything that happened before today. I need to start from scratch. I hope you will allow me to do so.”
Crawford shook his hand and let out a held breath. “Thank you, Ian. As I see it there was no need for you to start with a clean slate. I am the one who made the mistakes. I trust you will allow me to make up for those.”
“What mistakes?” Ian said.
Lance Crawford nodded his head, clutched the remaining file to his chest and backed out of the office.
When the door shut, David Turner remained focused on the close door. “Interesting.”
“David, before we head up to the conference room, I wonder if you would allow me to take advantage of something.”
“Anything.” The old man returned his focus to the young man behind the desk.
“I want to use the scholarship aspect of the new employee program we are implementing.”
“I see no reason why not. I think that having you be the first person to take advantage of it will encourage others to do the same.” Turner leaned forward in pride. “I should as well.”
“Good.” Ian sat back in his chair and opened up another file to prepare discussion. “I’ll talk with the person I have in mind and then follow procedure.”
“You know you didn’t have to ask my permission.”
“I know.” Ian said. “But I need to clarify that although I have accepted the changes that are going on here, there will always be very little that I won’t feel the need to clear through you.”
“I’ll let you know when I find that annoying.” Turner opened up his own file and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, offering one to Ian. “Shut up and just take one. I’ve learned enough from you to know that as soon as you are comfortable with the perimeters, you’ll run full speed ahead.”
“But after Simon Kent and…”
David looked up at Ian and said sternly. “You are not Simon Kent, nor are you one to carry on blindly like Jack Tolan. You have been put in this position because of your keen sense of responsibility with a staggering talent to back up the trust you instill.”
“I appreciate your confidence.”
“Let’s be clear, Ian.” David Turner flicked an ash in the Tiffany tray on the desk. “We didn’t get a chance to discuss it, so let me do it now. I told you at the meeting that I had nothing to do with your being chosen to fill this role, but I also told you I supported it.”
“That day is still so vague.” Ian said. “There’s so much from the past month that seems like a fog that happened to someone else.”
“It was the board. They’ve been wanting to make changes for years, but I kept making them back down. Then you came along. You incited a creative riot, Young Justyn. You opened my eyes to my own complacency and the incompetence of people who somewhere along the way no longer seem to know the world had changed and hadn’t changed with it.”
“I can see how easy it would be to get caught in a bubble.”
“We’ll the bubble has burst. I’m sure they are many more battles before we win the war, but you have the support of everyone on the board, especially myself. Now I as long as I have a breath in my body, I’m going to make sure my fingerprint is on every pie and not just by proxy, but my job is to help you learn the fine points and technicalities. The rest we’re going to learn from you.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything Ian. Just keep doing what you are doing, and keep me in the loop. You’ve created an unstoppable team, and although you’ve been severely handicapped you’ve inadvertently begun whipping the entire company into another big team. Together, we’ll make it unstoppable, too.”
And they proceeded to do so.
Next up, his first contract negotiation with Frank Hartman. Both Hartman and Zaundra Gleason, the anchors of “America Alive!” had contracts up for renewal within 30 days of each other. This was unusual, but since both had been with the program since its premiere ten years ago, standard five year contracts weren’t unheard of.
Ian’s only problem was that he had to let one go, neither really fit in with the ideas planned, but he leaned toward Hartman, he was older and respected while not exciting, at least he seemed accessible. Zaundra Gleason, on the other hand was overtly staid and came off uncomfortable with unscripted banter. In fact she often just shut up and looked bored if air time was spent on anything other than what was written in her notes or on the teleprompter.
Since it was a coin toss, the negotiations were to be the deciding factor. If Hartman was interested in staying and seemed excited by the changes he would be resigned but only for two years, if not then Zaundra would get the renewal and Ian would be willing to give a little.
In mid-June, Pierce Warner would be joining the show as a warm up to the changes. Ian was anxious to see how the on camera chemistry would be. The dynamics of pairings may very well be the final call. Gleason and Hartman had worked so long together, but Ian never felt they worked as a team, which was foundational for any news or talk program.
Turner had agreed to sit in with Ian, along with Denver Metcalfe. Wella and Blake would be there as well. Metcalfe and Turner were there simply serving as a reminder that although new to the position, HRT would stand behind any decisions made by Ian. Blake was Ian’s walking file cabinet and Wella was just simply Ian’s right arm, in today’s case his left one as well.
In most scenarios, Hartman and his manager or agent would meet with the executive producer and bandy about terms face to face. From that point on representatives from both sides would either hash out disputes until settled or fine tune the wording until the contracts were signed.
Ian wasn’t nervous, partially due to the fact that the mild dose of Percidan he was prescribed made him mellow. He knew what he wanted and how he wanted it and this meeting, regardless of the outcome, was the final cog that making all the wheels roll.
The initial introductions were uneventful. Ian had met Hartman on several occasions and had been cordial. Blake served coffee and tea in the conference room. Hartman and both this manager and agent expressed their pleasure at Ian’s ongoing recovery.
In turn, Ian thanked them and apologized for the inconvenience it may have caused in communication. He stated, and truly felt bad that he had not been able to discuss one on one with the production team changes being planned for the show.
“I have to admit, Ian…” Hartman stated matter of factly, “both Zaundra and I were surprised to be informed that the show would not be expanding to four hours, but we understand the reasoning behind it.”
“I appreciate your approval.” He said.
“Oh, I didn’t say that either of us approved. We both think it’s a mistake.”
“And you’re reasoning?” Ian raised one eyebrow, and Wella shifted a pencil from one hand to the other, her sign for “good words, be ready for a change in tactic.” Wella and Blake seemed to have ears in every hallway. Ian had been dully warned and fully prepared for this meeting to get tough. Hartman and Gleason were determined to get that fourth hour and felt their tenure was strong enough to pressure the network into taking their side despite formal announcements of planned changes.
Hartman shifted in his chair. His manager spoke up. “Both Frank and Zaundra feel that in order to keep up with the race in morning news it is imperative to follow the leads made by the other networks and expand to that fourth hour.”
Frank held up his hand to stop the man and started him self, “We both insist that cutting up three hours of news for gardening tips and presentations of Fairest of the Fair contests undercuts the dignity and expectations of our very loyal viewers.”
Blake opened a file folder in front of Ian as Wella touched her knee, i.e. “hit him with the facts”. Ian cleared his throat. “Thank you for your directness. But first let me point out that while I am sure Zaundra appreciates you’re speaking for her, she is not in any way part of the discussion today. This is strictly about your continuing on with “America Alive” and whether or not you feel comfortable enough to stay with us and make the program something that everyone wants to watch.”
“I think our consistent ratings attest to the fact that we already have what they want.” Hartman’s agent spoke up.
Ian looked at the file in front of him. “We can be very proud of the fact that of the five major morning news programs “America Alive” has the most consistent viewers; there isn’t the hourly fluctuation of the other networks. However those consistencies are marginal over all and when examined closely you see without a doubt that the overwhelming majority of those loyal viewers are over the age of sixty. Not a demographic that draws sponsors.”
“Pardon me...” Wella jumped in, “We need point out that if that demographic were increasing we wouldn’t see it as much of a problem, but the ratings, while consistent over ten years, has declined by 1.5%, also consistently, over the ten year history…”
“You mean you feel the demographic is simply dying out?” Denver interjected.
“Precisely…” Ian agreed. “Our job is not to offend and lose our audience but to see it grow, and changes have to be made. We will not follow the leaders, Mr. Hartman; we will be the leaders.”
“But these remotes…it’s not what Zaundra and I do.” Hartman insisted.
“And you are not being asked to do them. That is why Pierce Warner is coming on board.”
“We don’t…I don’t approve of him.” Hartman wanted no further discussion of Warner.
“Not your call, Frank.” David Turner reminded him.
Wella put both her hands on the table. Ian knew what was coming. They figured that both Hartman and Gleason would double barrel, starting by pointing out how integral they were to the ratings of the show, and if that didn’t work to insinuate that they would not be interested in renewing. Ian was prepared.
“Ian I understand why you feel changes are necessary, in order to increase ratings we cannot continue doing things the same way, and I acquiesce to your position and hope that we can come to an agreement in terms.” Hartman folded his hands in his lap.
“I appreciate that, sir, and I hope you understand while I have and will make the final call on all changes, as we continue further I expect you and the production team to be a party to decisions made…” Ian suspected that was way too easy, but in his head put a check by Frank’s name and drew a big black line through Zaundra’s.
Hartman’s agent spoke up. “I think then, let’s just make this short and sweet and start talking about terms…of course Hartman does expect an increase in salary and benefits.”
“Actually”, Ian said, “We aren’t willing to negotiate any increase. Frank’s air time will be cut by a third, although I am willing to make an addendum should ratings increase that salary and benefits befit that increase.”
Hartman and his team turned red in the face. “I don’t think that…” Frank started to spit.
Ian put up his hand, “Forgive me Mr. Hartman, but you are the second highest paid morning anchor already…and unfortunately the rude fact is that you anchor the seventh lowest program. Change that, change the other…”
Hartman put his hand to his chin and nodded at his agent. “Frank does have other offers…in order for these discussions to continue you will need to match them.”
Blake pulled a file from the bottom of the pile and opened it. Ian picked up a few typed papers and perused. “I see no problem with that…”
Hartman and his team smiled momentarily until Ian continued. “I understand that TV Guide channel had offered you a commentator position at half the salary and benefits, Icon the same, and an affiliate in Washington State has offered you the lead anchor for their 6 PM news…”
“CNN has offered Pierce Warner’s old position…” the manager spoke up.
Wella looked at Blake. Blake looked at Ian. Ian smiled. “Then I see no reason for these negotiations to continue…”
“Oh, we are willing to talk…” the agent blustered.
Ian stood. “Well thank you, but I wouldn’t want to stand in Frank’s way. Enjoy the new job. You deserve it.”
Hartman and his team all stood and began to dance around. “I’d much rather stay with “America Alive”. I’m sure we can work out the difference in money.”
Ian extended his hand to Hartman, who breathed a sigh of relief and shook it. Ian smiled as he shook the man’s hand. “We so appreciate the job you have done for us, and wish you all the best of luck. I’ll make an announcement at the next press conference that you’ll be leaving for greener pastures…”
The man’s face fell. “But I…”
“Frank, you play hard ball very, very badly. I’m sorry. You lied and now I don’t trust you. I won’t allow our loyal viewers to get their news from someone I don’t trust. I wouldn’t even let them get gardening tips from you…”
“Ian…” Hartmen smiled, “Let’s be reasonable…”
“I am being reasonable. I’m not firing you. Your existing contract will be honored. We will make the announcement that we regret that you have decided not to renew with us. I hope you like Spokane, it sounds like the best offer you have on the table.”
The agent stood his ground, “CNN has…”
“CNN has squat for you.” Ian told him point blank. “I might have bought it if you hadn’t added the bit about Pierce’s position. Pierce didn’t have a position, just an offered contract for freelance journal assignments, proving that you are not only a liar, but don’t even have a concept about what the news really is. You’ve just been doing things be rote for ten years. You blew it.”
“Dave…?” Frank turned to the big boss.
“Sorry, he’s right. I’m disappointed. Carl Steadman retires in two years. Ian and I had discussed a two year contract for you on “America” and then to move you into the 6:30 anchor position, but that’s now off the table ass well.”
“But, I’ve worked hard…don’t I deserve…?”
“Frank…” David Turner shook the man’s hand. “One of you had to go, and you made up our minds. And I’m sure Ian won’t mind you speaking to Zaundra on our behalf, we have things set, we will not negotiate. While that may give her some leverage in the next thirty days, we will have no second thoughts about replacing her as well.”
“If you would like, Frank, I am willing to allow you to finish out your contract in the air, no bullshit or I will get publicly ugly.” Ian extended his hand.
“Fuck you asshole.” The team stormed out the door.
“Well…” Blake smiled. “That went well…Plan B, C or D?”
Ian tapped his fingers on the table. “Go with C for now.” Blake and Wella nodded and scampered off.
“Plan C?” Denver asked.
“Someone signed Ray Everett to a contract which the network has been doling out quite a large sum of money to for the past few years and he hasn’t done a thing. He’s consented to fill in when needed.”
“The ball player?”
“That’s the one…very All America. He can read and knows how to work a camera. He’ll do just fine.” Ian looked through some paperwork.
“We’ve had him under contract for two years?” David Turner blinked.
“Yes…you didn’t know?”
Ian nodded. “Wella is off giving him a call to start Monday morning. I’m sure we’ve seen the last of Hartman.”
“A nice man, I’m sorry to see him go, but obviously he doesn’t fit in with the changes we’re making.” Turner pulled his paperwork together. “We should all be prepared for some nasty maneuvering from Zaundra Gleason and her people.”
“They have the same agent.” Ian said slipping some files in his backpack and slowly rising from the table.
“He’ll definitely be thinking twice before he speaks now.” Metcalfe said. “Personally, I’m not sure how so many got to the point they believe we’ve been offering what the public wanted to see when no one has been tuning in for over a decade.”
Ian and David Turner walked to the conference room door. Denver Metcalfe scurried ahead and held it open for them “Perhaps I should get myself a cane, just to fit in.” He joked.
“You can have mine.” Ian rolled his eyes. “Unfortunately, when I’m through with it.”
Metcalfe walked with them to the elevator. “I thought Simon Kent gave you a briefcase, Ian. Why aren’t you using it?”
“Two reasons.” Ian leaned against the wall of the elevator, as Metcalfe pressed the button. “Ronnie convinced me that my pack was my trademark. He’s my go to guy on all things pop culture.”
“John Wayne had his Stetson.” Turner chuckled. “Justyn has his back pack.”
Ian smiled. “And secondly, I returned the brief case to its rightful owner.”
“Rightful owner?” Metcalfe asked.
“As I was going through tons of reports and paperwork just to keep from hanging myself with my drip bag wires out of boredom, I ran across a report that Cassidy Roark…”
“The director who won the Oscar last year?” Metcalfe interrupted.
“The very same.” Ian nodded his head. “He apparently had his people set up a meeting to inquire about possibilities of working with us.”
“I didn’t know about that.” Metcalfe said as the doors came open.
“Let him tell you why.” Turner shook his head and stepped toward Ian’s office.
“It’s seems while Mr. Roark was using our facilities, someone dumped the contents of his briefcase out and stole it. His meeting was with Simon Kent, who apparently wrapped it up and gave it to me as a white flag.”
“That explains quite a bit.” Metcalfe huffed and turned to Turner. “If we hadn’t already fired that man…”
Turner put up his hand. “Fortunately, Ian saw the report, put two and two together and returned it.”
“Did you tell him that one of our execs stole it and gave it to you as a gift?”
“Of course not.” Ian said as they entered his inner office. “I told him I had found it and wanted to know if it was his. On the bright side, I think he would have found it funny if I had told him the whole story. He’s a very nice guy and we seemed to hit it off.”
“Any possibilities of getting him on the HRT team?” Metcalfe raised an eyebrow.
“We have first look options for his next three projects in return for a guarantee to direct a limited series of my choice in the next three years.” Ian smiled. “I’ll have Blake give you a file on the properties we are considering optioning with him in mind.”
If Denver Metcalfe weren’t such a proper gentlemen, he’d have a done a happy dance right there in front of the staff. “What’s next, Ian?” He held his office door open for him.
Ian held up a finger in apology as Lee entered his office. “You my Blake sub?”
“Yes.” Lee put a tray with a glass of water and a little pile of piles in front of Ian. “I’m suppose to threaten you if you don’t take these and remind you that you only have 90 minutes left. Blake’s set a timer on my desk. When the chicken squawks, I’m to drag you screaming from the building.”
“One of these isn’t going to knock me out, is it?” Ian turned up his nose as he looked at the capsules.
“I swear.” Lee crossed his heart.
“Wait!” Turner laughed. “Blake has a chicken timer on your desk?”
Lee rolled his eyes. “Exactly. A little hard plastic hen on a nest.”
Ian nodded his head. “Ronnie loaned it to him when he laid down the law. You don’t mess with my kid when he’s made up his mind.”
“Wonder where he got that from?” Turner chuckled.
“His mother.” Ian said thoughtfully. “When she decided it was best, you did not say no. I’d never have gone to college if it weren’t for her.” A warm smile spread across his face as he admitted out loud. “Most of the best things in my life I wouldn’t have at all if she had made up her mind that it was the right thing to do.”
Lee opened up his pad. “Your meeting with Vaundra Hawkins has been changed until next Friday morning. She’s got that bug and Blake didn’t want her anywhere near you. Lance Crawford wants confirmation that Wednesday is good for the Press conference.” He handed a folder to Ian. “And here’s the list of calls.”
“Thank you, Lee.” Ian smiled. “Make a note to Blake that Wednesday is fine with me, and since my meeting has been postponed run and quickly tidy up whatever Blake left you to do, then come back in here and have a chat with Mr. Turner and I.” He turned to Denver Metcalfe. “And Mr. Metcalfe if he can spare the time.”
“A meeting with me?” Lee turned a little green.
“Yes, Lee. We haven’t had the chance to speak about the changes and I’d like a moment of your time.”
“Oooooh kaaaay.” Lee wobbled a second. “Uh, fifteen minutes?”
“Fifteen minutes.” Ian said and watched Lee turn and run into the doorframe. “Sorry, dude, Turner keeps moving that behind people’s backs. He thinks it’s funny.”
Turner looked at Lee, who was rubbing his nose. “I love slapstick.”
As Lee managed to get out the door in one piece, Metcalfe turned to the other men in the room. “Why do I feel like the third stooge?”
“Well, Curly, you asked what was next so before Lee comes back in shall we talk about ‘The Best of Everything’?” Ian looked in his empty water cup.
“Hot tea?” David Turner asked.
“That would be nice. Thank you. Mr. Metcalfe?” Ian returned.
“Why not?” He stood from his chair. “Being the only one in the room with two good legs, let me. Now what about our other soap?”
“I’ve spent a lot of time reading the blogs, the magazines and just watching the show.” Ian said. “It’s basically in good condition.”
“We should be very proud of that little piece.” David Turner said. “It’s our longest running program, and one of the oldest daytime dramas still on the air.”
“Absolutely.” Ian returned. “To me the surprising factor is that it’s a network owned show. Most of the older soaps belonged to other companies.”
“We had a few of those, but bailed out.” Turner said. “Most of the other networks seem to be following suit.”
“Soaps have such a loyal fan base.” Metcalfe placed three cups in the microwave. “The past two decades have decimated them. There was a time when daytime paid for nighttime. We killed that when we pre-empted soaps for weeks to broadcast that Simpson murder trial.”
“Now, we are in the process of reinventing the genre.” Ian opened his back pack and took out several files. “Blood Kisses is going to help, but we also need to take a good look at The Best of Everything. It’s never fully recovered from the years Baxter Reilly was head writer.”
“You’ve been watching.” Turner said as he lifted a cup of tea from the tray Metcalfe held and put it close to Ian. “What do you think?”
“I’m going to tell you a dirty little secret.” Ian dumped sugar in his tea. “I’ve watched that soap off and on since I was a kid. My Aunt Hil set her life around watching it. I’ve seen the good times. I’ve seen the bad times.”
“What time is it now?” Metcalfe reseated himself and sipped his tea.
“It depends on what day you watch.” Ian closed his eyes and enjoyed a tongue full of warm sweet liquid. “It’s very inconsistent, but I think we can fix that. It seems much of the script is filler and repetitive.”
“Speeding it up a little is what we talked about.” David Turner offered Ian a cigarette, which he quickly took.
“But the writers and show runners either don’t understand what we mean or they have the we are doing what the audience wants disease.” Ian said. “At least, I’ve been getting the scripts in advance. Here take a look.”
Metcalfe reached for a script Ian offered. “What are these red lines?”
“I’ve done some editing. I red marked anything that was repetitive or just plan bad.” Ian handed a second script to David Turner.
“Most of this script is red.” Metcalfe leafed through.
“So what?” Turner looked up. “We need to replace the writers?”
“Here.” Ian handed them each a copy of another script. “This is what was left from a week’s worth of scripts, one really good episode. I’d like to send a proxy to the writers and show them this.” Ian held up the single script and pointed at the pile of edited ones. “I’m hoping they’ll see what I mean.”
Metcalfe held up his hand, engrossed in the edited script. “Shhh! This is good.”
Turner looked at Ian. “If you can pull an old man in who rallied behind dumping the entire daytime line up with one script. We are definitely on the right track.” He sipped his tea. “I’ll personally set up a meeting with them, and then re-instate an old practice we haven’t used for years.”
“Which is?” Ian asked, amused at Denver Metcalfe sipping tea and flipping pages of a soap opera script with abandon.
“Not a frame gets shot until the network approves the script. It will slow production down somewhat, but I think they’ll quickly catch on.”
“I hate to baby sit an artist, but maybe that’s best.”
“They break for a week at the end of shooting today. I’ll make the call and set up a meeting with the staff for today. Would you mind if I have Blake set up a meeting with you and the production team next week?”
“One on one is so much better than a memo.” Ian agreed. “Check with Blake about my availability. If I need to do a dinner at home with them, we’ll do that.”
“Anything else we need to look at?” David flopped the script on the desk and reached for his mug.
“I’d like to find a new show runner. Randa Millhouse wants to retire.”
“She’s been the show running for twenty years.”
“She’s done a great job, but we need to find someone with a new attitude but a love of daytime drama, preferably one who loves “The Best of Everything”. Ian nodded.
Their attention was quickly drawn to the timid tap at the door. Lee stuck his head in the door. “Are you ready for me?”
“Of course.” Ian smiled motioning to a chair. “Would you like a cup of tea or a cigarette?”
Lee nervously shook his head and seated himself, folding his hands in his lap. “No thank you.”
“You look like you are about to be executed, Lee.” Turner said. “Just relax.”
“I’m trying sir. I’m not used to being called in front of all the big boys before.”
“Get used to it.” Ian said. “I am assuming you are aware of the majority of changes being made here at the network?”
“Sir?” Ian chuckled. “I’m still Ian, Lee. The sir is appreciated, but totally unnecessary.”
“But very much earned.” Lee looked at Ian and smiled timidly.
“Thank you.” Ian blushed. “I need to ask you about something.”
“You came to my team from the promotion department.”
“After Lance Crawford fired me.”
Ian nodded. “Fortunately for us, Wella knew a good thing when she saw it and we snapped you up. Now which do you prefer the promotional aspect or the development aspect.”
Denver Metcalfe interjected. “Excuse me Lee, but aren’t you the one that came up with our “Legend Continues” campaign?”
“I took an idea Ian had and added my own, but yes.”
“And Crawford terminated you?” Metcalfe smirked.
“He said I didn’t have any talent and sent me back to the mail room. That’s when Wella and Ian intercepted me and put me on their team.” Lee admitted.
“So which do you prefer?” Ian asked again.
Lee took a deep breath and thought. “There are aspects of both that I love. It’s the creativity that motivates me. I really enjoyed the fall campaign. Ian kind of gave me an idea and then just dropped it in my lap and let me have at it.”
Ian nodded. “Good answer.”
“Does he win a prize?” Turner grinned.
“I think so.” Ian looked back to Lee. “We have a great team, but all things come to an end.”
“You’re going to break us up?” Lee looked disappointed.
“Yes and no.” Ian took a file from the top of his desk and handed it to Lee. “Here’s a contract with your name on it. All you need to do is look it over and sign it. Take your time. Have a second legal party look at it. Make sure it’s what you want. I’m willing to negotiate.”
Lee’s hand trembled as he took the file, but left it unopened. “I’m being offered a contract?”
Denver Metcalfe patted the man on the shoulder. “All our executives work under contract.”
“Executive?” Lee swallowed hard.
“Lee, I’m offering you the position to head up what used to be Simon Kent’s team. Wella is taking over mine as I step further into my new role. We’ll all still work together, but you have more than earned a crack at your own division.”
Ian watched as Lee sat back in the chair. “What about power meetings and…”
“I still expect you to show up in my office several times a week and bang heads around. You run your team the way you think is best. Just turn out some good programming, including the promo for it. There are some great people on that team, they just haven’t had the right leadership.”
“And you want me…?”
David Turner moved forward. “Lee yours was the only name even discussed. We think that you are not only qualified, but more than able to help turn a dormant team around.”
“You’ve been a part of Ian’s team almost from inception.” Denver Metcalfe jumped in. “You’ve not only been motivated to excel, but we’ve noticed you have the ability to do that in others around you.”
“By moving you to another team, we are pretty confident the same thing will happen.” Ian smiled. “It’s your decision. You can stay put if you like, but I hope you will be as excited about this promotion as the three of us are about offering it to you.”
“Can I still bounce ideas off you, no matter how bizarre?” Lee asked.
“It always makes my day.” Ian said. “The only real change is going to be that you’ll have your own staff to bounce them off of.”
Lee opened the file and his eyes popped. “There’ll be a few other changes I can make with this salary.” He looked up. “I guess I’ll be negotiating the deal on “Downstairs in the Attic” myself.”
“Kent’s awful pilot?” Metcalfe frowned.
Ian grinned. “Kent’s awful pilot made from a very brilliant and very different script. Lee has been talking with Scott Tupper on my behalf about the possibilities of a replacement series based on the original concept.”
“He wants to do it and he thinks he can bring Tara Newland along with him.” Lee said.
“Tara Newland?” Turner was impressed. “Are we talking about the same Tara Newland?”
“The one who one the Golden Globe, the Emmy and the SAG Award this year for her first telefilm?” Ian asked.
“She did that?” Turner asked.
“The young lady who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar twice before the age of thirty?” Ian asked again.
“Uhm…” Turner had to think.
Lee leaned in close. “The one on the cover of this month’s Maxim magazine?”
“That’s the one!” Turner squealed.