I knew it was a bad idea the moment I said it. It was my first day on the job, and the network writers room was full of all kinds of absurd spit-balling, so I thought it would be safe to just toss a stinker right out there as sort of an introductory volley. The idea was that they wanted to create yet another musical contest show which had some intellectual credibility by featuring a respected literary figure as host. I have no idea why that combination was chosen, but that is what we were told we needed to build the show around. Undoubtedly some screwy executive was dead set on the kind of ill-advised teletrocity that I was about to suggest.
“Second Chances,” I spoke as confidently as I could. “It is a show about 80s hair metal bands who never got their break, but who are now competing for a second chance at stardom. It features author Chuck Klosterman as the host, obviously, since he is the most articulate spokesman for that bygone genre. And maybe the judges are all hair metal alumni…”
I noticed I was getting some strange looks, and I feared that my first pitch ever might get me tossed out of the game. I tried to speak again but ended up emitting something related to a squeak, if the squeaks predecessors had mated with their siblings for nine or ten generations. I decided to just sit down and take what was coming, but as I did so the team leader guy stood up and began clapping, and the other writers joined him.
“I don’t think I have heard a first pitch that great since 2008, kid. What else you got?”
Immediately it occurred to me what a terrible idea it was. Why would anyone want to see cock rock losers in their fifties and sixties battle to reach the top of a game that almost nobody played anymore? And of no fault of his own, how was an intelligent, witty, articulate guy like Klosterman going to relate to the kind of people who would want to watch a hair metal revival? Terrible, idea, right? And if I would have just said so and dropped it all right there, I might still be on the path to a bright future in television. But the clapping and praise created such enormous pressure to continue developing my terrible idea that I was unable to stop myself.
In case you missed it during its short run, Second Chances worked exactly how you’d think it would. During the first episode a number of bands competed to be on the show. For the remainder of the season the bands who were chosen performed an original song each week, and then were critiqued by the judges. Every week the audience voted one band off until there were just two and blah blah blah. The host would not only introduce the bands and give background info, he would also comment on the bands and their music, image and performance in his trademark sesquipedalian way, while also interacting with the judges thoughtfully and humorously.
After a few weeks I was no longer part of the development team, but I had been given a producer credit for creating the original idea of the show, which would have been awesome if the show would have made some money instead of blowing up in my face. I had expected Klosterman to pass on the idea, but he agreed to it for unspecified reasons that were probably related to his habit of betting on college basketball games, which had not yet been made public. The three judges were Dee Snider of Twisted Sister fame, Cinderella’s Tom Keifer, and inexplicably, Corey Taylor from Slipknot. It somehow all actually came together to be pretty cool, despite my deep reservations.
Klosterman was really the key. I expected the audience to react to him like he was a pretentious egghead, but they ended up relating to them because he made them feel smarter about themselves for identifying with him and the show. Snider was the entertaining loudmouth you’d expect him to be. Keifer was a brilliant musician and career strategist who brought the show an unexpected layer of insight. Corey Taylor had something hilariously divisive or unifyingly obvious to say about everything. Ratings indicated that it had somehow transcended its intended demographic target and was trending with adolescents and college students.
For the first four weeks everything went great. Each week the audience doubled and advertisers were lining up for slots. Somehow even the bands and music turned out to be far more compelling than I could have imagined, and some of those songs are going to show up on my playlists for the rest of my life. It was after the fifth episode aired that everything fell apart.
One of the bands was a Columbia, Missouri four piece named White Spider. They were exceptional musicians with an electrifying stage presence who also happened to write some pretty killer hooks. It is almost impossible to imagine that they would not have been voted in as season champions had the show continued, but since it was entirely their fault that it did not, I have no sympathy for them whatsoever. Two lines of lyrics, which 97% of English speakers could not even understand, destroyed the show and my career in one single rhyme. To add insult to injury, the damage to their reputation in the mainstream has only made them more popular with the kind of people who listen to hair metal, as well as those who will flock to anything that has been banished to the irrelevancy gulag by the tone gestapo.
Lyricist and lead singer Danny Capacipoli is not a bad guy. He certainly is not the raving misogynist he has since been painted to be by all the trending media outlets, but neither am I for that matter, yet the possibility that we may not be what Boss Bitch magazine calls ‘femicidal troglodytes’ is an opinion that will leave reputation scars if spoken in social media or any other visible format. Nice guy or not, I still have no idea why he thought those lyrics were a good idea. Predictably he went on to claim that it was just a joke, and that he garbled the pronunciation at the last minute so that nobody would understand what he was saying when he sang the following lyrics during the end of the second verse.
“You’re only sixteen on paper
But you’re already a gaper”
Even when I listen again for the hundredth time I cannot clearly make that out, but somehow thousands of women’s rights activists immediately translated the message and began a cancel campaign. It happened so quickly that by the time I even heard about it the next morning, the network had promised to pull the show and had Chuck sequestered in a studio somewhere filming an apology speech which would air that night as part of the network’s national news show.
The coolest part of all of this had been that I had formed a crude friendship with Chuck Klosterman, who is my favorite non-fiction writer and fourth favorite fiction author. Since I had his cell phone number I decided to give him a call. He picked up after half a dozen rings and I could tell he was skating on the edge of a full blown panic attack. He had been told by his agent that this would likely destroy his career. Klosterman was going to be cancelled by the fickle mobs of outrage performance amateurs, since he was the show’s front man, and there was probably not a thing that could be done about it.
“Chuck, man…” I paused to think. “I mean, this can’t happen. I won’t let it happen. Let me take the fall. I don’t have nearly as much to lose and just maybe I could recover.”
So we worked out a plan. During a certain point in his speech he would invite me to stand beside him and take the blame, as the show’s original creator, for not vetting the lyrics and allowing hate rock to penetrate the public consciousness. It was absurd, since neither one of us was responsible for that. I am not even sure who was, if anybody. But the people wanted blood and a face to smear it on, which I gave them, and it worked. I transferred the heat from Chuck to myself. Afterwards he quickly wrote a stunningly hilarious book about the whole ordeal and doubled his book sales.
Meanwhile I am working as a production assistant on a kid’s cooking show for public television, which is far worse than I could ever hope to communicate without committing interpretive murder to do so. Dee Snider called me last week and assured me that this would blow over, that I should pursue my passions, and if I really had the stuff and put in the effort it would work out no matter how many people were pissed off at me. He invited me to be a guest on his radio show, since it has now been almost a year and things have cooled off, so I could beg and plead for forgiveness from the public and begin my journey to reputation recovery.
I got so excited that I started work on a script last night. It is a satirical take on those shows where people go around buying junk to resell, only the effervescent couple named George & Ginny Prospect who host the show are buying organs from the loved ones of the dying. I am tentatively calling it Following Prospects.