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May 152012
 

by Brian Conlon

 

The season finale of “The Breaking Point” was quite controversial, but not as controversial as it was supposed to be. The creator of the show, Finny Davidson, had always wanted the finale to be about religion. In fact, in his presentation to the executives at Celestial Farms Entertainment (CFE) he had actually said the phrase, “and the finale, you’ll love this, the finale will be about religion.” “Well now,” said one of the executives and the other two reached for their drinks. Finny did not really know what to make of this “well now,” but, at that time, was in no position to make demands.

After an extremely successful twelve episodes, Finny was almost in a position to make demands. The show had consistently earned the young cable channel its highest ratings every week it aired. Celestial Farms was initially designed as a hybrid channel. It would show space dramas, educational programs about space with impressive computer graphics and “how to” programs on farming. For some reason the executives thought the farming shows should be about corporate farming, not traditional or hobby farming. Such programs as “The Inorganic Pesticide Hour,” “700 Hogs to the Slaughter” and “In Any Case, Once This Celery Makes It to Market, We’ll Get $1 A Head for It” did surprisingly poorly amongst the 18-35 year-old demographic and only marginally better with women ages 55-63.

The space dramas were cheaply produced and the writing suffered from an almost fetish-like affinity for Mars. It seemed that every other program had something to do with Martians, or red dust, or the fabled river that, almost, may have existed. Perhaps worst of all was the drama “Moon Martians,” a show about a family of aliens from Earth’s Moon who referred to themselves as Moon Martians. The Moon Martians lived on the moon by themselves, and had yet to develop space travel, though episodes 6-14 were devoted to Mr. Moon Martian trying to demonstrate to his daughter, Veronica Moon Martian, just how one could build a space ship if metal were present on the moon.

“If we had metal, oh, if only we knew what metal was,” he said.

“Could we go to Mars then Daddy?” asked Veronica.

“Well, we are Moon Martians, so that might have to be our first stop,” said Mr. Moon Martian.

“But what about Uncle Yakov Moon Martian? Remember what you told me about him?”

“No I don’t Veronica. What happened to him?”

“The Martian Wolves, remember with their Martian tongues, they scolded him something awful, he almost gave away his dog, old Ralph. Remember old Ralph?”

“No I don’t Veronica, but if only we knew what metal was . . .”

“If only,” she said. The camera zoomed in on her face; she looked directly at it and licked her lips seductively.

The “Moon Martians” did fairly well with men ages 16-37, but was never seen by any female over the age of 17. The producers tried to remedy this by adding a more attractive Mr. Moon Martian in season two, but by then most women had blocked the network all together, except for a few notables who made sure to catch “In Any Case, Once This Celery Makes It to Market, We’ll Get $1 A Head for It” to spite their husbands.

In short, the network had a niche, but that niche was smaller than the executives might have hoped. So when Finny approached with the novel idea that had been turned down by all the major networks, cable companies and one amateur theater group outside of Seattle, they were more receptive than they normally would have been. After the meeting, one executive pointed out, “In this business, sometimes you have to try one original idea every ten years, if only to remind people they exist.”

“By producing the same stuff over and over again, we constantly remind them they existed, because they’ve seen it before,” said a young executive with an MBA.

“Tense, it’s a matter of tense,” said the secretary, Josh, who overheard the conversation.

“He’s right. It’s all well and good that people know they existed, but every ten years, at least, I, for one, like to remember I exist,” said the first executive.

“If I learned one thing in business school it’s that creativity is only good in horse shoes and hand grenades,” said the executive with the MBA.

“I don’t think that’s right,” said Josh.

“True, we also learned Excel,” said the executive with the MBA.

“I say we give this Finny guy a shot. What do we got to lose? The ‘Inorganic Pesticide Hour’ is getting pretty stale anyway,” said a third executive, carrying a purse.

“Fine, but don’t say I warned someone else about this, because I warned you,” said the executive with the MBA.

“I don’t think that’s right,” said Josh.

“Well no, I didn’t warn you. What would be the point? Am I right?” said the young executive, as he slapped the first, oldest and most powerful executive on the back.

“No,” typed Josh.

 

***

Finny’s idea was for a game show. The show would consist of contestants who were devoted to one idea or another sitting down one on one with a host. The host would have various multimedia and live displays at his disposal, which were designed to sway the contestant away from his/her belief. The contestant would be hooked up to a lie detector and after every round would be asked whether he/she still believed in whatever it was he/she believed in. Finny had gotten this idea from a philosophy class he took in college, where his professor would constantly ask, “And if I told you x would you still believe in y?” The professor always used variables in place of the propositions she was asking about. She explained to the students, “I need you to think in terms of logic, that is, in terms of x and y. Now if I told you x, would you still believe y Mr. Davidson?”

“What was x?” asked Finny from the back row.

“X is the Sun is many times bigger than you could possibly think it is,” said the professor.

“And what was Y again?”

“It’s right on the board, can you not read it?”

“No, I can’t. My roommate says I need glasses.”

“Y is I know precisely how large the Sun is.”

“Yes, I still believe Y. I know how big the Sun is; even if you think I could not possibly imagine how big the Sun is.”

“Incorrect,” said the professor.

Unlike the logic games Finny’s professor would play, everything presented in the game show was supposed to be factually accurate. The first season’s episodes ranged from the topics of gun control, to whether baseball is boring and from the artistic validity of rap music to the merits of monarchy. In each case, two contestants with opposing views were selected to participate. There was no incentive for the contestant to retain their previous position (or change their position for that matter); contestants merely received $10,000 if they told the truth throughout the show and $0 if they lied even once. The contestants were not told they were lying, but the home audience could tell from the giant graphic at the bottom of the screen that read: LIAR! LIAR! LIAR!

Despite the incentives, it was not uncommon for a contestant to lie persistently throughout his time on “The Rocking Chair of Truth” (not Finny’s idea). Approximately 43% of all contestants lied one way or another during the ten rounds and one contestant lied after every single round, repeatedly claiming, “Even if the interbreeding monarchies of Europe were primarily responsible for World War I, I still think monarchy is the best form of government” and “Given that both Catherine the Great and Peter the Great were brutal tyrants and Alexander the Great cannot be said to have been, strictly speaking, a monarch, I still think monarchy is the best form of government,” despite the fact that the machine indicated that he did not believe any such thing.

The audience seemed to get an exceptional thrill out of the stubbornness of the contestants and would goad them on with yells of “stick to your guns” and “1, 2, 3 strikes you’re out at the old ball game.” The network executives realized the allure of bold-faced lying and promoted it as the central element of the show, flashing the LIAR! LIAR! LIAR! graphic at the beginning and end of every promo, and sometimes subliminally during their programs, like “Attack of Several Martians of Disrepute.

“Oh no, it’s the Martians again!”

“Shut up Seth, I hate it when you state the obvious,” said Sally.

“I’ve grown tired of a twenty-four hour day.”

“Then join them Seth, you idiot.”

“At least they once had a river.”

“Maybe.”

LIAR! LIAR! LIAR!

“My reputation is forever tarnished,” said a Martian.

“I think you could get it back,” said Seth.

“There was never a river,” said Sally.

“When?” asked the same Martian.

“Tuesday nights at 9pm,” said Seth.

“Shut up Seth,” said the same Martian.

“When else?” asked a second Martian.

“Again Wednesdays at 11pm,” said Seth.

“You know we have oceans . . . oceans!” said Sally.

“I’d rather be a former river than a current ocean,” said the first Martian.

“I’m scared, hold me Seth,” said Sally.

“My arms are tired, the days are too short,” said Seth.

“I’ll bite you Seth,” said the first Martian and Sally in unison.

“When?” asked the second Martian.

“One more time, Thursdays at 7pm,” said Seth.

“Drop dead Seth,” said Sally.

LIAR! LIAR! LIAR!

 

***

Finny entered the finale meeting fairly confident he could get the network to do whatever he wanted. Only the most important executives were allowed to have influence over the creative content at CFE. In the case of “The Breaking Point,” the only executives allowed to even consult with Finny were those who were fortunate enough to have attended his pitch meeting, namely the young executive with the MBA, the executive with the purse and the first executive and his secretary, Josh. Everyone shook hands in every conceivable combination, except Josh, who tapped his computer hastily, “Wake up, wake up,” he whispered.

“So the finale . . .” said Finny.

“Here’s what I was thinking,” said the young executive with the MBA, “I was thinking costumes. What do people love more than costumes?”

“You mean for everybody?” asked the purse-toting executive.

“Even the host?” asked the first executive.

“Especially the host. Have you seen that reptile mask they make nowadays? Made from real reptile, I’ve heard,” said the young executive.

“Well that’s something to work off of,” said the first executive.

“No, absolutely no costumes. This is the only show on this network without costumes, that’s part of the charm,” said Finny.

“It’s a six and a half to one dose,” said the young executive.

“I don’t think that’s right,” said Josh.

“No, do you remember my idea? The last show is about religion . . .,” said Finny.

“Well now,” said the executive with the purse, reaching for a glass of water.

All three executives reached for their water glasses and gulped hard, each staring at a different spot on the ceiling momentarily.

“It would kill in the ratings. People will love to see devout believers and hardened atheists put to the test,” said Finny.

“We’d upset a key demographic,” said the executive with the purse.

“Or twelve,” said the first executive.

“Like I said, stickers, free stickers to the first two million viewers,” said the young executive.

“Scratch n’ sniff?” asked Josh.

“We don’t have the technology,” said the first executive.

“No cheap gimmicks. Come on now guys, you’ve let me control the show thus far, mostly, and the ratings are through the roof,” said Finny.

“I can get an estimate on those stickers,” said the young executive.

“I bet you could,” said Finny.

“Finny’s right, let’s take a step back now. Our show has been the best thing that’s happened to this network,” said the executive with the purse.

“How about candles that never run out of wax?” said the young executive.

“How about it?” said Josh.

“It’d give new meaning to the phrase, you’ve never got to burn both ends of a candle,” said the young executive.

“Sure would,” said Finny. “But we’re talking about my show here.”

“I agree, let’s get down to business here. Mark that, Josh, this is where we are getting down to business,” said the first executive.

“Yes, sir,” said Josh.

“Now, I’m sorry Fin, but our sponsors won’t let us air our show if it questions religion,” said the first executive.

“But sir, it’s not questioning, in fact, it might even show the strength of belief in the face of what seems to be over . . .”

“Enough Finny, we can’t do it. Think of something else, or else we’ll think of it for you,” said the first executive.

“How about did life ever exist on Mars?” said the executive with the purse.

“Oh that’s good, that’s good,” said the first executive.

“Do you even watch your network? If you’re like most Americans, the answer is no, unless my show is on. You know why? Because my show is not about Martians!” said Finny.

“Well now,” said the young executive. “Everybody is interested in Martians. There was even a James Bond movie, I think,” said the young executive.

“Any better ideas?” asked the first executive.

“Chinese checkers, but with farm animals . . .” said the young executive.

“Not you!” said the executive with the purse.

“Don’t count the chicken until the bucket is nearly empty,” said the young executive.

“I had an idea I was thinking about for the season two finale,” said Finny.

“There’s no time like presents,” said the young executive.

“I don’t think that’s right,” said Josh.

“Hush, Josh,” said the first executive.

“Alright, so, how about we have the question, ‘Are people inherently good or evil?’” said Finny.

“I like it,” said the executive with the purse.

“I think I can get that through,” said the first executive.

“Sort of a Napoleon complex then,” said the young executive.

“I don’t think that’s right,” said Josh, sitting up straight in his chair.

 

***

The episode was to air live right before the series premier of “Farming in Space,” a mini-series chronicling what it would be like to farm the various planets of the solar system. The network had high hopes for the mini-series and thought that showing it after the big finale would ensure its success.

The two contestants for the game were chosen for maximum demographic appeal. Tessi Camps was a twenty-one year old beautiful blonde communications major from the University of Atlanta, with an ever-so-subtle twang in her voice that made the listener, at least subconsciously, momentarily agree with her that people were fundamentally pleasant. Chancellor Grifton, who happened to believe people were fundamentally evil, was a sixty-seven year-old Vietnam War vet, who had been awarded two purple hearts and a gold star and managed to still have a full head of hair.

Finny planned to start the show with Tessi exuding a damsel-in-distress look for about an hour and end with getting Chancellor to break down and profess his love for mankind. The show started at 8pm sharp and the studio audience buzzed with anticipation.

“People are fundamentally good, so this should be interesting,” said one observer.

“Why would that make this interesting?” asked a fellow voyeur.

“Well, you know, it just would. Why don’t you mind your own business?”

“I would if you’d only stop blabbering. It’s about to start you know.”

“I know, moron,” the observer mumbled to himself.

“Welcome to ‘The Breaking Point,’ I’m your host Dolph Sanders. We have an exciting show for you this evening, as two contestants’ deep moral beliefs will be put to the test, right here on CFE, the station that grows on you.”

The executives were watching the live feed in a dark room in the basement of the theatre that formerly stored spare string instruments and microphone chords.

“Did he just make that up?” asked the first executive.

“Make what up?” said the executive with the purse.

“That slogan, ‘the station that grows on you,’ we never approved that, did we Josh?”

“No sir, we did not,” said Josh.

“It’s not so bad I guess,” said the first executive.

“I’d have to hear it a couple times more, I think,” said the young executive with the MBA.

Dolph Sanders continued: “Our first contestant to face ‘The Rocking Chair of Truth’ is Ms. Tessi Camps of Atlanta, Georgia.” The show cut to a pre-produced video of Tessi.

“My name is Tessi Camps and I know that people are fundamentally good.” Tessi jumped on a trampoline for a while and then began to throw a Frisbee with a dog, it seemed like she owned the dog, but that much was unclear. “My friends and me we all help each other out, and y’all strangers too. I’m in the Middle Sisters program, where us college students solve problems for mothers and teenage daughters, by listening and lending a smile,” she smiles and the camera focuses in on her perfectly white teeth. Now Tessi is in a coffee shop, waiting in line. “I don’t mind when I have to wait for people, if they’re slow or whatnot. I know they’re trying. We all are. It’ll all work out in the end.” Now Tessi is wearing a low-cut black dress and bending over a casket. “Everybody has to die eventually. Y’all only make things worse by thinking about it too hard. It’s like when the Braves make the playoffs, everybody gets all excited for a while and then people don’t even go to the games, but we still love the Braves, even when the season is over.” Tessi is now wearing a Braves cap and a very small jersey with “Camps” and “1” on the back, swinging a tennis racquet inertly. “I’m ready for anything: I know I don’t have a ‘Breaking Point.’”

“Well now, that was surprisingly good,” said the executive with the MBA.

“What was that about the Braves?” asked Josh.

“It’s an allergy,” said the executive with the MBA.

“I don’t think that’s right,” said Josh.

“Did you mean allegory?” asked the purse executive.

“Yes, I think so,” said the executive with the MBA.

“That’s not right either,” said Josh.

“Hush Jush,” said the purse executive.

 

***

“Welcome Tessi, that’s a very pretty sweater you’re wearing,” said Dolph.

“Why thank you. I knitted it myself,” said Tessi.

“Straight A student, people-lover, and volunteer: how do you find time to knit?”

“Well Dolph, you know sometimes I just have to say to myself, “Tessi, you need to sit right down and knit yourself a sweater. . . .”

“And make believe it was knitted by you,” interrupted Dolph.

“It was knitted by me,” said Tessi.

“I know, I know it was just a joke.”

“Is this part of the game? I still think people are good,” said Tessi.

“Is it?” asked the executive with the MBA.

“I don’t see how it could be,” said the first executive.

“No, of course not. Shall we play?” said Dolph, who would have rolled his eyes, had he not been on camera.

“Oh, let’s . . .” said Tessi.

“Finally,” mouthed Finny observing the show from the side of the stage, invisible to the audience.

“Alright Tessi, don’t get too comfortable in that rocking chair, it’s time to play ‘The Breaking Point,’” said Dolph.

“I’m ready,” said Tessi.

Dolph began to read from the teleprompter, “A recent study was conducted in which fifty single men and fifty single women were asked to rank each other based exclusively on photographs. The participants were told that they would be set up on a date with a participant of the other gender so long as they were ranked in their top ten and they were in the top ten of the rankings of that participant. If, however, the participant did not have any of their top ten rank them in their own top ten, they would not be matched up at all and would not receive payment for the experiment (a free dinner for two at one of six related (in the corporate sense, not the culinary sense) chain restaurants). In the end, only thirteen men and eleven women were matched up, leaving thirty-seven men and thirty-nine women with nothing to show for their time. Tessi, do you still believe people are fundamentally good?”

“Yeah, I think so. What was that part about the restaurants?” asked Tessi.

“They were under the same corporate umbrella, but the food was not necessarily similar,” said Dolph.

“Ah, well yes, I still believe people are good,” said Tessi.

The lie detector confirmed that the recent experiment had not swayed Tessi.

Next came more standard fare: a montage of Nazi concentration camps, to which Tessi responded honestly, “Yeah, but people are still fundamentally good;” a photograph of piles of human remains left from Polpot’s reign in Cambodia, eliciting a similar response from Tessi; and a video of a historian explaining some of the more gruesome forms of medieval torture in a British accent, this too failed to break Tessi.

“This is pretty dull,” said the executive with the purse.

“Somewhat of a downer, isn’t it?” said the executive with the MBA.

“He knows what he’s doing. People are watching that’s the important thing. Even if all they are talking about tomorrow is how dull the show was, at least people will ask what network they saw it on,” said the first executive.

“I’ve seen those Polpot pictures before, didn’t make me think about whether people are good or bad,” said the purse executive.

“In business school, we learned about a marketing strategy called ‘sticks ‘n’ stones.’ You tell the customer all the reasons why they shouldn’t buy something and then at some point they buy it,” said the executive with the MBA.

“That should work,” said Josh.

“You’d be amazed by how often it doesn’t,” said the executive with the MBA.

“This Tessi seems like something, though,” said Josh.

“There’s nothing wrong with a little optimism,” said the first executive.

“I wonder if she thinks the South will rise again,” said the executive with the purse.

“Curious like a cat, I see,” said the executive with the MBA.

“I don’t think that’s right,” said Josh.

 

***

During the commercial break, Finny was having second thoughts about the entire enterprise. Was this a fruitful topic? Could Tessi be swayed or were her eyes to bright and her tail too bushy? Were the vignettes apt? Would they even resonate with the audience? Finny even wondered whether the show was a good thing or just another mindless distraction in a series of increasingly mindless distractions presented by this and every other media outlet. Who cares if this twenty-one-year-old thinks people are good or bad? Does she have the experience to judge? Men are watching only to stare at her and women are watching to have something to talk about in the morning. “Oh did you see that show last night?” “Yes, such garbage, but it really seems like they tried to have some sort of point.” “That’s what they want you to think. They want you to think there is something behind the inanity.” Inanity? That’s too much. It was a real idea, a genuine insight, designed for people to start thinking hard about what they thought they believed in.

But I wanted it to be about religion, no one could dismiss the show so quickly if it were about religion, he thought. I’ll negotiate for full control next year, or I’ll leave. I’ll move to New York. We need to do the show in New York, closer to reality; people exist to a greater extent in New York.

“Another whiskey and coke, Mr. Davidson?” whispered a stunning brunette intern.

“Oh yes please, and if we have limes, throw one of those in there,” said Finny.

 

***

“And we’re back with Ms. Tessi Camps from Atlanta, Georgia. So far she has faced four rather depressing segments while maintaining that people are fundamentally good,” said Dolph.

“My father always says you got to stick with what you know is true, or else you’re like a bullfrog without its voice,” said Tessi.

“I don’t think that’s right,” said Josh to himself.

“Well, shall we get on with the next stage,” said Dolph.

“I’m ready,” said Tessi.

The stage went dark and the huge flat screen TV lit up with a picture of a beautiful baby girl. The baby girl morphed seamlessly into a little girl with sparkling blue eyes and blonde pigtails skipping alongside a red wagon moving next to her without anyone pulling it. Tessi was smiling brightly as the camera took the time to focus on her for a quick moment before reverting back to the video. Then a young teenage girl with similar features appeared on the screen kicking a soccer ball back and forth, with what appeared to be her father. Next, a college girl, wearing a collegiate sweater sat at a table in a library across from a dark-haired man of a similar age who kept looking up from over his textbook discretely to catch a glimpse of her. The girl has now become a young mother, setting up a picnic, taking plastic wrap off of various colored bowls, as a little boy and girl run by in the background. The mother stops unwrapping for a moment and smiles at the camera after the children pass out of screen. The camera once again took time to pan down to Tessi, who was no longer smiling, but whose face had taken on a certain unnatural contortion. The cameraman, out of innate sympathy, immediately shied away from Tessi, but remembered that his job was essentially to capture people at their most vulnerable and turned back to her for fear of losing some indeterminate amount of money.

“She’s cracking, she’s cracking,” said the first executive.

“I can’t imagine why,” said the executive with the MBA.

“Anticipation, it’s brilliant, Finny has really done it again!” said the executive with the purse.

The woman was now in the stands at a high school soccer game cheering on what appeared to be herself from the previous clip, but was likely her daughter. The daughter’s hair was shorter than the woman’s had been when she was playing soccer with her dad a few seconds earlier. There was a hint of gray in the woman’s hair and her beautiful blue eyes were beginning to be obscured by the wrinkles that had only now begun to show. The woman was suddenly on a porch reading some newspaper on a green and white lounge chair looking over a greenish blue body of water. Next to her sat a bald man, with a horseshoe of salt and dark pepper hair, reading a magazine, and intermittently peering out over it to catch a glimpse of the woman every few seconds. The woman lifted her newspaper to get a better view of the water.

“I knew it. That’s her. That’s her! That’s my grandmother!” cried Tessi.

“Your what? Your grandmother? Can’t be,” whispered Dolph, trying to get Tessi to calm down.

“It’s her. I’d know that look anywhere, that’s Granny!” said Tessi.

The crowd began to stir, people muttered to one another.

“Did she say it was her grandmother?” said the first executive.

“Finny planned this all along. What a genius!” said the executive with the purse.

Meanwhile, Finny had not heard Tessi’s outburst, or rather heard it, but did not take note of it, because his drink had just arrived with its equally appealing escort.

The video continued to play and the woman was next in a red wheel chair, the man with the magazine was walking alongside her chair and was moving at the same speed as the chair, though he was not pushing it and she had her hands in her lap. Her face was sagging to a point where her blue eyes were even more evident than they had been in her youth.

“Where is this leading? What are you doing? Stop. Stop the show! Stop it!” said Tessi. She was not so much loud as she was insistent, as if someone much stronger than her was keying her car.

“Why is she saying that? She knew what she was getting into. This is not so bad anyway,” thought Finny, still not really sure what was actually happening. A gaggle of assistants approached Finny and encircled him.

“What should we do?” one assistant whispered to Finny.

“What do you mean? What’s wrong?” asked Finny.

The assistants looked around at each other, none of them wanting to insult Finny by inferring that what was currently happening was somehow out of the ordinary or unforeseen by the genius creator.

“We’re out of limes,” said the brunette intern, peaking her head through the chorus of uneasy assistants.

“Oh yes, well, I think we can do without for the rest of the night,” said Finny.

With that, the assistants dispersed muttering to each other.

“He really planned this?”

“Why didn’t he tell us?”

“I’d prefer to keep my job.”

“Should we find some limes?”

Dolph, for his part, did nothing but stare blankly at the screen.

The woman was now lying on a bed. Thin clear plastic tubes obscuring her face and a mountain of blankets obscuring her body. Her eyes were shut, or not open far enough to show their color, her chest rising and falling unevenly.

“Oh no, please stop. I can’t stand it, please,” pleaded Tessi, nearly sobbing and looking around for someone who might be more empathetic than Dolph, who continued to smile vacantly.

“This is sick,” said Josh.

“Oh no, they know what they’re doing,” said the first executive.

“Exactly!” said Josh.

“Genius, pure genius,” said the executive with the purse.

“Wait, so is she seriously upset?” said the executive with the MBA.

“Either that or she’s a mighty fine actress,” said the first executive.

“What was her major in college?” asked the executive with the MBA.

The video continued to run. The woman’s chest rose and fell, rose and fell, rose and her body convulsed, the heart monitor flat-lined, and she went completely limp. The sound of the heart monitor faded into an ominous cacophony of strings and percussion that always played after a segment ended on “The Breaking Point.”

Tessi began to sob uncontrollably, her make-up running down her youthful cheeks.

“Now really, I know that was sad, but come on now,” said Finny aloud.

“You made her watch her grandmother die!” said Josh, who had flown upstairs hoping to try and stop what was happening.

“I . . . that was her grandmother?” said Finny.

“That’s what she said,” said Josh.

“Well now,” said Finny.

“Tessi, Tessi, I know it’s tough, but I must ask you . . .” said Dolph

“What? My grandma just died . . .”

The crowd was completely hushed, except for a few sniffles and blowing of noses from those who sympathized with the newly victimized contestant.

“Tessi, come on now, buck up,” said Dolph.

Tessi pursed her lips and tried to smile for the camera, but the tears continued to fall and her face broke again.

“Tessi, just this one question and we can move on. Okay?” said Dolph.

Tessi nodded her head, though she was clearly still in agony.

Finny walked towards the “Rocking Chair of Truth” waving his hands over his head.

“Alright enough, cut, go to commercial,” he said loudly on camera.

 

***

The audience at home was treated to a promo for the first episode of the upcoming miniseries. “You’ve always been told to avoid food with mercury, but what if you were to grow food on Mercury? Find out how we could farm the first planet from the scientists and farmers who know.” An astronomer from Princeton wearing a tweed jacket with elbow pads announced, “From what we know of Mercury, it would be exceedingly difficult for humans, or any life we have here on Earth, to truly farm it. The complete lack of water would prove challenging.” Dan Lawson, “extreme farmer” from Nebraska appeared with a plaid shirt and a tattoo of an ear of corn along his neck, “I know for a fact I could grow wheat on Mercury. I’ve grown oranges in North Dakota, raspberries in the Yukon, some hearty plantains in Siberia, and you think I’m gonna let some Ivy League scientist tell me I couldn’t grow wheat on Mercury. Get me on the next jet and I’ll grow it.” “ Tonight after ‘The Breaking Point,’ join us as astrophysics meets agriculture, the solar system meets the irrigation system, and we finally uncover the secrets of ‘Farming in Space!’”

 

***

Inside the studio, Finny was consoling Tessi, “Listen I’m really sorry. We had no idea it was your grandmother. I guess she did look like you. We’re sorry, really. If you don’t want to continue, we’ll go to the next guy no problem.”

“Yeah, we’re really sorry,” said Josh.

“Go away Josh. What are you doing here?” said Finny crouching next to Tessi.

Josh shook his head, turned, and started to head back to the basement.

“How could you not know? It doesn’t follow . . . logically it doesn’t follow,” said Tessi, gaining composure.

“I’m sorry. Really, you don’t have to continue. Wait, what doesn’t follow?” asked Finny.

“Unprofessional, unprofessional,” said Dolph shaking his head, sitting across from Tessi.

“Why would showing me the life and death of my grandmother, make me think people are bad? It doesn’t follow, unless . . .” said Tessi, sniffling a little less.

“We didn’t know it was your grandmother,” said Finny.

“Then it makes even less sense, unless . . .” said Tessi.

“I know now it looks a little backwards, but at the time it seemed . . . unless what?” said Finny.

“Unless you knew it was her, and wanted me to see y’all showing me her on TV so I would think y’all were bad people and admit that everyone is bad,” said Tessi.

“Yeah,” said Finny, “but I swear we didn’t know.”

As Josh headed back towards the basement he ran into the three executives making their way towards the stage hoping to cure whatever caused Finny to stop the show. Josh joined them and by the time Tessi had explained her reasoning to Finny, the three executives and Josh were crowded around them.

“Mr. Modesty, of course you knew. Well done Finny. What’s the hold up?” said the executive with the purse.

“No, I really didn’t know,” said Finny.

“Only one way to tell,” said the executive with the MBA.

“How’s that?” asked Josh.

“The Rocking Chair of Truth,” said the executive with the MBA.

“Oh, I like this,” said Tessi.

“Okay Josh, tell the production guys we’re going back on in thirty. Tessi switch seats with Dolph. In fact, Dolph, get lost for a quick minute. Finny take Tessi’s seat. They’ll be talking about this for weeks!” said the first executive.

“No, no, this is my show. I won’t have it turned into a circus,” said Finny.

“Too late,” said Josh.

“You’ll do it or else this is your last episode,” said the executive with the purse.

The executive with the MBA leaned over Tessi, “Now just roll with it, but make sure the audience knows Finny is the creator of the show and make sure you ask him about your grandmother, and don’t cry. What’s your major?”

“Communications, I can do this,” said Tessi.

“Take any econ classes?” asked the executive with the MBA.

“We’re on in ten,” said Josh suddenly taking over the set.

 

***

Dolph and the executives cleared out to the side of the stage and Finny was hooked up to the lie detector via “The Rocking Chair of Truth.”

“And we’re back on ‘The Breaking Point,’” said Tessi, her running make-up the only sign of her previous distress. “We have a special treat for y’all on this finale.” About one-third of the studio audience cheered, the others thought either this was not actually part of the show, or were still feeling uneasy about the last segment.

“We’re sitting with Mr. Finny Davidson. Finny please explain your relation to the show,” said Tessi, the polished twang had returned completely, leaving the quiver of last segment behind.

“I, well, I’m,” Finny gulped, “I created the show, it was my idea.” About one fifth of the crowd cheered at this, while the remaining four-fifths gave their peers a quizzical look.

“So you’d know what goes on with creating the show?” asked Tessi.

“Yes, well, yes, I know as much as anybody. I’m an executive producer as well,” said Finny, his eyes darting upward at the darkness where the audience sat hanging on every word.

“You know each clip the contestants watch, every fact, every picture, you have to okay them?” asked Tessi.

“If it goes on the air, I’ve approved it somehow,” said Finny, growing more relaxed.

“And this show was like that?” asked Tessi.

“Right,” said Finny.

“Did you know that you were showing me my grandmother?” asked Tessi, her voice cracking a little, but retaining an attractive lilting quality.

Finny sat up in “The Rocking Chair of Truth” and looked directly at Tessi, “I swear to you I did not know. I am very sorry.”

The executive with the purse waited with breathless anticipation for the screen she was staring at to read: LIAR! LIAR! LIAR!

“Shame, another mediocrity,” said the executive with the purse, when it became apparent that Finny was telling the truth.

About one-sixth of the crowd murmured a collective “I told you so” to the other five-sixths.

“Alright sir, I forgive you, but know that it doesn’t follow logically,” said Tessi, dropping all pretence to the title of investigative journalist and returning to the role of wide-eyed game show contestant.

“I know,” said Finny.

Tessi took off the microphone clipped to her sweater, and motioned to Finny to switch seats. He followed her lead.

“Ask me,” she said loud enough for the studio audience to hear.

“Ask you what?” said Finny.

“You know, ask me,” said Tessi.

Finny hesitated, but knew what she wanted: “Tessi, do you still believe people are fundamentally good?”

“Oh this is even better. She’s the genius!” said the executive with the purse.

“We need to sign her,” said the first executive.

“She can hear, she just turned off her microphone,” said the executive with the MBA.

“True,” said Josh.

“Yes, I believe people are fundamentally good,” said Tessi.

“We’ll be right back after this commercial break,” said Dolph, walking onto the stage, gripping his microphone tightly.

“We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t show a granddaughter her grandmother’s death on national TV, pathetic,” said Chancellor Grifton, waiting back stage.

“But not on Mars,” said the executive with the MBA.

“Not on Mars,” said Josh.