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Fiction #12
(published Late in the Year, 2000)
Confessions of a Game Show Terrorist
by Morgan Johnson

The main audience for my show— when it was still on— was no surprise. It was pretty much an accepted fact that game shows were watched by the old and the poor. Exclusively? Nah, Jeopardy! appealed to a slightly more high-minded crowd and that millionaire show with Regis was a huge hit for prime time. He was on my show y'know, Regis? That's how he got his. His show, I mean.

So I'm at home one day—a little R&R, a little time off from the base— and I'm watching my eighty year old dad just sit, enthralled by his TV. So I ask him, Father what is this program? Is this base TV? It looked very low-budget and every base has a station or two for the kids to polish their resumes with. You'd be amazed how many Army men want to work in radio. Maybe it's because of that film with that funny guy, y'know, Mork? I dunno.

But I'm watching my father watch this show and he is not moving. Suspended animation. Cryogenically frozen by this game show. I wait and watch for a station identification expecting to see Lieutenant Cross' picture giving the thumbs up or to see a PR short about hygiene, but no. It's goddamn CBS. Communist Broadcast etc. You get the idea.

I spend the next week doing research. I ask my highers for some time to pursue a project and they are thrilled. They probably thought it was time for this old horse to fade away. Turns out, that game show is the highest rated show on daytime TV for ages fifty and up. And the second most popular for poor white trash. The army has divisions that do this all day, whole platoons devoted to statistics. It's our peacetime mission.

Army bases, by and large, are comprised of two very different base constituencies of people: the new recruits and the career military (aka the CarMil.) The poor and the old. Those fellas in the Jew York City high-rises might call this a "key demografic."

My job that I do in secret for the US Government is to provide educational entertainment— edutainment— for the enlisted and the officers. I succeed at my task by any means necessary. The old way was difficult: I'd abduct stars and directors from New York, Hollywood, Paris, London and give them scripts that our staff writers produced. Now the writers, they had a hard job. If their movie tanked— and a lot of them did— ninety days in the hole. No sophomore slumps here. Each film gets better and better. After awhile the films began to feature a tough, cruel MacArthur looking general who'd kidnap innocent artists, enslave them in the military-industrial-entertainment complex and force them to crank out black budget movies to entertain the movers and shakers of the G8 nations. Did you ever wonder why certain actors or directors would disappear for years and then reappear looking newly-forged, tested? We had them. Charlie Sheen did a lot of good work for us. As did Donald Sutherland. Did you really think it took Lucas fifteen years to make a sequel? You should see the Star Wars he made for us— no Ewoks, nine Death Stars, a cast of thousands— more complex than a Russki novel. There are even a few authors we've requisitioned— but they tended to be stubborn and not with the program. Harper Lee was one of ours for twenty years. So is J.D. Salinger. He isn't in hiding— he's in the hole. Solitary. Six years now. Refused to rewrite Catcher in the Rye as an action script with Cubans. He'll soften.

What I do is Black Ops TV.

What my idea was, the new show, was a celebrity game show. Celebrities competing against each other for their freedom— we had enough locked up in Langley to keep the show solvent for three seasons. Not a deathmatch, not any direct physical contact. People don't like that, they won't do it. You put people in a cage and tell them to duke it out— well, you already know the end to that movie. You lose. You become the bad guy. But two stars answering questions and performing feats double-dare style— that's moral, that's correct, that's precisely what this nation was built on: speed, endurance, quick wits and true grit.

The show was great for about a year. The ratings shot higher and higher. Sunday nights— our night— we had a 90 share on the bases and a 95 in the privileged civilian sector.

The problem came when we chose to abduct Clarence Williams 3. Re-abduct I should say. Never heard of him? He was only in a few de-classified films, one of which was, "Tales From the Hood," I think. Helluva actor. Helluva contestant. He was the first on the new game show, him and Wil Wheaton. God rest his soul, never saw it coming.

Our idea was to re-abduct a few of the star survivors from the first season and have them compete in a sweet sixteen marathon. So we'd get Williams, Corbin Bernsen, Conrad Bain, Wings Hauser, Angelica Huston and all of the others who performed really spectacular and pair them off— test their mettle. See if a year outside had blunted their collective edge.

I, personally, dislike the abducting business. There is just way too much PR. After the target is acquired press releases have to drafted and left around their apartment. Pamphlets for religions. Reciepts for travel agencies. Guidebooks to exotic locales with dodgy telephone systems and loosely tracked visitor visas. My personal best, my Zenith, was a note I left when we borrowed Bobby DeNiro for two years back in the eighties— right before Goodfellas I think. The note, it said that Bobby was preparing for a new role as an amnesiac drifter and so would spend a year or two drifting anonymously around the country. Is that genius? No one questioned it.

Clarence Williams 3, was working on some Desert Storm film when his ticket came up. He was a quick bag-&-snatch— toss a canvas bag over their heads, belt it off at the neck and walk them out— Bag And Snatch. And he stayed bagged until we got him to our studio.

The way the show works is this: my men do exhaustive research on these celebrities. We learn everything about them. If you thought the FBI or NSA were thorough, we make them look like Cliffs Notes. My boys, they learn everything. We put the stars— say Charlie Sheen and Dana Plato— on stage, each in their own isolation booth. Then, for the first round, we ask them questions: Have you ever cheated? Is that your real hair? What's Prince really like? etc. Points are awarded based on honesty and forthrightness. Beat around the bush and you're beat. Round 2 is our "Nickelodeon" round: obstacles; feats of strength and endurance; an ever-shifting bamboo-and-sheet metal maze, POW-style, complete with feral cats and Malay tiger traps— oh, and The Cesspool. Nothing seems to anger black bears like being trapped in 6 feet of fetid water. If you though that Aussie kid in the Summer 2000 Games swam fast, you should see Don Cheadle when he hits The Pool. Round three is part parole board interview and part "big finish" a la Price Is Right. Round three is where the scores can really change as the contestants get a chance to rebut each other and call each other out on obvious lies or on plays for the audience's sympathy.

So I had personally gone and picked up Clarence Williams 3 from the set of his film. I should have looked closer, I shouldn't have been in such a rush.

Y'see— when civilians make films about the military, they always bring in military advisors. The pay is very nice, and the officer gets to feel like he's working on my crew. That's what they're all thinking. Not, Oh, look, it's George Clooney. Or, Gee, Meg Ryan sure has a nice ass. No: they're thinking This is like working with General Gaff. I am just like one of the Gaff men. It turns out that I hadn't abducted Williams 3. No. I had his advisor. I had abducted Colin Powell.

It's customary for our contestants to be naked— no shoelaces and such. By the way— is there a window open? There's this awful draft— no? Sorry. Like I was saying. Just for stripping Colin Powell I could be court marshaled. But— oh God —I didn't believe him. I thought Clarence Williams 3 was playing with me, with my mind. I learned pretty early on that those actors can be pretty convincing . . . This was this one time that Martin Sheen— well, yes. It's a story for later, I guess.

I made Colin Powell confess to all of Williams 3's sins— and there were a lot of them. We showed footage. I made Colin Powell run our race and run our maze. And swim The Pool— two laps, god help me. Two. During round three, MP's broke down my door and now I'm here. Is that good enough? It's weird to be on this side of things. I never realized how the lights are positioned just so you can't see anything. And they're so hot— 'Nam hot. And . . . that's my story. There's your answer.

Now on to Round 2?

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