Among TV People
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By Marc Porter Zasada
The Daytime Emmys are coming up, and tonight I've been invited to attend a glitzy party for soap opera stars. Now, generally speaking, the Urban Man travels boldly in Hollywood. I discuss changing media formats. I banter with beautiful women in backless gowns. I deliver compliments to men whose given names have been improved.
Only...television people scare me. You see, every time I run into television people, I can't help remembering my lost youth: the long hours spent watching reruns of Gilligan's Island or Dark Shadows after school, the many years feeling my brain soften in the shifting blue light of little screens.
I mean, it's these people's job to create addiction. And even though I'm now a productive adult, I'm afraid I may again fall prey to one of their exciting formulas, funny sets of characters or high sets of cheekbones.
But lo, tonight, even though it's cold and drizzling, the Urban Man dons his black turtleneck and strolls across Beverly Hills to Spago, where a red carpet has been set up under a plastic roof by a red carpet rental company. It's flooded with the necessary bright lights, and a TV celebrity loiters with a few photographers and rented cops. He has youth and spiked hair, but at first glance he doesn't seem actually...compelling.
Inside, I take a fluted glass and steel myself. Sure enough, I spot a woman with hair in golden coils, a backless white gown and a bright smile. A reporter, well practiced in enthusiasm, puts a huge microphone up to her mouth and asks what she will wear on the big night. Is she excited? Doesn't she have green eyes? Does she look good in green?
As at any Hollywood party, I try to imagine the envy of the fans who would love to take my place, the millions of housewives who buy Soap Opera Digest, the college girls who skip classes to watch One Life to Live in their dorms.
I meet that really big star, you know, the one with the laughing eyes and protean talent. And yes, in person, he's really nice, just a regular guy. Someone introduces himself as a soap opera reporter. ---Really?--- says the star, ---I find that very few men follow the soaps, and most of them are gay.--- ---It's okay, I am gay,--- replies the reporter.
One new network VP tells me she now watches three hours of soaps every day. ---I was curious to see how long it would take me to get hooked,--- she says with verve. ---It didn't take long. And now my husband is hooked, too.---
A high-powered exec with square black glasses tells me how he provides a continuum of shows from reality to fantasy, so we can choose our addictions. Like others, he discusses with nostalgia the days when parents would pass on their TV habits to their kids. How All My Children led to Happy Days and on to Laverne and Shirley.
And yes, the stars themselves speak with wonder about their extraordinary power, the many letters that arrive when someone gets fired, the fans who steal their bath towels. And I find myself admiring their pleasant innocence, sort of like the coca farmers in South America who can't believe anyone would pay for the shiny leaves on those bushes growing up their mountainsides. They too track the seasons and the weather, they too measure the quality of the alkaloids found in their giddy crops.
They too are just trying to earn a decent living.
And it occurs to me that one of the reasons people probably go into television is so they can redeem the many years they lost to TV in their youth. I mean, surely it's better to work on the business side of the little screen.
In fact, why not the Urban Man?
In fact, for an hour I find myself asking lots and lots of enthusiastic questions.
Copyright -- 2006 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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