Editor’s note: “The Cult of Truland,” a contemporary satire by Kevin Brass, a veteran journalist, is a breezy work filled with TV talk show insider buzz surrounding the light and dark sides of Jake Truland, a career rogue, who’s main goal in life is to be the most famous person in the world. The mysteries are plentiful and many of them go unanswered. Bottom line a quality read. Pillar to Post is pleased to preview one chapter from this first rate first novel.
“The Cult of Truland,” an excerpt.
By Kevin Brass
At 6:45 a.m. the Hollywood Now! studio was a buzz of activity centered around a long narrow room lined with small cubicles. Segment producers scurried from edit bay to edit bay, looking at tape, exhorting editors to hurry, pleading with others to insert or delete clips. The room zipped and burped with the sound of a dozen different music tracks and narrations starting, stopping, rewinding, and fast forwarding, mixing with the harried screeches of over-stressed reporters and producers working the phones with their already caffeinated counterparts on the East Coast.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Today Kevin writes about business, design and travel as a regular contributor to the International New York Times and Wall Street Journal. He splits his time between Barcelona, Costa Rica, Miami and San Diego.
Jessie Dunbar sat in front of a wall of monitors on the raised round platform known as the bridge, intently watching the previous night’s show, oblivious to the bedlam around her. Every morning she scanned the show for mistakes and potential problems as she ate her breakfast of fruit bowl, protein bar, and Red Bull in preparation for her morning meeting with her boss, Sharon Jones-Jones.
It was always a meeting fraught with danger. After Sharon Jones- Jones’s three decades in the trenches, no one doubted her Hollywood savvy and ruthlessness. And no one made fun of her name. She was born Sharon Jones and married Abraham Jones, a party-loving movie producer with a cozy Malibu bungalow. When they divorced after 13 months, citing “mutual emotional duress,” she kept the dual names, under the theory that Jones-Jones was “historically accurate,” although it’s doubtful anyone ever thought of Sharon as much of a history buff. Through two subsequent marriages she adamantly refused to add the names of her spouses, although she occasionally signed documents “Sharon Jones-Jones-Rodriquez-Qi,” the last reflecting her short but tumultuous alliance with a Korean media magnate.
|Author Kevin Brass|
Huddled on the bridge, her sweater pulled tight against the air conditioning, set low to cool the video equipment, Jessie was feeling good about last night’s show. No fireworks, nothing to upset Sharon’s conference call with Farmore corporate. Truland was a no-brainer, consistently popular with the core audience, according to internal Farmore studies. She scanned the overnights. All the numbers were up from last week, typically between 1.3 to 2.7 percent, with the biggest bounces in the 43 markets where Farmore owned stations. Moving into Sharon’s office at exactly 7:00, Jessie felt she was on firm footing.
Sharon was talking on the phone. She pointed to the black-and- chrome chair in front of her black-and-chrome desk. Sharon liked the ruthless bitch look, which Jessie respected. Sharon had succeeded in an era when every ex-cheerleader and failed porn star wanted to work in TV news.
On Sharon’s vanity wall Jessie noted a picture of Truland and Sharon huddled over a table at the Casa de Guac. Truland had set it up, Sharon explained during Jessie’s first visit to the office. He tipped a photographer from the Hollywood Tattler about the dinner date as a little gift for Sharon. The Tattler was thrilled to get a photo of Truland, but the editors were enraged to find him sitting next to the executive producer of a competitor. Ultimately, they ran the photo anyway, with a headline referring to Truland’s companion only as an “unidentified Hollywood party girl.”
Sharon wasn’t saying much on the phone. She nodded over and over again. “Right. Uh huh. Right.” When Sharon hung up, Jessie could tell she wasn’t in gal pal mood. Sharon’s face was so red, the tinted wave of hair cascading across her forehead seemed to light up. Jessie raced through the rundown from last night’s show in her mind, trying to figure out what may have stirred corporate. The report on Stan Bean’s affair with his costar? Speculation about the Prince of Earl’s new girlfriend?
“You know what it was.” Sharon said, flashing her ability to shoot info-digesting laser beams into Jessie’s head.
Jessie hesitated. “No, not specifically...”
“Bambi? Bambi doesn’t ring a bell?”
Bambi rang a bell. Last night’s show included a 20-second voice
over on Bambi Lambard’s lawsuit against Prodorp Productions, charging the company with firing her for refusing to get a boob job in preparation for her role in its latest remake of Chekov’s “The Seagull.” The New York Times called it Titgate.
Yesterday’s report was a simple court update, after a judge refused her lawyer’s request to subpoena a porn actress to testify as an expert witness on the physiological implications of fake breasts. “Bambi vows to fight on, even though she knows the odds are against her,” Tammy read as the cameras zeroed in on Bambi’s sad eyes, before cutting to a shot of her looking despondent in a Suzy Wong thong bikini.
“Bambi?” Jessie couldn’t think of anything to say. “You didn’t like the bikini shot?”
“Don’t be an ass.” Sharon glared at her, a puma ready to pounce.
Jessie tried to remember the script. It was a fairly standard VO/ SOT. And it was a D-block story, practically a throwaway.
“That girl’s a tramp,” Sharon said. “A two-bit slut. It should have played as a stripper looking for an easy buck.” Sharon turned to her computer, clearly not interested in discussing the topic. “She’s trying to gouge Prodorp, and you made her into a hero.”
“But that’s how the story played.” Jessie didn’t get out of the Bunny Patch without showing some backbone. “Did you see those tears? Those were real.”
Sharon whipped around and slapped her palm on the desk, loud and sharp. Jessie winced. “Let me make this clear. You missed the story. We’re done with Bambi. No more Bambi. Bambi is toast.”
Sharon put on her reading glasses with cold precision and began to scan the script from the show. The topic was closed.
“Where did this bit about something weird in Del Mar come from?”
“That was me,” Jessie said. “Who was the source?” “A contact who works for the county in San Diego. He was listening to the scanner and heard a fireman refer to it as weird.” “Weird in what way?” “He didn’t know...just that it was weird.” “Your source, he works for the fire department?”
“What the hell does someone in waste management know about a fire?”
“Nothing. But he is a San Diego County official, and he heard them say on the scanner it sounded weird. That’s all we said. It’s clean.”
Sharon seemed satisfied. “OK. Now, who the hell made Tammy
say ‘suspicious’? One of the writers fucking with her again?”
Jessie had known this was coming. Everyone knew Tammy had problems with multisyllabic S-words. “It was just a mistake. It slipped through. Tom wrote it. He’s new.”
“How ’bout ‘mysterious’ next time?” Sharon said, giving Jessie a slight wink over her glasses. The linguistic challenges of the anchor represented their shared burden. Once Tammy had gone over their heads and sent a personal complaint to Ralph Farmore himself, after a script made two references to Sarah Stanislaw, an actress making news for a sex tape. Tammy thought it was a deliberate attempt to make fun of her speech impediment. Her agent threatened to sue under the Disabilities Act.
Jessie quickly moved through the list of possible stories for that night’s show. There was a behind-the-scenes report on the new Farmore Studios release starring Reese Witherspoon as an enterprising lawyer who poses for Hustler. Witherspoon wouldn’t talk, but HN! had an exclusive interview with her 14-year-old costar, who was recently captured by a cell phone camera doing tequila shots in a Santa Monica dive bar. And they were ready to run an exclusive interview with Betty Aquilar, the star of a new hit hospital show, who was accused of calling a costar the n-word during a network party.
But Jessie knew there was only one story. Truland. Fire. Possibly arson? Everything else was simply filler. Sure, it was only a house fire. Back in Phoenix, a house fire wouldn’t make the 5:00 p.m. news. And she realized this house was owned by a legend of the cheap attention getting stunt. But that didn’t matter. It was Truland...and fire. And they needed a lead, preferably a story they could arc over the next few days. Heck, she might get a month out of it. The holidays were coming up. They could only do so many celebrity turkey giveaways.
“Was it arson?” Sharon asked.
“The official fire department statement calls it a ‘fire under investigation.’ But it looks pretty damn ominous.”
“One of those Elvis wackos?”
“But you think there’s something more there?”
“Yes, definitely.” Jessie had prepared for this moment. She had
already decided to commit to Truland, all in. “This could be a big one. I feel it.”
“Yes, definitely Spidey sense.”
“OK, let’s not screw around then. Full court press. Everybody is
going to want a piece of this one.”
Jessie knew the score. They spent ten minutes working the angles
and potential headlines.
“I don’t want to be seeing any exclusives on Inside News,” Sharon
said. “Do whatever it takes. Tell Vince he’s got to play ball on this one.”
Jessie gathered up her pads and started to leave, her marching orders clear. This was DEFCON 4.
“Oh, and Jessie?” Sharon stopped her in her tracks. She used her Commander-in-Chief voice. “Do what you have to do, but no helicopters, ---OK? Corporate is going apeshit over the helicopter budget.”
The Cult of Truland
by Kevin Brass
Glowing Sand Media, 350 pp., $15.95 (paper)
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