Now A Word From Our Sponsor is about a soap opera that is about to sing its last note. The cast and crew is hoping that the return of Frederick Wentworth, reprising his role as a dashing hero, can save the day. Anne is hoping his return doesn’t mean she’s going to have her heart broken again. To begin the story, go HERE.
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Chapter 2, Pt 2
A week later, Frederick Wentworth’s performance was a memory to Alice and Jane. Anne didn’t remember his performance either. She didn’t care about it at all. Just seeing the face and body she knew so well was heartbreaking. Over their years of separation, she’d lived her life carefully in order to avoid any mention of Rick.
From the beginning, his rising career was hard to avoid. Pictures of him first on the red carpet escorting gorgeous women he was dating, and then when he was nominated for his own awards. News of his movie deals that were breaking records, the movies that were breaking attendance records, and the grudging acceptance of critics who usually loved to hate guys who made action movies. In the last year, it had been particularly difficult to avoid talk about his performance in an independent film and the critical acclaim it was bringing him and it’s director. He seemed to be everywhere and his appearance on Struttin’ with the stars was just the latest thing about Rick Wentworth to avoid—.
“Nothing is official yet, Elliot Limited is committed to the show for as long as it is financially viable. The current contracts end at the end of this year. If Elliot Limited is able to renew those contracts, the show will be safe for one more year. There are no guarantees after that.” John Shepherd, the Chief Financial Officer of Elliot Limited turned the meeting over to Walter Elliot, and took a seat.
“This is a trying time for all of us, I want you to know.” Walter Elliot disliked giving bad news. Bad news made him look ineffective. And if there was one thing Walter Elliot did not think himself, it was ineffective. For many years now he had been waving off the prudent advice of wiser men such a John Shepherd, and making his own financial decision. Now he was faced with a crisis that threatened to sink the good ship Elliot. And this sinking would make the Titanic going down look like an accident in a bathtub.
“I know all of you as shareholders in Elliot Limited are interested in what has brought us to this critical juncture, but as it is too complex to go into right now, I will say that a full explanation will be in the end of year report. My concern now is the situation with Russelliot Productions, the show, For None But You Alone, and the advertising revenue that is part of that equation.”
“I think it’s pretty clear what’s happened, Elliot.” Charles Musgrove, Senior rose. He was a tall man, heavyset, and imposing in a perfectly tailored midnight blue suit. He was dressed for battle, and on the battlefield of business, Armani was some of the best armor available. “Years ago you created Russelliot Productions as a tax dodge, only it backfired and got successful. Now, it’s finally run out of steam and you’re prepared to let it go sluicing down the toilet in favor of saving your own sorry hide.”
Anne was embarrassed to see her father confronted in this way. She was even more embarrassed that Musgrove was so on target. She shifted in her seat, took a drink of sparkling water, and waited for someone to say something. Anything.
Abigail Russell stood. “As the other partner in Russelliot Productions, I have to say you are leaving out quite a bit of the truth, Charles. The partnership was started to make daytime programming when it was cheap to do and profitable for everyone involved. You’re right in that it did get successful. But, as you all know, scripted television is the most expensive kind these days. And we have some of the best writers in the business. For None But You Alone is consistently in the top three daytime dramas in the ratings race—”
Musgrove snorted. “Hell, Abbey, there are only four daytime dramas left on network television period! Unless you count those telenovellas, and I don’t.” He looked around the table. “I just mean that while those things are popular, it’s the maids and house cleaners who watch ‘em and they aren’t our target audience.” No one looked at Musgrove, but no one disagreed either. “Let’s get back to the subject. This is an expensive show that’s only getting more expensive as time goes on. Production has to find ways to cut costs—”
“Costs have been cut.” Abbey looked at Musgrove and glanced at Anne.
Anne shook her head.
“All departments have been trimmed to the bone—” On “bone” she tapped a pencil on the table.
“What about the cast? Any principle characters cut?” Anne noticed he didn’t look at her this time.
“Do you ever watch the show, Charles?” Abbey paused, but seeing he wasn’t going to answer, she continued. “We just finished up two minor plotlines with characters that we always meant to discontinue—”
“Any principle characters?” He crossed his arms.
Abbey tapped the pencil again, pausing. “No, but the four that we got rid of add up to almost a primary’s salary.” She tossed the pencil down and took her seat.
Musgrove slapped the table. “I thought so. Look, this show has so many older characters that don’t attract a younger viewership, and they each cost major dollars.” He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together to emphasis his point. “It’s time to weed out the characters who don’t bring in the audience.” He looked around the table again. No one was agreeing with him. No one was disagreeing with him either.
“Mr. Musgrove,” Anne said, rising. “I know I’m here as a shareholder in Elliot Limited, but as a member of the cast of For None But You Alone I have a unique position and can speak to your concerns. May I?” What possessed Anne to stand and start to speak was beyond her, but all eyes were on her now.
“I suppose so, Anne.” Musgrove leaned back in his chair and heaved a sigh. Clearly, she was just an interruption he wished was over.
“Principle characters are the driving force behind any show, Mr. Musgrove. All of the principles of For You have very dedicated fans who tune in day after day to watch the show. And those fans have followed some of these characters for decades. I have letters from people who have told me how much the character of Becky Lindsey means to them, how much they’ve been helped by her trials and tribulations. There’s a relationship with the viewers—”
Musgrove stood and raised his hand to Anne. “That’s all well and good. I’m glad your little Becky has been a ministering angel to the masses, but Becky Lindsey is a weak sob sister who personifies the soap opera stereotype. If this show is going to survive, it has to get with the times and have some women who do more than scheme to get each others’ men by sleepin’ around an back stabbin’.” He brushed something from his coat.
Everyone looked around but not at anyone. Anne took her seat.
“If we make some of these changes, Charles,” Abbey pointed with her pencil, “would you be willing to step up and take on the lion’s share of the advertising should Elliot Limited choose not to renew?”
After several long conversations, Anne recognized Abbey’s way of pushing everything to the bottom line. All questions about the show’s budget, cast salaries, and viability as an entertainment medium were moot unless there was a strong advertiser to pay the bills. Her father was dithering and would continue to do so until his hand was forced to sign on the dotted line, or he chose to walk away. She feared he’d squandered so much of his fortune that there wasn’t enough left to commit to another year of advertising with For None But You Alone. No matter how she felt about Musgrove, the show needed his money.
Abbey stood and began putting papers into a portfolio. “Well, Mr. Musgrove? We’re all busy here.” She didn’t look up but just kept packing up her things.
Musgrove cleared his throat. “As long as I get the same deal Walter did when he started underwriting the show.” He didn’t like being pushed, but as long as he got something he wanted, he might play ball.
The room was silent. Anne’s stomach clinched.
The magnetic closure’s tiny echoed through the meeting room. “Your daughter Louisa has just graduated from North Western with a degree in Theatre Arts, hasn’t she?” Giving one of the Musgrove girls a part on the show was the lynchpin to the deal.
“If it was good enough for Anne Elliot, it’s good enough for Louisa.”
Anne stood and gathered her things. “I’m late for the set. If you’ll excuse me.” She didn’t hear if anyone said anything to her, she just kept looking at the door. Her hand took the knob, turned it and opened it. Next, she was in the hallway, making her way to the lady’s room.
The paint in the lounge was dingy. Women smoked in here though it was now illegal. Obviously the smoke detection system needed to be checked. Anne flopped into a chair. The smell of dust rose off it.
For years, her playing the role of Becky Lindsey was one of the biggest assets to For None But You Alone. Now it seemed that she and her salary were, in the eyes of a prospective advertiser, a liability. When had everything gone so wrong? The outer door slammed against the wall, startling her.
Abbey walked into the lounge. “I like Charles, you know, but he’s an idiot.”
“An idiot with the money the show needs.”
“There is that.” Abbey dug around in her purse and pulled out a small cigarette case and lit one. She stood right under one of the sprinkler heads for the fire suppression system. Nothing happened. “That lummox actually had the nerve to say you were hired because of your dad.”
Anne stood and went to one of the mirrors. Good thing it was just a read through today, even Jane’s skill with paint and brushes was no match for the dark circles and lines. “He’s just looking out for his daughter. Besides, it’s nothing that hasn’t been said by a hundred other people.”