Easy on the EyesBy: Jane Porter
Thank you as always to my superb agent, Karen Solem, who makes me believe I can do anything.
Thank you to my editor, Karen Kosztolnyik, who works tirelessly on my behalf, nurturing every book from inception to publication.
To all at Grand Central Publishing, from the fantastic editorial department, to the creative minds in the art department, to savvy marketing, to my publicist Melissa Bullock, to the fantastic sales team— thank you for working so hard on my books’ behalf.
To Megan Crane, Liza Palmer, Lilian Darcy, and Christine Fugate, thank you for the hours and hours you spent reading this manuscript and generously sharing your time, talent, and opinions. I wouldn’t have found the end, or the middle, without you. I loved the brainstorm, the edits, and even the rants.
To my guy, Ty Gurney, and my boys, Jake and Ty Gaskins, thank you for giving me such a wonderful life away from the writing life. You make me feel very loved and happy.
And lastly, to my readers. Thank you for embracing my stories. You are the reason I write.
Tiana, how do you feel about a co-host?”
Only a couple minutes into the closed-door meeting with my boss, Glenn, the executive producer of America Tonight, and he drops that bombshell.
How can he be so casual about something so huge?
And something so bad?
“Co-host?” My voice doesn’t wobble, but I’m stunned. Horrified. For nearly six years I’ve been the sole host of the show. It’s a show that debuted with me as the host, a show that’s earned me the nickname America’s Sweetheart. “Why would I do that, when it’s my show?”
He hesitates, looks at me, thick sandy eyebrows shot with gray, before answering bluntly, “Your show’s in trouble.”
I silently count to five and speak only when I’m certain I’m perfectly in control. “You said it was a temporary blip. You told me twice in the past few months not to worry.”
“Unfortunately, I was wrong. The downward cycle hasn’t reversed, and the network wants changes. They’ve brought in outside consultants who’ve done extensive market studies. The consultants believe that the best approach is to bring in some young blood.”
The words young blood chill me.
I think of myself as a warrior. I’ve been to hell and back with the death of my family and then my husband. I’ve battled to build my career and sacrificed a personal life to be where I am today. But the one thing I can’t fight is time. I’m going to age. And apparently I already am.
But none of this matters. Nothing matters but ratings, stats, and demographics.
“Do you have any young blood in mind?” I ask, crossing one leg over the other under the hem of my bronze St. John skirt. I’d already changed for the Larry King Live interview and was just about to leave Horizon Broadcasting for the CNN studio in Hollywood when Glenn called me into his office.
“Shelby Patterson,” he says.
“Shelby?” My voice comes out strangled. I not only trained Shelby, I helped develop the weekend show for her because I thought she had so much promise. I was right. And they wonder why successful women are afraid to mentor younger women.
“Her weekend show has strong numbers,” he continues, “particularly with the younger viewers, demographics you desperately need.”
He and I are both wordsmiths, and these are not good words. This is not a good conversation. I’m in trouble.
My heart races and I press a hand to my lower rib cage as if I could slow the mad beating. Max, my agent, should be here. Max, my agent, should be defending me, protecting me. This is my career. My life. God knows I don’t have a life outside America Tonight. No husband, no kids, no hobbies or free time. Everything I have, everything I am, is invested in this show. “How good are Shelby’s numbers compared to mine?”
“She’s outperforming you by nearly twenty percent.”
Oh. Stunned, I suck in a quick, sharp breath. Those are unforgivable numbers in any business, but here, in the delicate world of television market share, that’s pretty much a catastrophe.
“We think the solution is to bring Shelby onto the weekday show and make Manuel the sole host for the weekend show. You and Shelby would be co-anchors, like Mary Hart and Mark Steines on Entertainment Tonight.” Glenn gets up from behind his desk and walks around to sit in the gray chair next to me. “Nothing’s been done yet. I just wanted to get a feel for your reaction before it became formal.”
I open my mouth to speak, but nothing comes out. I feel as if I’m on a plane that’s going down and I can’t stop it. Can’t exit.
But I can escape this. I can survive. I just have to focus. Be calm, because I know how this goes. I’ve watched it happen a hundred times. You add a co-anchor to boost ratings and eventually the new young talent replaces the mature talent. I’m being phased out. He doesn’t need to say it, but if I’m not damn careful, this is the beginning of the end. “Have you considered other correspondents for the position? Like Manuel, for example?”
“He’s thirty-four. Shelby’s twenty-eight. She’s youthful. High energy. She’d bring a new dynamic to the weekly show and pull in some of those numbers we’ve lost.”