Easy on the Eyes(2)

By: Jane Porter

“You’re right, she’s great on camera, and she’s definitely high energy, but she doesn’t know how to write a story. She just delivers— ”

“We have writers who can write. We need charisma. Beauty. Poise. Charm. Youth.”

Youth. There it is again. Young blood, desperation, youth.

“I’m too old?” I ask quietly.

He squirms ever so slightly. He can’t answer that directly because he’d be sued, but he knows what I’m asking. “Our decisions are dictated by the viewing public,” he says after a moment. “American audiences don’t mind watching mature men on television, but they object to mature women. And by adding Shelby, we can keep you on camera.”

“You’ve considered replacing me, haven’t you?”

His expression changes, grows sympathetic. “I haven’t, no, but I can’t tell you that the subject hasn’t been discussed. You are up for contract renewal in March.” He hesitates for a moment before adding, “You’re also expensive compared to Shelby.”

“That’s because I’m good,” I say, smiling, and that’s to hide the fact that my eyes are burning and I’m horrifically close to tears.

I love my job. I need my job. I can’t imagine what I’d do or who I’d be without the show.

“You are good. You’re very good. Which is why I don’t want to see you go.”

“When would she join the show?”

“If she joins the show, it’d be after the holidays.”

Silently I digest this. It’s hard to take in, and I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to feel, either, as I bounce between anger and denial.

“I know it’s a lot to think about,” he adds, “and we’ll talk more about this later. I just wanted you to be aware of the discussions we’re having here right now and some of the proposed changes for the New Year.” He stands, returns to his desk. “Now, if you’re going to make it to CNN on time, you’d better go. With Thanksgiving just a week away, traffic could be a bitch.”

I drive in a state of shock.

They’ve discussed replacing me. They’re interested in promoting Shelby from weekend host to weekday co-host. My God. I had no idea that for the past six months my future with HBC has been the subject of discussion. I know market studies are done all the time. Consultants are always being hired, brought in to revamp a show, make some changes, try a new direction. But until now, no one had had a problem with me.

Hands shaking, I call my agent. Max Orth is the reason I’m on a national syndicated TV show. My first job out of Stanford was in Boulder, Colorado, and I would stand on mountaintops during snowstorms and report on road closures and freeway pileups. I’d wait at the Boulder airport to interview family members reuniting after years of separation. I’d race to the outskirts of town when a body was found. And as much as I wanted to be a serious journalist, hard news stories and I never really clicked. Maybe I asked the wrong questions. Maybe I was too sympathetic. Inevitably my pieces came out soft, cozy, human interest. Pieces editors and producers derisively termed fluff.

It didn’t help that I looked fluffy, too. Beauty queen, they called me at the station, beauty queen with pageant hair.

Three months into my job with KKPQ, I cut my hair into a sleek, studious chestnut brown pageboy, and that was when big hair was fashionable. After six months, I overhauled my wardrobe and tossed out color. No bright blue blouses or greens. No red coats or pink scarves. Brown and black with gray. But even then the camera loved me, loved my light hazel eyes that looked gold in some light, greenish brown in others, my debutante high cheekbones, the dimples at the corner of my mouth.

Even though my pieces were fluff, the ratings went up at the station. We were just a little station, too, but KKPQ was a Fox affiliate and some of my pieces were picked up by other Fox affiliates. And before I knew how or why, I was sitting at the news desk as a weekend anchor, and then within a year I was hired away to co-host the morning news in Tucson.

It was in Tucson I met the two most influential men of my life: Keith, my future husband, who only ever saw the best in me. And Max, my future agent. Keith, ten years my senior, was a weathered, world-traveled, award-winning reporter working for CNN. We met on the scene of a devastating freeway accident—I still can’t stand to remember that one, as a mom and her two children died that day.

And Max? Like everyone else, he saw the photo of me pressed to Keith’s casket after he was killed, and unlike everyone else, he didn’t call or send flowers. He flew in to Tucson to meet me. He said I was going to be big. He said I had a huge future.

I expect to get Max’s voice mail, but he answers. “Hey, doll, I was wondering when I’d hear from you.”

“Did you know Glenn was going to talk to me this afternoon about adding Shelby to the show?”

“I knew there’s been talk about making changes to the show.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because there was nothing to tell you, and I didn’t want to upset you without cause.”