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It was television's wildest gimmick--a Trendex block-buster that was the biggest boom to mankind since the invention of the zipper.

"Channel Five, Sex, and Seven..."

by E.A. Ebeling, Jr.


Modern Man

 January 1961

    WHAT'S IN A NAME? Well, if Old Bill Shakespeare would have tossed his question at me a few years ago, I would have had a damn good answer for him. "Old Bard," I would have said, "that name you see on my office door is the product of talent, hard work, and maturity. Yes, Sir, that name means 'Dear Boy, you've scored big!' It represents ten years of growing with a new industry; from teleprompter to a stint in Script Continuity to behind-the-scenes producing to Vice-President of the network.
    From private to general through the ranks as it were." That's what I would have told Bill two years
ago, but a little less than one year ago, there was an overwhelming doubt slapping me in the face. The lettering on my door was still four inches high and still proclaimed "Rich Randolph, V-P" but there was gnawing fear that the V-P would soon mean, "Very Passé." I pushed my way into my executive office and buzzed for Miss Downs, my secretary. Then, leaning my weary head back, as I sank into my chair, I prepared myself for her entrance. True to form, she Loretta Younged it through the door, skirt flashing and a sweet smile on her face. That girl had one major fault; she watched too much television.
    "Boy, do you look terrible this morning, Mr. Randolph," she bubbled.
    "Thank you for your vote of confidence, Miss Downs. I am sure that you are now looking at the oldest 34-year-old man in existence."
    "Meeting went badly, huh?"
    "Not only bad, Miss Downs, but pure, excruciating terror. Please see that I'm not disturbed for a while. I just want to sit here and die by myself."
    As she went out, I slumped further into my chair and fingered my greying crew-cut while I reviewed the events of that fateful morning. First, there was that memo from C. C. Weatherfield, "Summit at 10:00 A.M. Be prompt Dear Boy." And later the icy, snarling stares from my co-veeps as I took my place at the conference table.
    We had just lost the sponsor for our big-budget spectacular, The Starburst Show. With the show's rating about to go in the hole, this was not a surprise. As a matter of fact, this was the fifth sponsor we had lost in the past year and that was what the meeting was about. I left the meeting that morning with the knowledge that I only had one more chance to come up with a rating or get off the pot.
    I tried to push back the clouds of doom that drifted over me but I felt like I had been buried under tons of despair. What could I put in that time spot that would out-draw those "fast guns" on the other networks? I had tried everything; 30 guest stars at once, Shakespeare (done in a western setting), the great plays, and sports spectaculars. Still the Westerns literally made us bite the dust. I would have bawled if the intercom had not buzzed just then.
    "Yeah," I sneered in its direction.
    "There's a Professor Adams here to see you," Miss Downs' bell-like tones tolled.
    "What the devil does the good professor want, Miss Downs?"
    "Well, he said that he heard about your trouble with the show and wants you to consider an idea he has for sale."
    "Tell him I'll see him in five minutes." I flipped off the squawk-box and silently counted to ten. That's all I needed. A crackpot professor with an idea for some educational show like, "Atom to Atom" or "I've Got a Satellite" or "Watts My Lion."
    I decided to give him a quick brush-off and punched the intercom. "Tell him to come in, Miss Downs."
    I was not prepared for the person that entered my office because for years I had been telling writers not to use trite stereotypes for professors because they just do not look that way. But here was a professor in every detail--from the tip of his high-button shoes to the crown of his black homburg hat.
    He was a man shrunken by the forces of time and his bent frame was encased in an ancient threadbare black suit with matching vest. From his arm dangled a huge black umbrella even though no rain was expected for weeks. I stood, shook his hand and brought a chair up for him in which he carefully deposited his remains as if any sudden jar would shake his bones apart.
    I looked into his surprisingly youthful blue eyes, and waited for him to begin.
    "Mr. Randolph, before we begin our discussion, may I have my assistant present? She's waiting outside."
    I agreed to his request and waited while Miss Downs summoned the assistant. If I was not prepared for the professor I certainly was not ready for the assistant.
    She was about 25 and was trying to make it clear that she had resigned from the female sex. She was not making her point, for the lack of make-up and the severe horn-rimmed glasses only accented her earthy beauty.
    She wore a demure white blouse buttoned to the neck and a nondescript skirt with hideous low-heeled shoes, hut even this combination would not hide the abundant terrain beneath it.
    Now, in my business, I have seen all types of knock-outs but this one was the first Woman I had run across. I couldn't take my eyes off her while the professor discussed his idea; an idea that was merely a drone of words to me.
    Finally he asked "Well, can you use it?"
    "Huh," I blinked. "I'm sorry, Prof, but I missed that last part."
    "Well, maybe a demonstration would be better." He gently derricked his body out of the chair and moved to his assistant. "Miss Blame here will help me in my demonstration. The glasses please."
    The doll handed him a pair of cardboard rimmed glasses like those old 3-D jobs and he shuffled toward me.
    "As I said before, my experiment was faulty and my desired results were not obtained. However, there were results as you will see in a minute. Only my pressing need for money to continue research made me seek you out." He shrugged his narrow shoulders and added, "But perhaps you won't be able to use it."
    He handed me the glasses and said to wait a moment before putting them on. I watched as he instructed Miss Blame on where to stand and then turned back to me.
    "Now, Mr. Randolph, we're about ready. First though let me explain again that Miss Blame's clothing and underclothing have been treated with my new chemical. Now, sir, put on the glasses if you will."
    I slipped on the silly things and looked at the professor. "I don't notice any difference Prof."
    "Look at Miss Blame, Mr. Randolph."
    I swiveled my head toward "The Stack" and I felt my heart race out of control, and my eyes bug out. She was completely naked except for the dark plastic ovals that covered her still expressionless eyes and those hideous shoes.
    When I regained some small measure of composure I stammered, "How...why...who...what happened to her clothes?"
    "Take off the glasses please."
    I did and her clothes were back in place and I quickly put them back on. I'm nobody's fool.
    "There it is, Mr. Randolph. I don't know whether it'll he of much help to you but I thought of a few ideas for shows myself." He chuckled and the sound was more like a death rattle. "But, of course, I'll let that up to you.
    "How does this thing work though?" I asked, still viewing Miss Blame through flesh-colored glasses.
    "The glasses are specially made so that when material is treated with my formula and viewed through them, viola the material becomes invisible."
    Quickly, I closed the deal with the old gent after he guaranteed that the stuff would still work after being transmitted, and al though his asking price was only a thousand bucks, I gave him five. As I handed him the check, I threw Miss Blame a wink but I don't think she saw it because I still had the glasses on.
    For a long time after they left, I just sat there twirling the glasses around in my hand, my thoughts filled with dancing, bouncing Miss Blame. Well, I had the big gimmick hut now how to use it?
    I arranged for a meeting with the network lawyers and although they were dubious about the whole matter, I finally got some concrete opinions. The consensus was that if the dames on the show appeared, fully clothed in the studio and on the TV sets, what the viewer did at home to undress them was of no concern of the network.
    That was all I needed to know. The next show was a short five days away and I had a lot of planning to do. First, I had a couple of hundred pairs of glasses made which were sent anonymously to critics, columnists, TV personalities, and other industry personnel with the cryptic suggestion, "Use these for this week's Starburst Show." Then I started my search for well-endowed young ladies who would agree to appear bare-breasted in a few well chosen homes around the country. You know, that was the easiest part.
    Finally, the day of the big show arrived and I was lazing behind a copy of Life when the door of my office burst open and a red-faced C. C. Weatherfield shot in.
    "What have you done about Starburst, Dear Boy?" It wasn't a question, it was a shriek. "Who's the new sponsor? Who are the guest stars?"
    "Calm down, C. C., remember the heart. The show is all planned, rehearsed, and ready to roll. The network is sponsoring it tonight." And then as though passing along a deep, dark secret I whispered, "Low budget, you know."
    "Dear Boy, I hope you know what you're doing--for your sake."
    Damn him and his "Dear Boy" crap. "C. C. you wait until after the show. I guarantee I'll have sponsors lined up in my waiting room begging for the spot."
    I think I heard him say "They'd better" as he slammed out of the room. I was taking a big gamble by not letting C. C. in on my idea, but hell, he threw the show in my lap so I would sink or swim on my own.
    Maybe some of you saw the show that night. I doubt it because it hit the lowest rating ever. I did not know how it looked without the glasses but it sure looked good with them. The format of the show was simple, I had no big names, no western theme; nothing but semi-nude dames running, dancing, just sitting around, and always in view. I had two network comics (and I use the term loosely) telling a few stale gags and introducing the dance numbers but that was the only method to my madness.
    The credits were being flashed on my 24-incher when the phone rang. "Ah-ha, C. C. right on time," I said to myself. For 17 minutes I listened to the voice that screamed from the receiver, which I thought. fully placed ten feet away on the sofa, then when it appeared that he had finally run down, I simply said, "Wait for tomorrow's reviews" and gently re-cradled the smoldering instrument.
    The reviews were all that I hoped they would be and then some. Harriet had this to say, "I put on those glasses expecting to see some type of 3-D, 38-D would be more like it" and good old Walt coined a new name for the show "Starbust". Others said, "Should be banned", "Novel if legal", "In extremely poor taste" and "WOW".
    C. C. was waiting for me in my office. Since he never, but never, went to any sub ordinate's office, I felt important. Who else had ever received consecutive visits from the old S. 0. B.?
    "I don't understand these reviews at all Dear Boy. All I saw last night were a few young ladies with St. Vitus Dance cluttering up my show, and two warm-up comics who will be warming up the rest of the bums in the unemployment lines tomorrow; you included."
    "Now, now C. C don't say something you'll be sorry for later. Come with me and we'll view the video tape of the show."
    We watched the first five minutes of the show in silence and I must admit that it was really bad without glasses. Then C. C. shattered the silence with a blood-curdling scream.
    "Must I sit through this junk again? Randolph, explain your motive for torturing me like this."
    "Here try it with these," I suggested, placing the glasses over his bloodshot eyes.
    "But I don't see what difference these...Yikes! That, that girl there is undressed. I mean you can see her...and so is that one...what is this?" he jerked the glasses up and looked first at me and then at the screen, then lie lowered the glasses and re summed watching the show. I think he liked it better than he had the night before, if grunts, sighs, groans, and lip smacking can he regarded as endorsements
    After my detailed explanation, we left the viewing room, arms around each other and him "Dear Boying" me to death. I had scored big.
    The sponsors were not quite lined up in my office as I predicted, but I talked to quite a few in the next couple of days. Finally, I signed up "Starchy Foods" maker of those wonderful ( ? ) breakfast cereals to a year's agreement and managed the highest price ever received for an hour show. Under the agreement, they manufactured the glasses and put a pair in each box of their cereal, while we supplied the treated togs and the buxom broad.
    As you may recall, our rating zoomed until nobody watched the competitive Westerns or the Private Eyes that replaced them, or the situation comedies that replaced them or--And, "Starchy Foods" outsold other cereals ten to one and everyone was happy.
    I guess I should say, almost everyone was happy. The F.C.C. tried to nail us but we were not breaking any laws, the courts decided. Ladies got on their bandwagons and tried to boycott the network first, and then the sponsor. Needless to say, they were ignored back into the homes where they belonged, for what could he more democratic than letting the viewer decide if he wanted to watch the show with or without glasses. If you did not want the kids to see, fine--just hide the glasses.
    For a year, my star shone brightly in the video heavens and then the old rat-race began again. I don't know whether the old professor sold out or whether the other networks developed their own formulas, but sure enough they got them. This was a black period for television--on second thought, nude period would be more fitting. Variety summed it all up with "Nudist Networks Nock Noggins."
    They filled the prime spots with nude shows, we used nuder ones. Where at first it had been merely bare-breasts now it was all or nothing at all. For months we battled back and forth outstripping each other until finally good old "Starburst" started its decline again. But I was ready for them this time.
    I had made a little hush-hush survey of my own and found that must people were tiring of the same old nude business. As a matter of fact, most had thrown away the glasses and were either watching the shows without them or had regressed so low that they were actually reading books and magazines while listening to the radio, which had improved.
    So when I found the memo, "Summit at 10:00 A.M. Be prompt Dear Boy," I was all ready to combat the icy, snarling stares of my fellow Veeps.
    I sat untouched by the fiery blasts that cannoned out of C.C.'s big mouth. I drew doodles while my colleagues echoed vehemence off the pastel-hued walls. I yawned as they recounted the three sponsors that had quietly folded their tents and stole away in the past two months. I closed my eyes as they aimed their pointed remarks in my direction. I whistled tunelessly as C.C. threatened to lop off my crew-cut head.
    "Gentlemen, next week's show is already rehearsed and ready to go. The network will once again be our sponsors, but I guarantee, there will be a line of hucksters trying to buy the following shows." I paused letting the tension build as the vultures hung on every word. "The 'Starburst Show' no longer exists. From this time forward it will be called simply 'Gunburst.' That's right colleagues, we're hitting back with the first Western." I turned and walked across the long room and as I gently eased the door closed behind me I heard a chorus of "Dear Boy" from the angels on high.

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