The opening extract of a novel, The Hurt and The Show, which focuses on the production team of a confrontational mid-morning talk show (lie detectors, DNA tests, and all) beset by scandal and ultimately tragedy.
Daniel Hunt was consciously aware of three things at that particular moment. The first of this troika was the hoard of people, a sheer volume of spectators sat upon a vast bank of staggered metal seating ascending at least thirty feet towards the gantries and the studio’s lighting rig above. A capacity crowd of 280 individuals adorned the bleachers, facing the stage. They were, as always, a mix of questionably dressed students, bored singletons and other vaguely distant twenty and thirty-somethings from the London locale with nothing better to do with their time. Of course, Daniel didn’t begrudge their presence one little bit – they were his audience. From his vantage point, stood in the wings tucked behind one of the vast black curtains that framed the stage, he picked out the individuals in the crowd whose hands he might shake as the cameras filmed his grand entrance. He narrowed down his choice. Easily accessible people in the front row, obviously, those who looked at least relatively clean, and certainly no one that was here to watch a friend or family member actually take part in the show. A brown haired woman, her bald headed partner and a string of women sat a further three seats away appeared to fit his mental criteria. Daniel had initially felt uncomfortable with his producer’s suggestion that shaking hands with the proletariat was the best way to start the show. He soon realised, however, that it helped to set a crucially important dynamic. The audience, both those in the studio and those watching at home, needed to be on his side. Always. When the show’s ‘guests’ – the lovers, the cheaters, the absent fathers, the crack-heads, the social sponges (those not altogether different from the very sniggering voyeurs sat in the audience) sat before everyone they had to be separate and dehumanised, or Daniel’s aggressive, unabashed manner would be neither tolerable nor justifiable. The entertainment had to remain guilt free. Any story featured on the show had to be turned into a case of ‘us’ verses ‘them’. Shaking hands with audience members was a simple and efficient way of implying this relationship. Simply put, it made Daniel look like less of a bastard.
The second thing that Daniel was aware of was Katie Turner, floor manager of ‘Talk The Talk’, the television programme that he presented. Her job was to act as the producer’s voice on and around the stage, as they watched the whole spectacle unfold on a bank of small screens in the gallery. Katie stood in front of the audience, and explained just what they were about to witness (something about a woman not knowing the identity of her eighteen month old child’s father). Daniel was already fully aware of the case in question courtesy of the show’s researchers, Nick and Charlie, who had rigorously questioned all involved parties and unearthed any and every potentially salubrious detail they possibly could, all to be used as ammunition for Daniel during the course of filming. The eyes of the audience visibly popped at Katie’s mention of the child’s three potential fathers, of which two were waiting backstage. Katie was in her late twenties, 27 or 28 perhaps? Daniel was sure he knew the correct number in the back of his mind, though he couldn’t put a finger on it at that particular moment. She was wearing a fashionable thin grey dress that came down to just above knee level, which loosely hugged a 5’8” athletic figure. It revealed toned calves tipped with functional pumps, whose vivid blue hue contrasted with the monochrome of the dress, an item that would have boasted a generous cleavage had its neckline not been quite so high. Katie’s ginger hair was held back against her scalp by a headset and tied up into a slack ponytail, through which she had speared a biro pen just above the bobble for safekeeping. Daniel had noticed her do this every now and again, though saw no particular pattern to the trait – a lack of pockets on the dress, perhaps? He took time deciding whether he found her attractive or not. Her body was undeniably excellent, and her facial features were certainly agreeable. Puberty, however, hadn’t been especially kind to her complexion. Adept application of make-up hid this well if one viewed her from a distance, though trails of faint pockmarks could still be made out on her cheeks when one was up close. A diamond engagement ring worn on the fourth finger of her left hand shone impressively under the bright studio lights. It was an item that she had worn since her first day on the show some three years ago. Katie had moved on from telling the audience about the morning’s guests and was now lecturing the room on how to cheer and applaud properly. There was the loud applause that accompanied Daniel’s entrance and the show’s closing credits and also the ‘medium’ cheer that they were to make for when they went to or came back from an advertisement break. There was then one final level, the ‘quieter’ applause that would mark the entrance of one of the show’s guests.
“Of course,” she explained, “You may not think that someone deserves a cheer at all. But we don’t really like people booing. As Daniel always says, you shouldn’t judge anyone before they’ve put across their side of the story,” she paused briefly. “Though if you feel really strongly, then who are we to stop you expressing yourself as you see fit? Just please make sure that you stay in your seat as you do so…” She subsequently got the audience to enthusiastically rehearse the different cheers in turn. It was testament to her extremely personable nature that she could teach a room how to clap without sounding patronising.
The third and final thing that Daniel was acutely aware of was a self-inflicted headache. Though no longer splitting, as it had been earlier in the morning, the final dull ache stubbornly refused to drain from his skull despite the various analgesics and water that he had hungrily consumed. Thank God today’s was a paternity test story. Generally, this meant less shouting from all parties. Hopefully he’d have recovered by the afternoon when a couple of wino, cheating, and blatantly-going-to-be-really-very-fucking-loud-and-angry individuals were due for lie detector results and the obligatory on-stage maelstrom that would follow. Daniel would never normally drink on a Wednesday evening for a number of obvious reasons, but he had made an exception the previous evening. He still couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud.
Forty years old. Forty. Fuck.
Middle age had well and truly crept up on him, and it had cruelly stolen his ability to deal with a hangover. He hadn’t even planned on drinking that much – he had only been at a friend’s house and there had only been four people in attendance. It was, of course, when the host had decided that it was special occasion enough to open an expensive 25-year old malt and a box of fine cigars that the eventual outcome of the evening’s festivities should have become apparent. The host had then insisted that it was silly for Daniel to go back to an empty house on his birthday. Consequently, he awoke on a sofa situated in the sitting room of the house where he had spent the evening, an empty bottle upended on the floor next to him. He had barely made it to the studio on time to go through the researchers’ final briefs for the day’s stories, a part of the filming day that was so routine he had never once previously missed it. He thanked God for the make-up department who had done their level best to disguise his grey eyelids and mottled, dehydrated skin. He had studied his face in the mirror as an agreeable young woman had been applying subtle foundation. The signs of aging were suddenly more noticeable, he thought. He spotted grey flecks in his short, thinning blonde hair and crows’ feet protruding from the corners of his grey-blue eyes.
It’s all inevitable, unavoidable decay from hereon in.
Invasive hands suddenly interrupted his defeatist daydreaming, as a less than gentle techie checked Daniel’s small microphone, clipping it onto a discrete position on the lapel of his charcoal grey suit jacket. He ran the thin wire down to a small transmitter that fitted snugly into the left inside breast pocket.
“There you go,” the techie said politely, though by now he had leaned to not expect a thank you from Daniel in return. Instead, the host remained stoic, rehearsing his introduction over and over again to himself, perfecting the inclination of every word in each sentence. It was a straightforward enough story. There was no way he could really fuck it up, save for lack of practice. He registered Katie’s voice coming from the stage once again.
“So when I count down from three, the cameras are going to start rolling, Daniel’s going to come out, and I want your very best ‘loud’ applause…” One more practice applause followed. Katie vacated the stage visibly satisfied and walked backwards towards where Daniel was standing. She kept eye contact with the crowd, expertly avoiding the potential underfoot hazards as she went. As promised, she counted down, reaching one just as she came to where Daniel was waiting. She offered him a quick “Good luck” as the throng beyond the curtain began to roar with finely rehearsed applause. The noise was more intense than before, however, and forced Daniel to screw his eyes in order to control the dry discomfort that emanated from his brain. He told himself to man up; he was a professional, and this was where the professionalism kicked in.
This is what we’re paid to do…
A recording of the show’s theme music began to blare its pompous wah-guitar and synth brass, instinctively causing shots of adrenaline to be pumped into his bloodstream. Inhaling, he strode past the curtain with purpose, drinking in the adoration of the baying mob whose cheers swelled in volume with their first glimpse of the man that they had all come to see.