New York City, a suite on the 22nd floor of West 66th Street, ABC’s corporate headquarters. Network President Ben Sherwood is berating a table of execs from creative. “People, let me paint the picture. The CW’s Arrow is so successful they’re spinning off The Flash. Fox already has a headless horseman on Sleepy Hollow and is launching Gotham, a Batman prequel with a suddenly sexy Commissioner Gordon. TNT is getting reading to do Titans, with teenage superheroes. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy made a fortune this summer, but our Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is on life support. How the heck do you even say the name of this turkey? Do you spell it out? T.U.R.K.E.Y?
People, I’m telling you, superheroes, the supernatural! They’re sizzling right now, and we’re still diddlin’ with the stars.
“Dancing with the Stars, sir. It’s called Dancing with the Stars.”
“Whatever. Can Keyshawn Johnson sway faster than a speeding bullet? Can Valerie Harper fly? Can Snooki Poloozi turn strange colors and shoot stuff out of her nose? Alright, maybe the kid can, but supernatural she ain’t. People, we’re way behind in this sprint to the supernatural.
“With due respect, sir, we did have Lost.”
“Yeah, what the heck was that all about? The View makes more sense, and I haven’t got a clue what those women are saying. People, I need suggestions.”
“What about a remake of Carrie with Cloris Leachman?
“Out of our demographic. Think young!”
“What about the Kardashians as soul-sucking succubi?”
“What about something like, The Gosh-Darn Exorcism of Honey Boo Boo?
“No more reality TV.”
Mr. Sherwood has his own creative moment. “What about NBC’s Constantine, this detective who hunts the devil? I’m thinking we leap frog it. We give the devil his own show in prime time. Kind of like Fulton Sheen, back in the 50s. Satan could emerge from fire, with a catchy theme song. Then he could call up audience members, reveal their worse sins, turn their heads 360 degrees, make ‘em puke up stuff. Something like NBC did with Fear Factor, but this would be Fear Factor Factored.
A laconic voice at the far of the table—it sounds a lot like James Spader—says, “I don’t think he’d be interested.”
“Why not? This would put him on the map. People would know he existed. He’d scare them senseless!”
“He’d scare them right into churches.” People look around, to see where Mr. Spader might be seated. The voice continues, “Despite his ability to sell movie tickets, Satan doesn’t seek to scare people. He wants to seduce them, and that requires a suave, debonair approach. Really, nothing is more satisfying than a little time passed with Satan: thinking about getting even; ogling a beautiful person, reducing him or her to a soulless body; dreaming about getting rid of people who are different. I can assure you that I speak for the entire creative development department of hell when I tell you that we’re much more interested in on-demand shopping and porn possibilities than spooks.”
“Yeah, I see where you—I mean his people—are coming from. Okay, so we do a 180. This Pope Francis guy. He’s charming. He can be hilarious.”
“He’s already signed with Univision.”
“Damn! Okay, then. We kick it upstairs. We get the big guy himself. We call it God is for Real.” Mr. Sherwood is perfectly perfervid. “We open Super Bowl Week. Lots of miracles! God appears over the stadium in Phoenix. God throws everyone in the crowd a new iPhone, or a Galaxy, whichever we get as corporate sponsor. Heck, I don’t care if God tosses Blackberries. After the game, we flip to the Middle East where God defeats ISIS in a two-part premiere. By sweeps week, he’s spanking Kim Jong-un.”
“Fiddlesticks!” says a voice from the back of the room. It sounds a lot like Aunt Bea, from Mayberry, but no one sees her either. “God doesn’t need a prime time spot. God rarely does miracles, if, by that, you mean marvels that make everyone wonder how he did it. God doesn’t need magic. God is the source, the summit and the sheer scope of goodness. Why, if God were any more present to the world, there’d be no room for anything but God. Saying that you’d like God to step forward and get his own show is like saying you want the studio cameras to focus in on the light. Light isn’t one more thing in the world. It’s how we see the world.”
Aunt Bea continues, warming to her counsel. “When people lose God, when something inside them tells them that grace is gone, they wonder where they should begin to look for it again. What should they do to find God? To make peace? They think, there must a price to pay, a deed to be done. But, you see, God isn’t one more part of the world, or one more person, albeit the most powerful. You don’t search for God. God is the sunrise. The only way to lose God is to turn away. To find God, you just turn back.”
“Okay. I’ve got it. I take your drift. You’re saying the Big Guy isn’t interested in broadcast TV. He’s into streaming, instant access, something downloadable into every stupid kid’s smart phone.”
Aunt Bea’s voice remains mild and measured, as though she were summing up a lesson for Opie. “Tax collectors and prostitutes don’t need an app to find God. No sinner does. We are the app, we humans. We were made to download God, if you like. It happens every time the heart stirs. Why, it takes fearsome fiddling with your own settings to stop it.”
The ABC president ponders this, momentarily dejected. “No primetime devil. No God on demand.” But Mr. Sherwood is determined to find a niche market in the supernatural, and, suddenly, the creative genius in him rallies. “Get Chicago on the line. See if Oprah would be interested in a remake of The Flying Nun.
Ez 18: 24-25 Phil 2: 1-11 Mt 21: 28-32