Wednesday 9/20/2006 in Washington D.C.



THE SCRIPTWRITER, a/k/a TSW: Well -- why do you think we're here?


THE FUTURIST, a/k/a FTR: The logic behind tonight? Why you, why me, and for what purpose? As near as I can tell, our friend Gregorsky commissioned this dinner and meeting -- and mailed us these matching envelopes -- because he thinks I can learn something from you.

TSW: And it also works the other way around. By the way [pause] -- I’ve got my envelope here -- but did not open it. We were supposed to wait to read the memo, right?

FTR: Well, ummm -- I already opened mine. Since you haven't, I guess I shouldn't name the questions that we're supposed to tackle tonight. We’ll get to those soon enough. This whole structure is clever -- maybe too much so. I also think [mixing a wince with a smile] Gregorsky might be playing some kind of game.

TSW: Oh yeah? You’ve known the guy for a lot longer than I have -- “game”?

FTR: Not a charade, but a structured exchange; he sort of choreographs it, yet isn't here to take part. We get to do all the work. I draw you out, you draw me out. Perhaps there's some element of competition. Maybe we do some arguing. We cover things he'd like to learn, or otherwise discover, for himself. If we also benefit, we're also satisfied.

TSW: And the recorder you turned on a couple of minutes ago --

FTR: -- is so that he gets the full benefit.

TSW: But we preserve our privacy.

FTR: For a minimum of five years. Frank Gregorsky can't publish any version of this evening before late September 2011. Even then, he has agreed to describe us only by our professional associations and roles -- although I am more than happy to have my institutional employers be detailed too.

TSW: I'm very likely to want mine taken out. Parts of this set-up are weird -- almost as if he wants us to resemble characters in a plot he sketches but we have to act out.

FTR: Or make up -- out of very little. The instructions could fit on an index card.

TSW: Let's go back to the premise and purpose [pausing] -- I mean, I don't know how to make what I know available.

FTR: I'll be happy to sign a confidentiality agreement [smiling mischievously] -- we can write it on one of these napkins.

TSW: Very funny. I wasn't thinking in terms of trade secrets. It’s more like -- how my profession works, or why I have "worked" it a certain way. Could be I won’t be able to get that across in our conversation [pause]. I can't even explain it to my kids. So -- nothing personal, assuming I end up sounding lost?

FTR: Not at all [sounding philosophical]. I've spent half my work life listening to people who can’t explain themselves -- but, unlike you, that's why they try to explain everything else in the world. They get to hide behind their big ideas. In any case, we’ve got the recorder running.

TSW: Yes. And, just to be clear: You will give our audio to Gregorsky tomorrow, and neither of us will keep it, or have a copy, and -- here's the really strange part -- five years from now he will send us a transcript --

FTR: Yep, that’s the drill.

TSW: -- and we will mutually decide how much of it goes on his website.

FTR: I can't imagine it going anywhere else! [Laughter] Apart from the five-year time lag, it’s not too weird. In this town, methodical time-lags would be a great benefit.

TSW: Time-lags? Doesn't it already take years to get anything done here?

FTR: Well -- yeah: Project spans can be endless. I'm taking about mental horizons and collective memory. All the predictions and nonsense people utter, and 95% of it is forgotten within a couple of months. They struggle to get one or two big things right, and the rest of the time they cover their asses.

TSW: "Big things right." Accomplishments?

FTR: No. Just to say something, be heard, get some press, and then somehow be vindicated next week or next month. But, since it's very hard for anyone to be right three times in a row, they benefit from the culture of amnesia. All that's really remembered is who helped you, and who screwed you. And the so-called "content" of public discussion is a cover for a lot of petty positioning.

TSW: [Perking up] Well, doesn't every profession -- each "company town" -- coast on its own special set of contradictions? I am game to learn -- or to receive the short course [pause]. Actually, you are off to the races in describing your world, right after I made excuses for maybe not being able to convey mine.

FTR: I can help remove some of the haze. But the haze I’m thinking about right now -- is why you might not be able to explain your work.

TSW: At least -- well, not in conversation. I couldn't even do it in a lecture type of setting. In fact, the high-school guidance counselor called me an autodidact.

FTR: [Mildly startled, yet oddly encouraged] I haven't heard that term in years.

TSW: And I haven't looked at the definition -- in years. Let's just say: I take lots in, but little of it comes back out as “knowledge" or "method." I was a poor student who read all the time.

FTR: Gregorsky says you are one of the most curious people he ever met. Curious people are always taking material in. But you really can't do that in a formal setting -- isn't that right?

TSW: Formal is bad, yes -- and "most curious" could be [quick smile] taken different ways [long pause]. I'm more investigator than explainer. Once I know something, I prefer to illustrate or illuminate it. Through scripts. Through characters. It's just easier for me to script a conversation -- especially a confrontational one -- than be part of one taking placed in real life and real time.

FTR: I see. Or, maybe not [awkward pause].

TSW: Let’s order drinks. What time is it? [pause] Only 5:30 -- probably a good thing we're starting early…

(1) Any overlap of these two characters -- "TSW" and "FTR" -- with persons living or dead is benign.

(2) In November 2014, “TSW” and “FTR” were sketched near the end of a web essay about using “Characters and Dialogue for Nonfiction Purposes.”

(3) Certain complex nonfiction analyses could use a set of characters to keep the reader engaged. As long as the author practices full disclosure, made-up characters and their fictional dialogue can co-exist with 50 pages of footnotes.

(4) If putting characters into analytical nonfiction bothers you, yet also piques your curiosity as to the Why and the How -- and if, rather than this 12,000-word demonstration, you'd like a concise clinical exploration -- see www.ExactingEditor.com/Detectives-Part-One.pdf

(5) In what follows, despite his opening qualms, Scriptwriter ends up as the Explainer, while Futurist is the Resister who prefers the real world to novels and cop shows. And yet, he doesn’t fight that hard -- because his career is becoming unreal to him.

(6) Their biographies will filled out in later boxes. For now, it's really better to listen to each one try to make sense to the other. No point in holding back this data point, though: FTR is an ENTP, and TSW is an INFJ.


PART 1 -- Mannix, Mike Stone, and the Mystery Theater


FTR: “More investigator than explainer” -- that was your term. And then you feel your way to “illuminate.” But I’d like to understand this process from the start. What do you investigate?


TSW: Peaks and valleys. Fog and clarity. Good and evil. Human emotions. When I've heard Heaven described -- and Hell too, for that matter -- they sound like boring places. Simply Red had a song around 1988 with the lyric: "Heaven is a place, a place where nothing ever happens."


FTR: You are talking about something more than the human being's need for variety?


TSW: Right. I'm mostly talking about modulation -- which is different, and a lot healthier, than stimulation. Or, as I express it to my 20something son: MOD-you-LAY-shun. The peaks and the valleys, and they don't have to be extreme. By the way -- have you ever noticed how many people under the age of 35 don't have it?


FTR: Don't have what?


TSW: Modulation. Their voices -- females especially -- have the range-bound whine of a computer chip where you forgot how to shut off the auto-read signal.


FTR: [Breaks out laughing] Yeah, with one exception -– and it happens every 15 or 20 seconds: Their voices do go up an octave or two, every other time they are making a statement, except the rising inflection makes it sound like a question.


TSW: Oh yeah, you mean this is the way that the new kids make a STATEMENT???????????


[Mutual laughter]


FTR: Exactly. Every fourth sentence is a statement that has the inflection of a question. Constantly seeking approval, I guess. Or else they are selling -- ingratiating -- in a mostly mindless way. The rest of the time? Computer-chip monotone [chuckling]. We can parse 20something language patterns later.


TSW: I think we’ve said all there needs to be said about it.


FTR: Then back to -- well, your intense curiosity.


TSW: During high school, I settled for surprises but what I really craved was mysteries. In college, I looked for classes that were 100% independent study: Read like hell, and just go in for a chat with that professor, ideally only one visit each week of the semester.


FTR: To what end? You know, career path, and so on.


TSW: No degree program could have tapped the underlying urge. At age 20, I wanted to be a private investigator. From age 13 on, I watched every episode of Mannix. After '72, Karl Malden -- “Mike Stone” -- became my favorite cop. He found the irony and warmth in a grim job.


FTR: I remember Mannix. My dad and I used to watch it. But -- Malden?


TSW: Streets of San Francisco! Five seasons. The DVDs will begin coming to market next year, 30 years after the show went off the air. I know some of the people working on that project. It took a decade for the networks to realize the value in some of the thousands of episodes they had rotting in their vaults.


FTR: You don't sound like you could’ve been happy at the Police Academy, either.


TSW: True. As an introvert, I can't stand groups. Going through the same set of experiences with a hundred or more people -- forget it. But the real problem is that I might have gotten killed trying to become a private eye at age 23. And then -- this was Summer of '76 -- I landed an internship with Himan Brown.


FTR: [Looking back quizzically]


TSW: I doubt anyone in this political environment knows of him. He was an early mentor. Working with E.G. Marshall --


FTR: That name I do know -- from The Bold Ones, maybe 1970?


TSW: -- yeah, and earlier The Defenders. But Mr. Brown held the magic key for me -- he brought back the Golden Age of Radio. Or let’s say -– he allowed adult baby-boomers to hear it in a modern voice. Do you recall the CBS Radio Mystery Theater?


FTR: [Unafraid to look startled, despite the Washington stricture against ever admitting surprise unless it's for show at a congressional hearing...]


TSW: So you do know it?


FTR: I listened to it during my second year of college -- Florida, 1974.


TSW: And that name "Himan Brown" really doesn't ring a bell?


FTR: No. But E.G. Marshall [pause] -- he used to introduce the episodes?


TSW: You got it. And Himan Brown was turning out radio cop-show episodes before you and I were born. Barry Craig, Confidential Investigator, was his creation circa 1952.


FTR: [Lost but maintaining an earnest focus. Whenever the Futurist has nothing to observe or declare, he'll switch into interviewer mode]. And so -- you interned for Brown?


TSW: And what a break that was! I later worked as an editor and ultimately scriptwriter, for Mr. Brown, until the Mystery Theater series ended in '82. He directed hundreds upon hundreds of radio productions, for that one program alone. And -- you get it? -- that meant I never had to become a private eye! I could be close to all elements of human nature -- just by helping produce these radio dramas.


FTR: That’s good. And mentors, during one’s first adult decade, can be more influential than a person’s entire classroom time. Did you pay attention to politics at all during your twenties?


TSW: Beyond some basic college courses? No. I didn't even vote. It seemed like a lot of work to make sense of current events. When I wasn't studying drama, I read books from other eras -- they were "serious" books but at the same time they appealed to my mystical side -- William James and Carl Jung were two of my favorites. Still are, in fact.


FTR: Do you pay attention to current events now, 30 years later?


TSW: No. I never read newspapers. On and off, I subscribe to Advertising Age and Variety. Traded New York for Los Angeles in 1984. But I have places to stay in New York, for weeks at a time.


FTR: 'Eighty-four is the same year I got my job at the Department of Commerce. This is an odd question, but: How do you do your writing?


TSW: {Thrown off by the inquiry] You mean -- how do I find things to write about?


FTR: No, just the mechanics. Where and how do you generate and refine text?


TSW: Well -- I don't like laptops because the screen is too small. Also, having banged out my first scripts in the late '70s, I still have three IBM Selectrics, at least one of which is working on any given day. When the real editing needs to start, typewritten pages can be scanned into a computer.


FTR: Okay, but -- why type them at all?


TSW: Because I prefer to draft the exchange in my head -- large parts of a dialogue, especially -- before committing anything to paper or using a keyboard. It used to be self-discipline, but soon I couldn't "write" any other way. My brain is the word-processor, not the computer -- or the typewriter. [Laughs]


FTR: And the screen of a standard laptop PC is too small, you say?


TSW: Sure. I mean, what else would you expect a Hollywood guy to say? My desktop computer is hooked to a 28-inch flat-screen monitor, because I also need it to play DVDs and video from the hard drive.


They ask the waiter to come back in half an hour. A refill of the drinks will do for now. And what was in the matching envelopes? (TSW is finally opening his.) What is the evening’s “charter”?

(1) How do you describe your profession and your specialty?
(2) How did you master each? Thanks to whom, and for what set of reasons?
(3) Given your past, and where media and telecom are going, how do you use the written word to (a) attract an audience, and (b) keep them tuned in while enhancing their minds?


PART 2 -- The Beltway Grind: No Time for Escapism


TSW: Looks like you're already acting on our instructions for the evening. You got me to talk about my first real job!


FTR: It’s a habit of mine -– even without a memo -- to ask questions, or at least to draw people out.


TSW: As habits go, that’s not a bad one.


FTR: Asking makes it so much easier to find things out. But -- the practice is seen as eccentric in this town. Everyone here wants information; but only the journalists go to the trouble of asking questions.


TSW: [Pause] That's a good segue for you to relate your own background and maybe explain your profession. So, I'll run with that cue: Why is it that only journalists ask questions in this very political town?


FTR: Because everyone else is afraid to admit they don’t know something. Questions that I think are reasonable are taken by most of the people I know to be embarrassing.


TSW: They are embarrassed to -- what, be caught up short?


FTR: No, they are embarrassed -- for me! -- because of what I didn’t know. By asking certain questions, you can imply or confirm a lack of sophistication. And, if you really want to get people to feel pity for you in Washington -- pity mixed with contempt -- try asking what an acronym stands for. Do this during a sit-down dinner, and -- well, I'll leave it your scriptwriter's imagination. The point here is: One is supposed to perceive or deduce, or already know. Even some acronyms in Germany or Brazil, for God's sake.


TSW: Okay [pause]. I’m embarrassed to ask why that is.


FTR: Why what is?


TSW: Why anyone should be embarrassed not knowing something they might never have needed to know before that very moment -- and so they ask -- even if it is some kind of general knowledge.


FTR: Because, in a town of insiders, and aspiring insiders, the norm is to say something mainly to get others to spill what you think might be useful. To “smoke them out,” or at least wait them out. And -- as for opinions -- everyone in the Washington Beltway is trained to blurt those out without being asked. This was common practice well before cable-TV programs showed the rest of the country how to behave that way.


TSW: [Long pause] You are describing a town of insecure loudmouths.


FTR: [Satisfied smile] You catch on fast! Pour out the opinions, but hardly ever ask a serious question.


TSW: Well then -- how does worthwhile information get shared? Even assuming compatible purposes -- inside this or that meeting room -- the participants having adequate levels of trust, and the rest. I mean, if no one can ask a question --


FTR: Let’s say half a dozen people are having a lunch. Doesn't really matter if they are all of the same party, or half Democrat and half Republican. One person babbles, the next one babbles, and the one after that, until the circle comes back around. As long as the babbling time is roughly equal, and no one is functioning as an in-person “lurker,” everybody walks away with most of what they need. You do your contributing; nearly everyone tosses in something -- but without being asked, and without doing any asking. Takes two or three times as long, but no one has to admit to more than a vague curiosity about anything.


TSW: That can't be a lunch where the half-dozen are working to meet a deadline or produce something.


FTR: Most group meals in this town are not about project-management.


TSW: In business, the direct question is a trusty tool -– great time-saver.


FTR: Here, you are only allowed to ask it when the other person is under oath [this is uttered with a wicked grin].


TSW: I don't get it -- in a courtroom?


FTR: No! In a congressional hearing, two-thirds of which function as propaganda. But the witnesses have to swear to tell the truth, and can be prosecuted for perjury. Which is why everyone has an opinion -- you might be ridiculed for expressing it, but not sued or indicted. Opinions are good, testimony is bad. And any sort of statement where you commit to achieve anything measurable is to be avoided, period.


TSW: [Laughter, in part to cover his mild confusion] I look forward to more such insights about what you and a few other people I've met here call “The Washington Beltway.”


FTR: And I look forward to several more drinks. Makes it easier to be cynical without sounding bitter! In any case -- we have our agenda, and I’ve picked up enough to get the likely rhythm of it. Your comments about good and evil, variety and modulation -– good place to dig further, yes?


TSW: Dig away.


FTR: I am fascinated by human nature, too. But I need to be candid with you. Just as you would never come across any of my analytical papers, I would never go looking for any of your productions. I haven't gone to a movie since 1993, and I quit watching TV in the late 1970s.


TSW: Why?


FTR: Unrelieved stupidity -- not on my part [chuckles], but what seemed to draw ratings during prime time. Three's Company, Dallas, Bionic Woman, The Gong Show, The Dukes of Hazard. Shows mostly starring well-off idiots, written mostly for poor ones of roughly similar IQs.


TSW: Did you read comic books as a kid?


FTR: [Startled] Why, yes -- I did.


TSW: Superman? Spiderman? Which ones?


FTR: [Now realizing that this isn't a Beltway type of conversation]. Actually, it was the cartoons. Top Cat and The Jetsons; the Walt Disney characters; Alvin and the Chipmunks -- they also existed in comic books. But I watched the shows, too, many of which came on in the evening.


TSW: Yep, Top Cat began in the '61 season, and The Jetsons in '62. All right, that's age 7, 8 or 9. Kid stuff. Whether in comic books or on TV. Might or might not have been an indicator. But -- a dozen years later -- why did you tune in to the Mystery Theater?


FTR: Because college was a shock to me. I lived off campus and had so much privacy it was intimidating. I had to learn to deal with solitude, and it became the single best way I could feed the mind. I wanted to make a mark, somehow, in the world, but suddenly realized how ignorant I was.


TSW: This was at -- ?


FTR: University of South Florida -- just north of Tampa. I wasn’t a recluse. Made some friends, dated now and then. Later I took the test and came out a mild extrovert. But all that solitude –- wow. I read about 200 books. Also watched political shows and news, and -- I don't know -- the Mystery Theater came on WFLA radio in Tampa each night at 10 p.m. So, there it was.


TSW: You don't recall what drew you to it?


FTR: [Pause] You know, I really don't.


TSW: What books -- back when you had all that time to read?


FTR: Same type I read now: Economics, history, current events, governmental analyses.


TSW: Why didn't you go to the campus library and check out books by -- let's say -- Ed McBain, or Raymond Chandler, or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?


FTR: That's easy -- I would not have known who they were! Even now, I only recognize one of those names.


TSW: They are three masters of detective fiction.


FTR: Very well. I mean -- good for them. But I needed to read the type of thing I intended someday to write.


TSW: Because the product would be -- Journalism? News accounts?


FTR: It took awhile to get clear on that. I could've written for newspapers, but I met a guy who got elected to Congress. Because I worked in his campaign, I got to come up here, with him, in 1978. Stayed on Capitol Hill -- the local term for Congress -- for five years. Learned the public-policy trade.


TSW: That refers to -- what? How government works?


FTR: More like what the government should be doing. Or thinks it is doing, but really isn't.


The waiter comes back, looking a little irked, and they agree to order their meals in another half an hour. Another chunk of bread is enough for now...


More Background (only for those who think they need it)
The Futurist will soon refer to think tanks. Perhaps you'd like a definition: "A group of people who collectively perform research and develop reports and recommendations on topics relating to strategic planning or public policy, and which is usually funded by corporate, government, or special interests." (Taken from www.Definitions.net)
From 1984 through 2000, FTR worked at the U.S. Department of Commerce. His relocation to the Pacific Northwest took place a few months before the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001. Within 18 months, he was finding expense-paid excuses to come back east. There is nothing so satisfying as being a visitor to the Nation's capital with enough -- just enough -- experience to feel like an insider. You can use airfare to make believe you are not trapped. But FTR
sounds trapped: Trapped between the gauzy irrelevance of the Pacific Northwest, and the innate inanities of the Washington Beltway.
The Scriptwriter does not know Washington at all. Yet, on this five-day visit in 2006, he'll be tasked to impersonate a lobbyist. He is therefore seeking favors in a strange realm. Nothing to do with "pork," and only incidentally relating to pineapple. What TSW needs are signatures, and referrals, and staff engagement, from the Senators and Congresspeople who represent the state of Hawaii. Why? Because he intends to generate enthusiasm for a prime-time revival of the TV classic Hawaii Five-O.
That's the kind of venturesome project one might expect from TSW. He divides his time between New York City and Los Angeles, as befits a veteran of mystery and suspense productions. Year by year, he moves away from one-shot no-royalty assignments and toward flexible partnerships that can lock in repeat revenues. His network is a mere 60 to 75 people -- narrow but deep -- and he never makes speeches or appears on TV. An intuitive business operative, TSW has a mind that creates fantasies as a way to represent reality.
What do these two have in common? They escaped from college in the same year -- 1976 -- and are fellow Intuitives. Beyond those overlaps -- not much. FTR considers himself a fact-finder and trend-delineator; he never reads novels, his favorite author is Alvin Toffler, with Peter Schwartz a close second. He spends a lot of time in front of the PC, swears by the WSJ, and feels SOL whenever his software looks DOA. The Futurist is as macro -- a determined globalist (though he shies away from that hackneyed word) -- as The Scriptwriter is micro. TSW can't grasp anything so fuzzy as a "principle" or an "ethic" unless he can see -- or imagine, and then script -- characters who are living it out.
Their friend Gregorsky is paying for dinner. That's right -- you are 35% of the way through it. Over 8 1/2 years later. Awkward moments, dangling threads and dumb jokes have been removed, except where they contribute something to the plot...



HUNCH: If you are still reading this, you must be in one of these three camps: (1) You are a nonfiction writer but have been blocked for months if not years. (2) You are an intellectual who watches detective shows and absorbs crime novels while preferring that no one outside your household know that fact. (3) You're coming around to the realization that Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and two-inch screens, 24/7/365 and text messages that function like the uppers and downers in that Rolling Stones song -- “Mother’s Little Helper” (1966) – add up to a formula for Adult Onset Autism. In other words, you sense that a mass increase in the hourly functionality of Americans has come at the cost of seeing things whole.


PART 3 -- Do They Each Use Language to Enlist or Persuade?


TSW: It's true that my work would not expose me to yours. But -- Frank did send me a few of your papers. You live in Portland now, but your think tank is located in Seattle?


FTR: Right: Discovery Institute -- since 2001. I go up and down the west coast, including Canada, talking with policy innovators, business execs, and tech operatives. It was a change from the job I had here with the Commerce Department -- 16 years.


TSW: And that was -- ?


FTR: By the time I left, it was: Resident Futurist. That meant being unofficial Commerce Department ambassador to all the think tanks -- AEI, Brookings, Progress & Freedom, the Urban Institute, CATO, Heritage, the New America Foundation, and a few others.


TSW: You had arrived.


FTR: I had a solid platform, one that was also flexible. Work was Intellectually stimulating.


TSW: With all that reading –- either during college or later on -- who later became your favorite novelist?


FTR: [Having heard this inquiry too often] I don't have one.


TSW: Did you ever read Advise and Consent? That book was offered to me in college as "all you ever needed to know about politics in Washington" -- quote, unquote. I did see the movie.


FTR: I skipped the movie and the book. But one of my bosses in Congress, early 1980s, would shove novels, movie plots and TV characters at us -- "us" being the staff -- all the time. Drove me out of my blinkin' mind. "What Would Indiana Jones Do?," he would ask in a staff meeting. The Hell if I knew. I preferred to read histories of federal spending programs and energy prices.


TSW: [Jaw dropping, but continuing to smile genially]


FTR: [Realizing the self-caricature, and smiling back] Hey -- you would be surprised at what workaholics consider thrilling reading here. By the same token, most of the people who make a living at politics would find your novels, movies and TV dramas utterly beside the point.


TSW: Because -- why? They think they don't need a so-called escape?


FTR: No, because they don't need to read made-up material to experience adventure. Political novels are only read in Washington if the reader knows the author and thinks he or she might have used you as one of the characters. Stuff happens in this town that doesn't need to be made up. Forget the phony car chases. Here, whole institutions catch on fire.


TSW: You mean scandals.


FTR: I'm speaking more broadly -- any situation where the power, prestige and pensions of a lot of people are in jeopardy. And sometimes they need to be -- "scandal" might have nothing to do with it -- not when systems and organizations have to be adjusted for the country's sake. Most people our age have read about the social stress and human carnage of World War Two. That was then followed by the uniformed military population shrinking by 90% -- in the space of 12 months!


TSW: Sure. "Demobilization." One of my uncles was somehow caught up in that.


FTR: But -- bureaucratically -- President Truman trying to unify the armed services led to a non-battlefield sort of trauma: Mass reallocation of budgets, titles, and office space. So much so that, in 1949, the Secretary of Defense jumped out of a window. Plunged over a dozen stories -- out of the National Naval Medical Center up in Bethesda -- and killed himself. Only two years ago did a blue-ribbon panel decide -- as if they could really know -- how it happened.


TSW: I've heard about that situation. Oliver Stone might have worked it into one of his scripts.


FTR: What? [Makes a face] Give me a break. That guy would be a prime example of how some of your friends can turn a paranoid leftist into a millionaire many times over.


TSW: My friends??? No, the movie-going public did that! At this point -- you can credit our two rounds of drinks -- I'm going to avoid a political argument. Remember, I'm here on business [smiling benignly]. What kind of mystery and thrills have your associates in politics and government offered since?


FTR: Since Oliver Stone? [Miffed because an argument was averted]


TSW: No, since the Defense guy jumped out of that window.


FTR: Well -- when you and I were starting college -- all those Watergate plots and characters? [Pause] Actually, I’m not sure what sort of evidence we are contrasting here.


TSW: [Pause] It feels to me like a clash -- let's say an honest one, too -- about whether you need to go beyond reality -- beyond documents, and individuals with real names -- to represent contemporary America. You are sort of offering the government of the U.S. as a soap opera and in some cases a crime drama where, to use the current phrase, "you can't make this stuff up."


FTR: Well [pause] -- okay, that's fair. In my view, nothing needs to be made up. Uncovered, reconsidered, put into a new framework, sure. But not invented. For 30 years I've had plenty of mental stimulation and an array of reality "baths" without ever reaching for a bestselling novel.


TSW: You know -- it doesn't matter that I waited until tonight to read Frank's memo. I can see why he expects us to exchange views.


FTR: Something to do with having so little in common.


TSW: Or nothing that would be obvious from the resumes, except -- how about this? -- a professional reliance on the written word. On the phone a week ago, Frank called it a professional imperative to enlist or otherwise persuade, mostly by language. I wrote down that phrase. Tells me a lot more than his memo (and remember, I didn't think we could open the envelope). He assumes that we each do this.


FTR: Seriously? [Pause] “Enlist or persuade.”


TSW: Yeah. Just try that out. Isn't that part of what you get paid to do?


FTR: [Intending to be precise about terms] When I publish an analytical paper, or speak to a civics group in Northern Virginia, I'll be setting forth a perspective, and that would be a form -- a mild form -- of persuasion. But it's the activists who do the enlisting. And, for at least 10 years, political life and media feel like nine parts enlistment to only one part persuasion.


TSW: "The activists" --


FTR: Interest groups. Organized mobs. Entities who generate form letters and canned e-mail.


TSW: And they aren't engaged in persuasion?


FTR: Persuasive language is different from incitement aimed at prompting your side to go fight the guys on the other side of the issue.


TSW: We'll get to that. I do need to hear more from you about how this place works -- and, what you have shared so far -- not encouraging! But -- so what. I like this restaurant menu. It's time to study that. We can be persuaded by dishes that are written up in a compelling way.


FTR: Fine. But, about those functions -- "enlist and persuade." Lots of Hollywood scripts do exactly that, do they not? Actually, it should be the other way around: Persuade and Enlist.


TSW: We can come back to this whole realm of "enlist or persuade." I know I have to do both with the Congressional people from Hawaii, before flying back west. But I don't know that my scripts are about persuasion, let alone enlistment. Autodidacts tend to be bad at persuasion.


FTR: Why?


TSW: Because once we have convinced ourselves, the argument is over. It's just fine to move on to the next topic!


Seeing FTR and TSW both studying their menus, the waiter makes his move and stands there until they each choose a meal. It's getting close to 7 p.m.


PART 4 -- Lost Chords, Mingled Roles, and Radio Scripts


TSW: By the way, can you talk a little about how or why you know Gregorsky?


FTR: These days, he plies his trade as a book editor. Like me, Frank is a consistent nonfiction man. During the '90s he worked for a succession of think tanks; that's why we'd cross paths now and then. All the same, this is a town where jobs kind of mix and mingle, and sometimes they mangle.


TSW: How?


FTR: Lawyers end up becoming legislative technicians. Legislative technicians end up being overpaid by large corporations. Lobbyists lecture at George Washington University -- pretending to be professors, when they still feel a little like whores. And journalists go on cable TV shows (so much air time to fill these days) and come across like lobbyists, or -- much worse -- like ideologues.


TSW: Something tells me you don't use that particular rundown in your speeches to the civic groups.


FTR: One has to sound wise without coming across as a smart-aleck.


TSW: You don't need to worry about that here. I am not the reactive type. Learning about scriptwriting trained me to go back and forth in time, and sometimes around in circular plots. Which means I am never totally in the moment -- unless of course a fire breaks out!


FTR: [Appreciative laughter, along with the thought: "This guy is different."]


TSW: Okay, so Frank's a book editor now. And he used to be one of these think tankers?


FTR: More or less. But -- he always struck me a natural journalist. I can sit there and he and I will both fire questions at each other. (I already told you how rare that is in Washington DC.) He could probably offer you the same kind of political pointers I'll be able to.


TSW: Fine. I'll get a second opinion.


FTR: At the same time, Frank would not have brought us together this evening to talk about movies, and surely not docudramas. He would most likely have sat there with his own skeptical questions -- about your industry, and all the left-wingers it has made rich. Which makes me wonder: How did you meet him?


TSW: At a Red Circle D.C. meeting just north of here. Told me how a girlfriend -- years ago; someone named Liz -- had tried to get him to come to one of these meetings. He also said: "Maybe she had the right idea."


FTR: And just what is the Red Circle D.C.?


TSW: A group that meets every few months to look into some aspect of Sherlock Holmes. Goes back to 1951, and run by the same fellow since 1970 -- a very witty engineer named Peter Blau.


FTR: [Dumbfounded] Frank Gregorsky, with that kind of a group? That is really news. Although [long pause] -- it could fit the pattern of one more person our age looking for some kind of lost chord. A lot of people in this town are doing that, although you wouldn't know it from their frantic pace. Anyway -- why were you so far from home and showing up at a Sherlock Holmes group?


TSW: It was one of the few times I've had to be in D.C. I keep track of the various Holmes societies here and in the U.K. and drop in now and then. Why not? My business is Detectives, and Holmes and Dr. Watson are onto their 7th or 8th generation of admirers. Actually [Scriptwriter jerks as if poked] -- do you mind if we try something? I'd have to do the type of thing you just about gagged at a minute ago.


FTR: What do you mean?


TSW: I'd like to lay out a radio script.


FTR: [Disoriented by the movement from think tanks to Sherlock Holmes to -- jeez, what next?]


TSW: Just let me play this out. Might take 20 minutes. But there's a huge point back of it.


FTR: Well [slight choking sound] -- go on.


TSW: There was a radio cop show -- actually, there were a couple of dozen such shows -- but this one went off the air right about the time you and I were born. Himan Brown clued me into it. He even loaned me some of his old tapes. There are actually people collecting episodes -- to turn into dot-mp3 files for the Web.


FTR: What is it? Or what was it?


TSW: Broadway is My Beat, starring Detective Danny Clover.


FTR: "Broadway" -- where the New York City theaters are?


TSW: And much else. In this case, at least one murder per episode.


FTR: Ohhh, wonderful. High-class intellectual engagement [smiling not entirely good-naturedly].


TSW: No, the Reality of the Big Apple 50 years ago. I'll condense as much as possible, but -- I'd like you to sense the power of one of these radio dramas.


FTR: If I could make sense of E.G. Marshall narrating the Mystery Theater, I should be able to process something from the actual Golden Age of Radio.


TSW: It is definitely from that vintage period, and a marvelous specimen. [Looking around] Hmmm -- no sign of our food. Maybe it's the waiter's turn to make us do the waiting? I'll dive in to the script and trust you will humor me.


FTR: The food will get here and that will provide the station break.



PART 5 -- The Desolation From Another Grim Episode


TSW: For nearly the whole of the series, Inspector Danny Clover was played by Larry Thor, who died at age 59 -- too young -- in fact, the same year I met Himan Brown. Thor's character, and what he put into it, are one of a kind. He was not a private "dick," but a public cop, and very public with his emotions. And, just like the series title says, Broadway was his "beat."


FTR: So go ahead, then. Walk me through a whole one of these tales.


TSW: Starts at the Globe Secretarial School. It's in a four-story building. When Clover shows up, we hear the typewriters in the background. The place is run by a husband and wife -- Carl and Sylvia Hewitt. They both do some teaching. This is an episode from 1952. In the recreation room, one of the students -- Lois Conrad -- turns up with a knife through her heart.


FTR: [Eyes rolling plus a suppressed snort]


TSW: Just bear with me. Clover begins his work. The Hewitts are rattled -- obviously. The School is a virtual open house, all day. No one knows how this terrible thing happened. The body was discovered by another student, Peg Lindsey, a character who briefly comes under suspicion but says just enough, when pressed, to steer Clover in a new direction. First, Clover has to go break the news to Lois's dad, a superintendent who blocks it for a minute, then sobs hysterically. He points a finger at Lois's current boyfriend, Frankie Wilson. This Wilson kid runs a shoeshine stand in Central Park. Clover goes there next. Wilson tells him: "She was a cinch to wind up dead."


FTR: Party girl?


TSW: Worse than that. What was called, when you and I were in high school, a prick-teaser.


FTR: Whoa. And not long out of high school herself. Right there in New York City.


TSW: On Broadway -- what Thor calls, at the end of every episode, "the gaudiest, the most violent, the lonesomest mile in the world." In some episodes he will be close to tears as he uses those words to frame the desolation from another grim episode.


FTR: Why? He doesn't find the culprit?


TSW: Oh, he always finds the culprit. But solving the crime -- and it was usually this way on radio -- does not make for a "happy" ending. Not even close. There are rarely any heroes among the sprawling array of characters in these episodes, unless of course one of them has ended up being the victim.


FTR: But -- you say Clover is emotionally torn up by this daily grind?


TSW: That's putting it mildly. Like Steve McGarrett or Joe Friday, Clover is methodical in an admirable way. He's also -- much more than those two -- abrupt and often rude to his colleagues. His version of "torn up" calls for brooding pit stops but no defeatism. But the difference is -- he is a "feeler." Totally unlike Phil Marlowe, who was the archetypal tough-ass detective in that period right before TV took over 50 million living rooms.


FTR: [Restrained by ambivalence] So far, the plot is underwhelming. But the character of Clover is curious [pause] -- I guess I mean to say -- you're encouraging my curiosity about him.


TSW: It isn't just the character. This Broadway series was always gripping. It was detective radio at its zenith. The listener was offered depth and compassion, along with the flashes of evil and streetwise heartlessness. The performers were consistently great. And -- for me, professionally, here's the big plus: The plots are often plausible.


FTR: What do you mean?


TSW: I mean -- the scriptwriters for Broadway, especially Morton Fine, rarely took the lazy way out. They didn't come up with some nutty million-to-one twist just because they only had six more minutes of air time to work with. I know the team that is scouring the country for all the episodes, many of which exist -- believe it or not -- not on tape but on vinyl.


FTR: One more surprise. But go ahead and finish up this episode.


TSW: While Clover is dealing with the dead girl's dad, her most recent boyfriend, and with her sometimes pal and protector Peg, two of his colleagues are interviewing students at this Globe School to train secretaries. Some of them tell him that Mrs. Hewitt is the jealous type.


FTR: So -- the wife finally had it up to here with this Conrad girl?


TSW: Yeah, the prick-teaser. Although, by this point, it might have been anyone that led to a boil-over. Remember, according to some other students, game-playing and resentment are a long-running "shtick" for the married couple that owns the School. Her husband is the power figure surrounded by freshly minted adult females, and she -- Mrs. Hewitt -- is on the same floor of the building every day. What happens here is conveyed as the bitter end of a very long trail.


FTR: The tension is always evident.


TSW: Not just in this one, but in every detective story. Even when the action appears to stop, the tension should never leave. Because -- we don't want the viewer to leave! Anyway, Mrs. Hewitt calls up Clover, and tells him -- and I especially remember this moment in the soundtrack: "You better arrest me. I killed Lois Conrad. I stabbed her to death." And yet -- this episode is not even 60% complete.


FTR: Why is that significant? The listener is learning something pivotal.


TSW: Well -- not really. Remember the structure of network entertainment, especially when murder is the crime. Mrs. Hewitt can't be the murderer! Too much time left in the episode! Clover and his colleague conclude as much -- she didn't do it -- by her inability to answer nuts-and-bolts questions about the deed itself. But Sylvia Hewitt insists on swearing out a confession -- they're at the station by this time. She also insists Clover call her husband and report on all this.


FTR: And the husband is shattered?


TSW: No. He takes it calmly. Clover has also put the heat on Peg Lindsey, who tells him that her semi-friend Lois was "crazy." She would leave her father's place at 7 p.m., have a date, crash for a while at Peg's, and then head for some hotel down the street. The father had called his daughter a "good girl," but on Clover's second visit he admits she had been out of control for months.


FTR: At least this Peg friend knew to avoid the worst of it. Now what?


TSW: Go to that hotel. Find out what Lois Conrad's real m.o. was.


FTR: All of this is taking place on Broadway.


TSW: Just like that old Drifters song!


The waiter materializes with a status report. He has regained his jauntiness, maybe because he's making the patrons do some waiting. FTR needs to address the kidney function, and TSW has to confirm two Capitol Hill meetings next day. Recorder is turned off. We'll return to their dinner discussion after this highly pertinent station break…


Emma Rodero, a communications professor at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, studies how audio productions retain people’s attention. Her work has shown that a dramatized audio structure, using voice actors who tell the story exclusively through dialogue, stimulate listeners’ imagination more than a typical “voice of God” narration. Participants who listened to the dramatized structure reported that they generated more vivid images in their minds, and conjured the images more quickly and easily, than those in the narration condition. They also reported being more emotionally aroused and interested in the story.
PREVIEW: It has always been stated that the radio is the invisible medium that has the greatest effect in stimulating the imagination of listeners. Therefore, this article intends to compare two kinds of presentation structure -- dramatisation versus narration -- in a fictional radio story to determine the extent to which the imagination is aroused and the point to which the listener becomes involved…


PART 6 -- "Now You'll Rot in Jail -- and No One Will Grieve"


FTR: Look, I might actually listen to a few episodes from this series sometime. I mean, I always thought radio was a healthier technology -- a better way to entertain a populace, allow the mind to hear and to imagine, if that's part of the goal -- than TV and movies. But -- we still need to get to the point of this particular example.


TSW: Which looks like it can happen before our meals arrive! So: When Carl Hewitt comes down to the police station, the damnedest thing happens -- subtly. Inspector Clover and Mrs. Hewitt commence a tag-team alliance against him. But first she has to be disillusioned.


FTR: I thought that happened years ago.


TSW: It did. But she has made a supreme effort on a new wager. Husband walks in. Wife exclaims: "Carl. Carl! You came to me." Carl asks for a moment of privacy with Sylvia. Clover naturally denies the request. Carl tells his wife he'll do everything he can, find her a good lawyer -- "to make it easier for you." That's when she switches sides. Doesn't her husband get it? "I confessed that I killed that girl." He thinks he understands the plan. "I'll do all the things a husband is supposed to do..."


FTR: I'm not getting it. She killed Lois Conrad to test her husband's ultimate loyalty??


TSW: No! She confessed to killing Lois Conrad to see how much "husband" is still left in this game-playing weasel! And he fails the test, big-time. She screams at him. "You’d LET me go to the electric chair?!? I confessed because I LOVED you, Carl. Show you what a wife is to a man. Not some skinny girl in your class. You know what love is? WHAT I DID FOR YOU!"



FTR: Okay [pause]. My God -- you've got the lines memorized?


TSW: Damn right, friend. The digital mini-vault on my tombstone will house a couple of dozen audio clips, and not all of them will be from "my" productions. This climax from the Broadway episode of April 12, 1952, is one of the best.


FTR: Go on. I'm engaged. But I'm also past the point of mere impatience about the meals arriving.


TSW: Sylvia Hewitt's voice is rasping now. Indignation, rage, desperation. This woman was a very good radio actress. Many of these subordinate players were all over suspense, drama and detective shows in those days. Probably weren't more than 50 or 75 of them in the entire profession -- an amazing subculture.


FTR: The story!


TSW: Ahhh, you see? Here all I'm doing is paraphrase, condense and a bit of quoting -- and you're into it.


FTR: [Grimacing, but with a snort of agreement]


TSW: Clover's colleague Tartaglia found out from an elevator boy that Carl Hewitt took his cocker spaniel for a walk -- at 1 a.m. -- and they ended up at the hotel. But Lois wouldn't see him. She had a "ha ha" laugh that got rid of Frankie Wilson -- but it didn't work with Carl Hewitt.


FTR: [Pause] So he's the killer -- but he's really not the story.


TSW: Right! The star of this drama is Mrs. Hewitt. When he tries to tell her "you don't know what that girl was," she replies: "But you knew. You found out. And still you kept trying her -- and still she kept LAUGHING at you." What Sylvia wanted was Carl's protest against her going to prison -- for something HE had done. "Just that, Carl. Now you'll ROT in jail -- and no one will grieve."


FTR: How do the producers end the episode?


TSW: The way I just recounted it for you. Larry Thor -- Inspector Danny Clover -- does not have to explain a blessed thing to us listeners. He merely ends with his trademark philosophizing about love, crime and desolation on Broadway, New York City, 50+ years ago.


Dinner is finally served. The recording gets clattery for the next 20 or 25 minutes. FTR almost shut it off, but figured Gregorsky should have a complete account. TSW doesn't care either way. He is doing a lively dump about radio detectives who dominated the genre from the early 1940s to the late '50s. FTR admits to liking McMillan and Wife from the early '70s. That show, reveals TSW, is newly available on DVDs...


PART 7 (rejoined in progress) -- Relentless Interviewers


TSW: And so -- I contend that great drama meets my test for honest reality. It ends up being educational. I also believe that some plots take one too many crazy leaps. This is the lazy scriptwriter's way out -- like an ejector seat for a plane ride that has them sick to the point of disorientation. It's what happens when a mystery or detective script becomes clever and gimmicky, rather than what I term "diabolically unified." With the latter type of plot -- a quality script -- there are enough plausible twists and shocks so that the viewer or listener concludes: Okay, it could have happened that way for real.


FTR: [Still thinking how interesting it would be to relive his high-school crush on Commissioner McMillan's TV wife as played by Susan St. James] If more of this type of programming adhered to the standard you just fleshed out, I might watch, listen, or read it. Well, now and then.


TSW: I would never defend the whole genre as plausible -- maybe just the best 33% of it. But I do put the Broadway episodes -- those dug up so far -- at that level of quality. Life could have happened the way they usually showed it.


FTR: But you just said -- something like -- "it ends up being educational." I have to take issue there. "Educational"? What can anybody learn in that short of a space? You say human nature is on parade. The sample you just recounted seems pretty damn dark. Where is the heroism?


TSW: Like I admitted, it's rarely among the array of characters that populate this or that episode. But -- in Broadway is My Beat week to week? -- the "heroism," or at least the thing to admire and learn from, is the way Clover gets up each day and solves crimes. Informs the murdered girl's father. Does his spontaneous interviewing. By the way, if you really believe in being a resolute asker of questions, pay attention to these old broadcasts.


FTR: [Another look of skeptical surprise...]


TSW: No, I mean it. Watch Mike Stone -- Karl Malden -- map out the details and the probabilities of a case in the first 10 to 20 minutes of Streets of San Francisco. The best detectives are relentless interviewers; they have to be.


FTR: Well -- I'm still stuck on how you are trying to elevate these radio and TV detectives. Jesus [pause] -- if people in the Washington Beltway starting firing off prosecutorial inquiries, at dinner parties, like Steve McGarrett did (and by the way, that's another cop show both my dad and I watched when I was in high school), I mean -- the malicious side of my sense of humor could run wild.


TSW: I'm not trying to get you into trouble. One purpose of tonight is for you to show me how to be effective in this town, as opposed to my showing you how to get thrown out of a dinner party.


FTR: We'll get to your purpose, I promise -- although I am thinking we might need a second dinner to do it right.


TSW: I'm in town for the next five days [he says genially].


FTR: I still resist your blithe defense of fiction over fact as the better way to convey reality. And the only time you use text is to write a TV or movie script. You don't aspire to write novels?


TSW: Hell no. I need to see, or at least hear, good actors using my words and thoughts. But I also use text to produce business plans. Got to keep bread on the table, you know.


FTR: If I want to read fiction -- and I haven't yet been tempted that way -- I'd probably check out one of those 500-page James Michener monsters -- you know, Alaska, Space, Poland, or Centennial.


TSW: So why don't you? Sounds like too much work to me. Way too many pages!


FTR: I'd rather read a serious history, regardless of the length. But, if I have to read fiction, it can't be shallow.


TSW: Detective shows are not shallow! I mean, certain ones are; maybe you're half right. "Barry Craig," played by William Gargan, was a wise guy, and eight of every 10 of his utterances had the same inflection. Too droll for my tastes. In the end, not believable. No intensity like McGarrett, and no feeling or "soul" like Danny Clover or Mike Stone. But, if you look at any of the classic radio and TV detective programming -- again, those plots can't be delivered except as a series of conversations, most of which are confrontations.


FTR: [Now more interested than skeptical] Okay. So?


TSW: So, there's your action. Forget the car crashes and explosions. Detective drama is mostly about the clash of individuals, and mostly about language, rather than weapons. That's why this genre has been around for something like seven generations. Even longer, if you go back to Dostoevsky and Edgar Allen Poe.


FTR: Is that really where it started?


TSW: A few people take it back that far. R.D. Collins posted a great piece doing that a couple of years ago. Regardless, don't trivialize the substance and movement as spills and kills. Okay, Hollywood has gone off the deep end there. Some of these "action" films are as idiotic and brainless -- many of them -- as you say Three's Company was 30 years ago. But detective fiction, when it's done right, is also conceptual and linguistic, with the radio versions of it having to be even better, in those ways, than some of the later TV classics.


FTR: [Pausing] Washington has a form of that -- if we are going to liken methods, and my world to yours, and seeking some kind of educational or civic upside. I refer to election debates, as well as some of the in-your-face interviews, along with joint appearances by people who have nothing in common philosophically.


TSW: I occasionally catch some of those -- debates and interviews about politics -- while too tired in a hotel room to change the channel.


FTR: And?


TSW: They remind me of championship wrestling. By people with suits on.


FTR: [Doing one more double-take]


TSW: [Because he is starting to appreciate the Futurist] Sorry -- I didn’t mean that as smart-ass. One problem is that I couldn't follow half of the things they were referring to. Dueling mouths.


FTR: The cable networks overdo it. Activists talk in shorthand and have told themselves it's necessary to fight dirty. The partisan hacks have been that way for even longer -- except, unlike the true believers, the hacks don't believe half of what they say. The viewers in each party tune in not to be informed but to -- well, it’s hard to say.


TSW: To keep in shape?


FTR: To get in shape. Train their minds, or at least their tongues. So they can fight the same political battles locally.


TSW: Do you coach people on how to make arguments and engage in political fights?


FTR: Not at all. I'm a futurist who respects history and finds the present disorienting.


TSW: When will I get to hear what a "futurist" does day to day and week to week?


FTR: I'm going to give that a try. But not tonight.


PART 8 -- Clue by Clue, Scene by Scene, Structure versus Plot


FTR: Let me go back to your line about “map out the details and the probabilities of a case.” For some crazy reason, that phrasing is sticking with me. Yes, I can see how that does occur -- and is probably basic to -- all of these detective presentations. The viewer who pays attention is rewarded by seeing a whole bunch of things come together.


TSW: In some cases, that same viewer has already seen most of the evil deed or event -- in the opening segment -- and then they get to eavesdrop to see how the good guys figure it out. That's the Voyeur Factor, and it lets the viewer feel like a participant. Keep him tuned in. Can really make him think, too.


FTR: Don't gag at the comparison, but: During a well-moderated political broadcast, “cases” are being assembled, and also taken apart.


TSW: Okay [long pause]. Not theories about a crime, but -- some kind of back and forth about what's going on in the country now, and what to do better, or where to proceed next?


FTR: More or less, yes.


TSW: Which means that a voter can learn from watching two candidates for office go back and forth? "Educational," then?


FTR: Sure! Fifty million people watched Kennedy and Nixon debate in 1960. And when you have that big of an audience, you get the after-effect of viewers comparing notes.


TSW: And do you, being a Washington operative and "serious" writer, think debates are shallow?


FTR: Not the good ones. As I said, they need to be well-moderated. I am holding them up as a real-world way to inform the population about matters basic to running a huge country. If you knew the hundreds of man-hours that go into preparing for the critical debates, it's like acquiring a Masters Thesis -- in Public Relations as well as Government. The viewers learn something too -- about the issues, and about the character of each candidate.


TSW: That's more or less what I thought you'd say. And, never mind the substance -- or I should say, the substance benefits from the rhythm -- the Ping-Pong -- the This versus That, the he versus she. Right?


FTR: [Pause] Yeah. I never looked at a political debate in that kind of [pause] "mechanical" way, but -- fine. You have a bias toward structural discernment. I am more looking for the rule or the repeating logic -- the factor or factors that explain why something in real life keeps playing out.


TSW: And why does that matter?


FTR: Because when you figure those things out, you can make better forecasts. And avoid getting side-effects and symptoms mixed up with fundamental factors.


TSW: Hmmmm. Well, I'm good with your word Structure. It's a great umbrella term. A lot of people in my business don't understand that. They think plot and structure are the same thing.


FTR: How do they differ?


TSW: Structure is always there, yet rarely visible in its own light, and can be better grasped by leaving out 80% of the personalities and the detail. Back and forth -- modulation -- steady clue-seeking, mixed with shattering revelations and horrid deeds -- are the structure of a solid detective series. The "players" in each case are really doing their best to attract -- and hold -- and convince -- an audience. The best scriptwriters have to hold that audience.


FTR: And so -- those good writers keep in mind what the structure is.


TSW: Right -- although after awhile it becomes second nature. That frees them to make sure the characters stay compelling (either for good or for evil). And -- maybe I'm wrong here -- but so do your professional political guys and gals. They have to "make" their case, to motivate the voter, while the leading characters offered by detective scriptwriters have to solve their case, in order to wrap up the drama for the viewership.


FTR: That sorta holds. Keep going.


TSW: And the production -- the back and forth; getting past false statements, and so on -- is a minute-by-minute process. Clue by clue, scene by scene, suspect by suspect. One confrontation after another.


FTR: "The process" -- you mean: The process aimed at holding the audience.


TSW: In a business or marketing sense, that would be the process. Artistically, of course, the process is about the struggle between the criminals and the investigators.


FTR: Yeah, and that struggle is also what keeps people tuned in; or keeps them coming back, in the case of a TV series -- for a purpose?


TSW: There are many purposes -- goals, needs -- a viewer shows up with, at least unconsciously.


PART 9 -- "They think they want it now, but they really don't"


FTR: This is a bit of a leap but -- as you talk about clues, scenes, and people following this or that trail, while coming to understand a complex situation or "case" -- I occasionally worry that this country will shrink its average attention span down to that of a fruit fly.


TSW: [Now it's his turn to be startled -- though it will quickly pass]


FTR: I went to a technology conference where some fellow from Nokia said that, by 2015, a majority of the country will be carrying around something smaller than a cigarette pack and nearly all of the user's information -- individual, family, social-group, and professional -- will be sent out, or consumed, in 100-word batches.


TSW: Seems plausible, as America continues to move from broadcasting to narrowcasting. Which means the shortest distance between two humans is going to become -- what, three dozen chunks of information during a day or a week? Slice and Dice our way to Paradise? If true, that might become a problem for my profession.


FTR: But tactical information exchange works well elsewhere. Take project-management. A large array of tasks with a confirmed deadline six or eight weeks from now, and a defined universe of contributors -- vendors, discussants, or whoever's engaged -- is much easier to accomplish on-line. Doesn't matter if it’s a wedding, or putting together a conference panel.


TSW: No question about it.


FTR: At the same time, eight weeks to achieve a goal requires an attention span. What about all the information that flies around that is not attached to a project?


TSW: [Pause] What about it? People page through a newspaper just to keep up with current events. Most of what they scan has nothing to do with deadlines or a specific project.


FTR: All right, here's a specific situation. There's a web platform called "My Space" that has caught fire. A friend of mine, Ladonna Lee, is running a Senate campaign up in Montana, and she says all the under-30s supposedly working for the candidate use this "My Space" to exchange views; the problem is, most of what they "share" has nothing to do with their job! And the bigger problem is that middle-aged voters are not calling the campaign office, while the staff is hardly phoning the voters.


TSW: Okay [pause]. So, imagine the mish-mash if everyone was carrying around a tiny computer, and it's easier to send an "update" to 100 people without having to create an e-mail roster or be plugged into an AC receptacle or worry about the employer taking away your Blackberry.


FTR: Exactly. And, if anyone can call up anything, there is little point in storing anything; and if you don't store information, that means you have decided it's alright to depend on devices that give "anything" to you right away. At least -- anything informational.


TSW: No more file cabinets. And a thousand songs in your shirt pocket -- the success of the iPod.


FTR: But how many of those songs can anyone listen to on a three-day trip? And, if a person doesn't need file cabinets for the more important items -- legal documents, family images, confidential plans -- what does that do to their ability to categorize types of information and deploy certain items long-term?


TSW: I don't know. I'm not a writer of anything more than business plans and, for old time's sake, a cops-and-robber script or detailed plot concept. Word-processors are wonderful. And the majority of my files are audio and video, so what I need is a server, not a metal file cabinet.


FTR: Okay. But creating a movie script is a goal, just like a 40-page analytical report would be the objective in my own case. The goal -- the very nature of the product -- compels us to do the sequencing, part of which promotes a chain of logic.


TSW: Disciplined thinking. Sequential development. One thing naturally leads to another, and it starts in our head --


FTR: Right. And then it's produced and finalized with an audience in mind.


TSW: And, as narrowcasting replaces broadcasting, audiences get much smaller.


FTR: Not only that, but -- the sender can become his or her own audience!


TSW: [Grinning] Which reminds me of all the scripts I've seen that only made sense to the person that wrote 'em!


FTR: [Speeding up, despite his mental fatigue] A weird article appeared in Business Week -- not quite two years ago. It described futuristic behavior on display right now in certain urban areas. The writer described a Multi-tasking Mob addicted to handheld wireless devices that are never turned off. These are hard-core business types, not My Space 20somethings. And normally I resist taking a trend and straight-lining it out to 80 or 90% of the population.


TSW: Good for you -- seriously! People who make those kinds of predictions tend to be allergic to modulation. (That's my favorite word, if you haven't already guessed.) They ignore the back and forth everywhere in our midst. They knew how to get our attention -- make some big scary statement! -- but not many of them can keep an audience. And do you know why that is?


FTR: Tell me.


TSW: Because these forecasters make time move too fast. No one appreciates anything when it comes too fast or too easy. They think they want everything fast, but they really don't. Every detective scriptwriter understands that.


FTR: [Slowing down] Too fast and too easy. Maybe you just handed me the theme for a civic-club speech: "So fast, so easy -- and on the way to being worthless." Something like 7% of Internet users already display the behaviors of an addict. An addict by definition has downgraded to a single method of gratification; and, however that gratification takes place, it must not be "deferred." But at least they have to sit in front of a screen and use a keyboard. They can't take the device in the car or to the bathroom with them.


TSW: Unless they are corporate "addicts" using Blackberries. I have a few contacts -- not Hollywood friends, who after all have a strong economic interest in preserving the one- and two-hour attention span, but so called digital types -- and they are anticipating that kind of society.


FTR: Not good [pausing to get a grip on a distracting line of thought].


CLOSING SCENE: A Case for the Durable Detective


TSW: Tens of millions of Americans walking around looking at little screens and sending bits of whatever to one another -- it does sound weird. And it's visible in some of the high-income urban locales now. On the other hand, it's not something I'm ready to worry about. It's hard to see such behavior becoming standard. Right now, there is as much movement to those big screens -- for TV or you computer -- as there is to those shirt-pocket phones with small displays.


FTR: Good point.


TSW: And there will always be a huge market -- 40 million American adults, minimum -- for the kind of semi-intricate and semi-scary detective and mystery productions I thrive on.


FTR: You sound sure about that.


TSW: I am sure about it. You can't communicate characters, great dialogue and a modulated experience in a bunch of e-mails or one of those smaller laptops -- what are they called?


FTR: Netbooks -- and also Notebooks.


TSW: They might justify a bit of use -- on a plane, with ear-buds.


FTR: [Trumping his unease with the knowledge that this discussion should make more sense after a few days of absorption...] Look, tonight has been good. Since you’re going to be in town for five more days, with tomorrow and Friday being work days, how about Sunday night instead of tomorrow? I’d like to digest some of the insights you have put on the table.


TSW: [A bit pensive] Well -- let me think. Actually -- I need some advice from you before Sunday night. I have meetings with political people tomorrow, Friday, and probably Monday.


FTR: Oh yes. Sorry -- I keep forgetting. In that case, I think [pause] we can split off that focused business purpose. Why don’t you call me either early tomorrow, from your hotel, or tomorrow evening, and tell what types of people you are meeting with? I’ll try to war-game it and give you some helpful angles. And it doesn't have to be just one call!


TSW: Good. It’s a deal. And then we’ll do the follow-up dinner Sunday night. Here’s my phone number at the Capitol Hyatt...


© 2015, Gregorsky Editorial Services and ExactingEditor.com


Futurist turns off the digital recorder. Back home, he uploads nearly three hours of audio from the portable to his PC (despite the stipulation that no copies would be kept by either dinner discussant) and also puts the set of dot-wav files on a flash drive to give to Gregorsky. Gregorsky will be the one who does most of the transcribing of this night from 2006. And he -- that is, I -- will eventually tell you what has become of the two mostly fictional individuals with whom you have just spent their opening engagement. Not until September 2011 -- per the original agreement -- was I permitted to do anything with what became their two evenings of recorded discussion. As you can see, it has taken somewhat longer. What needed to be done, and offered to clients I hope will find it valuable, only became visible during the Spring of 2013. And here it is, two additional years later. Nothing big gets done without a deadline, right? And sometimes it takes more than one...
NEXT INSTALLMENT -- Coming in October 2015