Summary: The studio executives find themselves caught between the series regulars, who want some fresh new story lines, and the fans, who want . . . well, you’ll see.
Word count: 2,650
ON THE OTHER HAND
Scene: Conference room. STUDIO EXECUTIVE #1, STUDIO EXECUTIVE #2, and STUDIO EXECUTIVE #3 are gathered around a table that is covered with envelopes in a variety of sizes, colors, and scents. STUDIO EXECUTIVE #1 holds a rose-scented sheet of pink paper.
STUDIO EXECUTIVE #1: Listen to this one. She thinks it would be fun if the Cartwrights formed a rock and roll band. She says, “You’d get so many more people swooning over Ben and the Boys than you’d ever see at a silly Beatles concert!”
STUDIO EXECUTIVE #2: Has she ever actually watched the show?
SE #1: Maybe she thinks Hop Sing will play the tambourine.
SE #2: Just don’t tell Greene. If he thought he’d get another chance to sing, he’d be on this like Blocker at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
STUDIO EXECUTIVE #3: I got one for you. This one wants them to move to San Francisco and become cops. She wants Ben to be a police chief, Adam to be his first lieutenant, and Hoss and Joe will be the detectives out on the street.
SE #2: These women have gone absolutely nuts!
SE #1: Here’s one—Ben’s going to find religion and become a priest!
SE #3: I thought Ben was already pretty religious.
SE #2: Compared to his sons, anyway. They’ll go after anything in a skirt.
SE #1: She thinks the boys should become lay ministers, whatever that is, and everybody should take a vow of celibacy.
SE #2: (spews his coffee across the table, dotting envelopes) Little Joe? The one who moved in with a hooker when he was 17?
SE #3: Julia Bulette was only a hooker in real life. In the show, she ran a saloon, and we never actually said Little Joe moved in with her.
SE #1: So when Adam said Joe left home, he meant the kid found himself a nice one-bedroom apartment in a building with a swimming pool and workout room?
SE #2: Guess he had the cash for a security deposit.
SE #3: Check this one out. She wants Hop Sing to open a restaurant!
SE #1: What are the Cartwrights supposed to do? Sit around and make Kung Pao chicken?
SE #2: Holy sh—wait a minute, guys. I have the winner! (holds up a sheet of yellow legal-sized paper, both sides covered in tidy blue ink)
SE #1: What does it say? (he takes the paper from SE #2 and reads, his eyes growing wide with disbelief)
SE #3: What? Lemme see! (grabs the paper; his mouth drops open as he reads) You can’t show this to them. It’s too— (he gestures, words failing him)
SE #1: Our assignment was to find some new and interesting story lines so the guys would stop complaining about how we keep rerunning the same stuff over and over. This fits the bill.
SE #2: This is the biggest load of wackadoo horse manure I’ve ever seen!
SE #1: Which is why it’s the perfect thing to show them. After this, they’ll be begging us to go back to the same old thing!
* * * * * * *
Scene: The Cartwrights’ living room
Present: Ben Cartwright, Adam Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright, Little Joe Cartwright, Candy Canaday, Jamie Hunter Cartwright, Studio Executive #1, Studio Executive #2, Studio Executive #3
SE #1: First of all, guys, the studio wants to you to know they’ve heard your concerns, and they completely appreciate what you’re saying. They realize that after all these years, things can get a little repetitive.
BEN: We’re very glad to hear that, Stan.
SE #1: I’m Phil.
SE #2: I’m Stan.
SE #3: I’m Ed.
HOSS: Dadgummit. I’d have sworn you were Stan.
ADAM: I can’t keep them straight.
JOE: Me neither.
BEN: You boys settle down. These fellows are here to talk about some of the new and fascinating stories ahead for us.
ADAM: I thought I was done with all this. You’ve got these two (gestures to Candy and Jamie).
JOE: Isn’t there supposed to be another young fellow? Name of Greg or something like that?
SE #2: Not yet. His name’s Griff, and he’s still in prison.
JOE: Hold on—you’re not sending us to jail again, are you?
HOSS: I’m with Joe. I done spent enough time in jail, and I’m always innocent.
BEN: We’re all always innocent.
ADAM: Except the time Hoss and Joe robbed that bank.
JAMIE: You robbed a bank?
JOE: We did it as a public service.
CANDY: Is that what they’re calling it these days?
HOSS: And we didn’t have to go to jail, so it doesn’t count.
SE #3: Listen, guys, we have a whole new story angle, and we’re going to need all of you to make it work. (dramatic pause)
CANDY: Can we step it up? I’ve got work to do.
HOSS: Fixing fences or moving cattle?
CANDY: Now that you mention it, I wouldn’t object to a little more variety. Let’s hear it.
SE #1: One of our viewers wrote in with a fantastic suggestion. She thinks it would be terrific if one of you became . . . a secret agent!
BEN: A what?
SE #2: A secret agent! Undercover! You know, like when you pretend to be someone else to find out information.
HOSS: What in tarnation—are you saying maybe one of us ain’t really a Cartwright?
CANDY: (waving his hand) Yoo-hoo!
JOE: (narrowing his eyes at Adam) I always thought there was something a little peculiar about our so-called older brother. Why would a fellow spend years in college and then come back here to move cattle around?
ADAM: Don’t be stupid. I came back because there had to be somebody mature here.
BEN: I beg your pardon!
HOSS: What about Jamie? He might be a spy.
JOE: Good point. I mean, he just showed up one day with ol’ Dusty Rhodes. Did anybody do a background check on him?
JAMIE: Who, me? I’m just a poor orphan who happened to be traveling around with one of your former hired hands. Not my fault I don’t look like a Cartwright!
CANDY: Kid, I’ll give you fifty bucks right now if you can tell me what a Cartwright looks like.
(Jamie looks from Ben to Adam to Hoss to Joe.)
JAMIE: Two arms. Two legs. Two eyes. Two ears. One nose. One mouth.
HOSS: You just described every man in Virginia City.
ADAM: And all the women.
JAMIE: But Cartwrights also have really, really big . . . (gestures toward his lap)
BEN: Give him the money.
CANDY: (glowering) Suck-up. (hands over the money to a grinning Jamie)
SE #1: Can we get back to the subject?
ADAM: The subject being that you want to turn a bunch of ranchers into spies?
SE #1: Not all of you. That would be too obvious. We’d just make one of you a spy.
SE #3: Whoever we picked would be in charge of a covert operation. You know, like those guys on “Wild Wild West” over on that other network.
JAMIE: Oh, yeah, Artie and Jim. I love that show!
SE #2: Anyway, the operation wouldn’t be on the Ponderosa. You’d go out somewhere else and be undercover there. I told you—it’d be a covert force. Lots of drama and intrigue.
BEN: But . . . why?
SE #3: (consulting the letter) What this fan suggests is that there’s some injustice somewhere that requires the services of an undercover Cartwright to remedy.
SE #1: Or maybe there’s a mystery, and they need one of you to go undercover to solve it.
HOSS: Why would they need one of us?
JOE: Don’t police departments have their own people to do that kind of thing?
ADAM: This is officially the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. What kind of an idiot thinks a bunch of ranchers should have a covert operation or secret agent force or whatever you call it?
HOSS: ’Sides, them fellas on “Wild Wild West” can do all that injustice stuff. I got a mare who’s gonna drop her foal any day. I can’t go chasin’ bad guys when Buttercup’s time is coming.
JOE: Hoss is right. Why should we leave the Ponderosa to do what those guys are already doing?
JAMIE: I bet those “Wild Wild West” guys don’t even have a ranch.
BEN: Which means they don’t have ranch chores, so they have all sorts of time to be running around spying or fighting crime or whatever they do.
CANDY: Whatever this fan lady’s drinking, I want some.
SE #1: You guys don’t understand! This could be fantastic! You’d have chase scenes and fights and dangerous moments and intrigue!
BEN: Stan, we have all that already.
SE #2: I’m Stan!
JAMIE: But Pa’s right. Practically every episode, somebody’s chasing somebody or shooting somebody or fighting about something.
JOE: Even in a lot of the romantic ones. When I met Julia Bulette, I got in, like, two fights with that French guy in the first ten or fifteen minutes.
HOSS: The second time, he knocked you out.
ADAM: I told you to keep those elbows in!
SE #2: But there was no mystery or intrigue.
SE #3: Mystery and intrigue are very important.
BEN: We have plenty of that. People die mysteriously all the time around here.
CANDY: And I’m usually the guy who gets accused of murder.
JOE: Ahem! How much time have I spent in jail for murder? I almost got shot by a firing squad, remember?
HOSS: I almost got hanged!
BEN: We all almost got hanged.
JOE: That’s right! If it hadn’t been for me, you’d be long gone, and I’d have the Ponderosa all to myself. (looks around with a frown, as if suddenly doubting the wisdom of his heroism)
SE #3: The crazy fan lady thought maybe we could have Adam be the one. He could leave the Ponderosa and start a new life as a secret agent.
ADAM: (brightening) Leave the Ponderosa? You mean, like go back to Boston?
CANDY: You’ll do anything to go back east, won’t you?
JOE: He even shot me so he could have an excuse to get off the Ponderosa, but there was this really annoying Irish girl hanging around and he didn’t want to travel two thousand miles with her, so he stuck around.
ADAM: She was going to Philadelphia, and I’m not a big fan of cheesesteaks.
BEN: How would Adam’s spying be part of the show? Once he leaves, he’ll be gone. His secret agenting, or whatever you call it, won’t have anything to do with the Ponderosa.
HOSS: Pa’s right. What’s he gonna do once he’s gone? Write us letters about the people he’s spying on?
JOE: Sounds pretty dumb to me. All you need is for one of those letters to fall into the wrong hands, and our (clears throat) older brother is a goner.
CANDY: Besides, how exciting is it going to be for us all to sit around while Ben reads one of Adam’s spy letters? Not exactly the fresh new action the viewers want.
JAMIE: Didn’t Hoss go undercover one time?
BEN: That wasn’t really undercover. He just pretended to be someone else.
JAMIE: Isn’t that what undercover is?
CANDY: When was that?
JOE: Friends of Pa’s who were trapeze artists came to visit, and one of them got killed.
CANDY: Figures. Who got accused of the murder?
HOSS: Who d’you think? (cocks his thumb at Joe)
BEN: The sheriff wanted to trap the murderer, so since Hoss hadn’t met any of these people, we dressed him up and made him seem like a ruffian.
JAMIE: A what?
JOE: A saddle bum.
ADAM: I could have told him that.
HOSS: Anyway, that’s the only time I ever went undercover. It was kinda fun, but I wouldn’t want to do it all the time. Playacting ain’t for me.
ADAM: The whole thing sounds ridiculous. Don’t these crazy fans have anything else to do besides figure out ways for us to do things that aren’t ranching?
SE #2: One of them thought it would be great if you all became doctors and opened a hospital in Virginia City. She was especially taken with the way you did surgery on Joe after you shot him. She thinks you have natural talent.
ADAM: A doctor, eh? Now that’s something I could see doing. . . .
CANDY: I thought you studied architecture in college.
ADAM: I never told anybody, but I had a double major, architecture and pre-med.
JOE: With a minor in modern dance.
BEN: (doubletake) What?
ADAM: What the—how did you know about that?
HOSS: You’re a dancer?
JOE: You’re not the only one who can spy. By the way, your subscription to Modern Dance Quarterly is about to expire.
ADAM: So you’re the one who’s been drooling on the photos of the women in leotards!
HOSS: Dadburnit. I’d never have guessed. I always thought you were kind of klutzy.
BEN: I spent a fortune so you could get an education, not play around with tights and tutus!
CANDY: (to Joe) Looks like we’re about to have another murder here on the Ponderosa—except this time, you just might be the corpse instead of the accused.
JOE: At least it’s variety!
JAMIE: Hey, what if we became the Cartwright Family Dancers? That would be different!
BEN: That’s just a little too different for my tastes. (to the SEs) Look, fellows, I’m sorry we can’t help you out this time, but we’re all going to stay right here on the Ponderosa and be ranchers. If those ladies who write in want to see secret agents or whatever they are, I suggest you create a brand-new show for them. As for us, we have a ranch to run.
(Ben rises, signaling that the meeting is over. The SEs leave, hiding their triumphant smirks. Ben, Adam, Hoss, Joe, and Candy head outside to do ranching things. Alone in the living room, Jamie sidles over to the fireplace. He presses on the stone precisely fourteen inches above Ben’s chair; the stone pops out, and Jamie reaches into the hole to retrieve a small notebook and a pencil. Then, he sits down at the table and begins to write.)
JAMIE: (voiceover) That was a close one. So far, nobody’s figured out that I’m a spy. Looks like they never suspected ol’ Dusty Rhodes back when he was working here. Too bad Dusty decided to retire, but it was lucky he was able to get me hooked up with the Cs. He was right—that whole orphan scam was pure genius. They think I’m so gifted at math, and they have no idea that what I’m really doing is sending messages in code. Wonder what they’d think if they knew the schoolmarm is my partner, and we’ve been sent here by. . . .
* * * * * * *
The Cartwrights never figured out that Jamie was actually a thirty-seven-year-old Russian spy whose mission was to discover the magical formula they used to heal bullet wounds almost instantaneously, leaving no scar behind. Jamie was never brave enough to get himself wounded so he could experience the magical formula firsthand, which irked his superiors. Eventually, his failure to discover the formula got him banished to Siberia, where he spent the remainder of his days telling the other prisoners about how he’d starred in a famous western.
Shortly after this meeting, the studio executives wisely stopped accepting story ideas from fans. Instead, they told Landon to write and direct whatever he wanted since they knew fans would love that. Besides, it meant they only had to pay one person instead of three, and the network always liked that because it almost offset the extra costs incurred every time they had to pay him a bonus for a tight pants episode. Almost, but not quite.
DISCLAIMER: The studio executives and the schoolmarm are mine. Greene, Blocker, Landon, and the other guys belong to themselves. Everybody else belongs to Bonanza Ventures, Inc. The Cartwrights own the magical formula. Hoss owns Buttercup, who had a little filly shortly after this story was posted. Nobody’s infringing on anybody else’s copyrights, trademarks, patents, brands, or anything else, and with the exception of BVI, nobody’s made a dime on any of it.
Other Stories by this Author
- A Ponderosa Christmas . . . Or Maybe Not (by pjb)
- The Real History of “The Crucible” (by pjb)
- Men of the Ponderosa: A Valentine’s Day Treat (by pjb)