Excerpt from Stay Tuned by Lauren Clark
Alyssa Andrews was missing.Gone, vanished, MIA with just minutes to airtime.“Melissa, where is she?” Our news director, Joe, shot a harried look in my direction. After dealing with a broken studio camera, spotty satellite reception, and last-minute script changes, his nerves were fried to a crisp.“She’ll be here,” I promised, knowing my confidence was a front. Alyssa, one of WSGA-TV’s main news anchors, was a constant source of angst in my already-stressful job.She was young, talented, gorgeous…and chronically late.This lack of punctuality was a problem, especially when WSGA ran a show at exactly six and ten o’clock every night. Not a moment later.WSGA was Macon, Georgia’s number one news station and had been for two years running. If we wanted to keep it that way, timing was everything. Every second mattered.I produced both evening shows, which meant—among a dozen other tasks—organizing the day’s stories, writing copy, and checking video. Each segment had to run seamlessly between three-minute commercial breaks.Deep breath, Melissa. Send up a little prayer. She’ll show up.The red numbers on the clock continued to march forward. Another deep breath. Everything’s in place. Alyssa just needs to walk in and get on set…“Tighten up on camera one.” Joe peppered the room with demands. “Mic check, now, not yesterday.”Tim Donaldson, Alyssa’s co-anchor, obliged, counting backwards from the number five.Joe’s thick fingers punched buttons on the massive keyboard in front of him. “Bring up the live shot.”Still, no Alyssa.Joe raked a huge hand through his long gray hair. “Five minutes!” he growled, with a glare into his empty coffee cup.At this point, it was Joe’s show to run. He was in charge. I shuffled my scripts. “How about I call her?”“She’s an adult,” he grumbled. “You shouldn’t have to.”Joe expected nothing less than perfection. He was experienced, hard working, and a stickler for detail. Alyssa’s nonchalance made him crazy.Which, at 9:55:36 on a Friday night, gave him the patience of a gnat. On crack.This was particularly dangerous for an unsuspecting new employee, all of twenty years old and pimple-faced, who crept up behind us.Joe ignored him at first, barking an order to me instead. “Fine, fine. Melissa, tell Princess A. she’s needed in the studio.”On autopilot, I punched her extension, eyes focused on the row of monitors above my head in case she decided to appear.While the phone rang, the new kid rocked on his heels nervously. I flashed a smile and shook my head gently in his direction, hoping he’d get the hint.Not now.Nope. The kid stood there, coughed lightly, and waited for one of us to turn around.“What?” Joe finally snapped.The force of the word made the kid’s body jerk back. Jaw open, unable to speak, his face turned crimson.Joe waited about a second for the kid to talk, and then leaned back over the control panel. He pressed at switches, clearly annoyed. The kid looked sick. Joe rolled his eyes. My anxiety level cranked up ten notches.9:58:09. Less than two minutes.Wait…a flash of an ivory suit and blond hair.“There she is,” I interrupted the tension with a cool nod toward the monitors.Front and center, Alyssa sauntered into the studio, lips puckered, blowing her shell-pink nail polish dry. She slid into her seat next to Tim, and gave him a playful pat on the shoulder.Joe muttered something I couldn’t repeat.I stifled a loud sigh of relief and glanced around the room. The new guy was the only one in the building unimpressed with Alyssa’s arrival. With a shaking hand, he reached out and tapped Joe’s burly shoulder.“Mr. Joe, there’s a problem with one of the machines—”Joe’s back stiffened. He turned a millimeter in the kid’s direction and exploded. “Get your butt back there. Get one of the engineers. Fix it. Call someone.”I caught the now-completely mortified kid’s eye, and motioned for him to come toward me. Grabbing the nearest piece of paper, I jotted down the engineer’s extension and held it at arm’s length with a kind smile. Poor guy. Lots to learn.With a grateful look, the new kid plucked the scrap from my fingers and darted away.Time to get started.I settled in, gripped my pen hard, and looked up.Okay. Alyssa’s collar was turned under. Minor detail, but sure to garner at least five viewer complaints. You wouldn’t believe what people called in about.I leaned toward the microphone to let Alyssa know.“Dare you not to tell her,” Joe muttered. It wasn’t a secret that the guys would willingly let Alyssa go on air with underwear on her head. She hadn’t made friends. Or tried to.Tim, her co-anchor and current boyfriend, didn’t count.“Just part of those darn producer duties, Joe. You know that.” I flashed him a smile and pressed the button to talk. “Alyssa, fix your collar.”Her mouth parted into an O. Alyssa frowned, glanced down, and straightened the pale edge. Just in time.Like a well-directed movie, the WSGA-TV opening video flashed across monitor one. Macon, Georgia’s skyline filled the screen.My body tingled with a familiar rush of excitement. It happened every time we went on air. The cameras and lights, the beat of the music, the thrill of live television.Here we go.Seconds later, Alyssa and Tim appeared under the lights, their bright anchor smiles pasted on.“Good evening, I’m Alyssa Andrews.“And I’m Tim Donaldson.”And on it went, without a blip, for the first ten minutes. I started breathing again after the third break.Stanley and Sunshine, the weather cat, were ready for the five-day forecast, check.Commercial break, check.Sports, check. I didn’t worry about that three-minute slot. Plenty to talk about, visual stories; the anchors could get away with jokes and ad-libbing. Viewers loved it.We rounded out the show with an inspirational kicker about a local scholarship winner, a kid first in his family to go to college. He’d won forty thousand dollars and was going to Georgia Tech to study astrophysics.The show wrapped with a standard goodnight, credits, and a wide shot of the WSGA set.The second the master control operator switched to break, Alyssa flounced off the set in silicone fashion. She barked into her jewel-encrusted cell phone about her min-pin puppy’s cancelled spa appointment and stomped out of the studio, teetering precariously in four-inch heels.Yikes!I climbed the flight of stairs back to the newsroom, relieved the night was almost over.The phones started to ring five seconds later.