Thursday, November 3, 2022

Change of Blank - A Match Game '90 Short Story

Rated: PG (Language) 
Set: Directly after the end of episode 30, taped August 30th, 1990

“And that’s a wrap!”

“Finally!” Brett Somers turned to Charles Nelson Reilly and stretched. “I thought that would never end!”

Her long-time friend shrugged. “I don’t know. I had a good time. I kind of wish the Coast Guard officer won. He didn’t play too badly, and it’s nice to see someone from the Coast Guard on the show.”

She smirked. “You thought he was cute.”

“Well, he wasn’t bad.” Charles smirked. “You’re just jealous. He didn’t look at you twice.”

“Shannon was close to throwing herself at him. And you always say I’m desperate!” She made a face. “What got into that girl, anyway? He wasn’t that cute. And besides, he’s way too young for me.” She made a face. “Did I throw myself at the men like that in the 70’s, Victor?”

“Much worse, Susan. You were so obvious, I think you were this close to giving half of them your phone number.”

Brett sighed. “Better than reading my phone number on the bathroom stalls.” She frowned as Ross Schafer, the young host of the show, ambled over. “What does he want?”

“Probably to congratulate you on your first week back. You did do a good job.”

She groaned. “It was terrible, Charles! That new Match Up bit is terrible. I couldn’t keep up with it. Who came up with that, anyway?”

“The boss’ son, so be nice.”

She would be the first person to admit that Ross was actually a very good-looking young man. If she were ten years younger…maybe five…she’d be all over him. And he could certainly be funny when he wanted to be. He just didn’t have Gene’s acting ability or his randy charm. Not to mention, his ability to reign in the panelists. 

“Brett,” he said gently, “you’re doing better at the Match-Up, but Johnathan Goodson told me you really need to pick up the pace.”

“Is that who came up with Match Up?” Brett made a face. “Goodson’s kid? I remember when I used to bounce him on my knee! He’s just a boy.”

“Boy or not,” Ross pointed out drily, “he’s the producer of this show. He says we needed something more enticing, to make the game more exciting.”

She rolled her eyes. “Figures a kid would miss the point. It’s not about the game. It’s about the comedy.”

“Brett,” Ross began gently, “I’m only telling you what he said…”

“He’s as humorless as his father. Goodson never understood this show, either.”

Charles put a hand on her shoulder. “Down, Brett. He is our boss.” 

“Actually,” Ross admitted, “I agree with her. I like Goodson well enough, but his sense of humor tends to dry up when you’re talking about his shows…and that’s true about his son, too. But,” he added, “it isn’t really my place or yours to say. We just have to do the best we can with what we’re given.”

“I am doing my best!” Brett grumbled. “I go as fast as I can. This is just…not everyone thinks that fast. Some of us need to take our time. What was wrong with us just trying to match the contestant with our answers, the way we used to?” 

“Brett,” Charles said calmly, “it’s not Ross’ fault or ours. It’s the way the rules work.”

“Gene never really followed the rules,” Brett muttered. “He listened to Goodson, and then played the game his way.”

Ross sighed. “That’s what I’m trying to do. Brett…I’m not Gene Rayburn. I know I’m not. I understand he’s your friend and you’re used to him. I’m not trying to replace him. I don’t know why they hired me and not him, but all I want is for you to just listen to me and play along.”

“Brett,” Charles said with a weary sigh, “I miss Gene, too. He is a good friend. They just went another route, that’s all. They wanted someone different.”

“Why?” Brett snapped. “What was wrong with the way things were before? It worked then, didn’t it? I used to have fun doing the old show. It was so crazy, you never know what would happen. No Match Ups, and the wheel didn’t come until later. And they mainly did it so the contestants wouldn’t call on Richard Dawson for the Head-to-Head so much. Where is he, by the way? Whatever happened to that little Lothario?”

Charles shrugged. “Word in Burbank is he retired after he married a Family Feud contestant and is helping to take care of their daughter. His interest is in his family now.” He put a hand on his best friend’s. “Brett, please. For me. I’m enjoying doing the show. I like being here, but I miss you being next to me. You’re my best friend. We always have fun together.”

“I’m retired too, Charles.” She sighed. “I retired for a reason. I can’t do this anymore. Nothing against you, Ross,” she added, “but I miss Gene, and Fannie, and the others. TV isn’t as much fun anymore. People don’t just let things happen, and that’s what I like. You were always more interested in your career than I was, anyway, Victor.” 

Ross nodded. “Nothing against you either, Brett. I’m glad to have met you. Johnathan just wanted fresh blood, and something different. He said the show moves too slowly for TV nowadays and had gotten too stale.” 

“I’m not sure I agree with that,” Charles admitted. “I think we do our best when we can focus on the questions and have fun with them. Ross, that includes you too. Aren’t you looking forward to Halloween?” 

Ross grinned. “Oh yeah. They say they’re going to decorate and let us wear costumes. I know what I’m going to be! Ronn Lucas has been pestering me about dressing up for the Halloween show and doing something big with Scorch.” 

“Ok,” she chuckled, “I’ll be the first one to admit that the Halloween show sounds like it would be fun. I’d have to ask, but I’d love to be on the show that week. I know what I’d dress-up as, too.” She nudged Charles. “What about you? How about a ghost? You could bring in Hope Lange and wear a cut-out sheet.”

He rolled his eyes under his thick glasses. “No, Brett. For one thing, Hope’s busy doing ads for that radio movie she just filmed. For another, I don’t think anyone remembers that show anymore. I do have something in mind, though.”

“How about The Great Hoo-Doo, the bad guy who lived in the top hat you did on that weird kid’s show years ago?”

Charles wrinkled his nose, and his lips puckered like a lemon. “I am never wearing that God-awful green makeup ever again!”

That’s when they heard the burst of masculine laughter. “Ok, you two,” Ross chortled next to them, “save it for the show. Now I understand why Charles insisted we have you on, Brett. You two are a real riot when you’re together, whether the cameras are rolling or not.” 

“Thanks.” Brett couldn’t help laughing herself. “We are, aren’t we? I have to admit, I did miss this. I miss…well, I missed a lot of things.” She gave the younger man a small smile. “You’re not Gene, but you are an appreciative audience. Thanks for listening, Ross.” 

“Actually,” Ross said as he put his microphone on a desk, “I’m honored. I watched this show when I was a teenager after school. I’m glad to be here. I haven’t had this much fun in years. The changes aren’t my idea.” 

“Hey Ross,” Charles went on, “want to go out to lunch with us? We know this great bar down the street that serves the most amazing Sex on the Beaches you ever tossed down your throat.”

“That’s all right, Charles. I’m not much for heavy drinking.” Ross waved them on. “You two professionals go on ahead. I’m just going home and into bed.”

Brett mock-sighed heavily. “Children these days! They don’t know how to do these things properly.” She took his arm. “Shall we do the town, Victor? Maybe we could even call Patrick and have him meet us there.”

Her best friend grinned wickedly. “Sounds like a night to me. We shall, Susan.”

Ross shook his head as he watched them leave. “Those two are incredible. I just hope they’re able to walk upright tomorrow. We’ll need Charles at the next taping.” He followed after them, just as the lights went off over the chrome-and-plywood set.


Friday, October 21, 2022

Acting Blank - A Match Game Short Story

Rated: PG (Language) 

Set: Directly after the end of syndicated episode 481, taped 1981

Gene Rayburn looked for director Marc Breslow’s cue that the show ended. After he saw the familiar slashing motion, he turned to the six people sitting behind two risers next to him. “Hey, that wasn’t bad, crew.”

“Thanks, Gene.” McLean Stevenson bounced in his seat. “Do we have time before the next show? Some of us have to hit the little panelist’s room, if you know what I mean.”

Edie McClurg made a face on the end. “Wouldn’t hurt me, either.” 

“I’ll go, too,” added curly-locked Sharon Farrell. “I need to freshen up a little.” 

Brett Somers nodded at Charles Nelson Reilly. “Want to get a drink really quick before we start again?” 

“Sure.” He climbed off the risers. “But only a little. I’d like to be able to sit up for the next show.”

His best friend sitting next to him smirked. “Do you ever?”

Bill Cullen chuckled at the seat on the upper tier next to Brett. “Those two are something else, aren’t they?”

“If you tell me what it is, I’ll have them cured of it,” Gene quipped. “Hey,” he added, “looking forward to that charity Christmas Carol we’re doing? I can’t wait to be Scrooge. It’ll be nice to play an old geezer besides Old Man Perriwinkle.” 

“Well, I don’t know, old friend.” The shorter man sighed. “I’m not sure how you talked me into this. Acting…I’m not as into it as you.”

Gene’s mind already wandered to his performance. “Huh?” He shook out the images of being onstage and figuring out how he should play Scrooge. “Bill, you’re a man of the stage. You told me you did plays in high school. Don’t you love the idea of getting into a role and just…being someone else?”

“Not really.” Bill shrugged his bony shoulders. “I like who I am. I live a good life. I have a wife I love. I’m between jobs, but I like where I’m living. You ought to try moving here, Gene. The weather’s amazing. We found this great little place in Santa Monica…”

The Match Game host shook his head. “Oh no, Bill. I’m happier on the East Coast. Fewer phonies over there, and the air in Cape Cod is so clear, on sunny days, you can see straight across the bay.” 

“You wouldn’t have to commute so much, Gene. I know all those plane rides can be exhausting. I had to do it when I hosted $25,000 Pyramid.”

Gene sighed. “I don’t mind the commute, really. My needlepointing is coming along nicely. I’ve had my work in galleries. That’s not really the problem. Bill, I love hosting this show, but…that’s all anyone thinks I am. Just a host. I can do more.”

“I don’t see why this is such a bad thing, Gene.” His smaller friend shrugged. “Maybe it doesn’t net us the most prestige in the world, but we get to meet a lot of interesting people, and we help them win prizes and money most of them need. What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing wrong with it, Bill. I enjoy it. I wouldn’t trade this,” Gene swept his arms around the blue and orange set, “for the world. I just…I’d like to try other things, too. I like being onstage, Bill. I like creating a part.”

Bill nodded. “You like being someone else. I can see it in your eyes. No one could host this show like you can, Gene. Your voices really add to the questions, and you have no problems doing all those crazy stunts.” He shrugged again. “I don’t do voices. I didn’t mind appearing on Captain Kangaroo because Bob Keenan is a dear man and a friend of mine, but I’m mostly happy just talking to people and throwing out a few jokes.” 

“You’re better at it than you think.” Gene chuckled. “I’ve seen you work, not only here, but on To Tell the Truth. You’re as much of a ham as I am, Bill. You love the spotlight, too. Maybe not in the way I do, but…”

Bill had to grin himself. “We wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t! That’s not the part I have problems with. I prefer to improvise. Memorizing a script, getting into costume…it’s a bit much for me, Gene. And I think it’s a bit much for you, too. I always wondered why you didn’t push harder with acting. Everyone knows how much you love it.”

“I’m busy. I do other things too, Bill. I work on my garden with Helen. I used to fly. You’ve flown with me!”

The smaller host shook his head. “You’re avoiding the question, Gene. Why don’t you try harder to get acting jobs? You probably could if you wanted.”

He sighed and leaned against the desks. “Maybe I’m a fan of improv, too. I really didn’t enjoy doing that one movie back in the sixties with Doris Day. All the camera set-ups, takes, the people ordering you around…it was too much. I’d rather be on the stage or TV, where you have one person giving you reasonable orders and don’t take all day to film one scene.” 

“If you mean ‘It Happened to Jane,’ I was in that movie too, Gene.” Bill grinned. “I don’t know why you didn’t want billing. I thought you were hilarious.” 

Gene made a face. “I barely did anything. I stood there and talked over Doris Day. I’d rather deal with one set and all of the cameras than everything going on in the movies. There just isn’t enough spontaneity.” He waved his hand at the contestant’s desk. “You never know what will happen here, and that’s how I like it. I like keeping on my toes. That’s what I like about theater, too. No two performances are alike.”

“I know, old friend.” Bill nodded as Edie and McLean slid into their chairs. “It’s what I like about our jobs. I enjoy the shows. I’m just not…well, maybe I’m insecure in a different way than you. I don’t need to create characters. I kind of like being one.”

His long-time friend gave his a wide white host’s grin. “You’ll know what you’re missing soon, old friend. We’re going to have a great time, appearing together. I can’t wait to order you around and cry over your Christmas dinner with the family.”

Bill gave him a small, nervous grin. “Thanks. And I have no idea what you’ll do as Scrooge, but if you have as much fun with the role as you usually do with Old Man Perriwinkle, I’m sure it’ll be memorable.”

“Hey Gene,” Brett brayed as she and Charles slid into their seats, “what were you an’ Bill doing? Chewing the fat?”

He nodded. “We were just talking, Brett.” Johnny Olsen came out behind him to warm up the crowd. “Everyone ready to win these people more money?” Chrouses of “Oh yeah!” and “You bet!” met his ears. 

“Ok, Mr. Scrooge,” Bill chuckled, “let’s make these people rich and keep the Ghosts of Christmas at bay.” 

“And all I have to say to that,” he grinned as he made his way backstage, “is bah humbug!” 

He went behind the opening doors to the sounds of laughter, some of it probably inflected with liquor, and shouts. “This,” he murmured to himself, “is where the real fun lays. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have it. I want to act, and I want to do it more…but I love this, too, helping people win money. I wouldn’t give up this for the world.”

“Gene?” The stagehand broke his reverie. “You’re on.”

“Of course!” He laughed. “I’m always on!” He grinned at the man, then went down his stairs as Johnny Olsen announced his name to thunderous applause. 


Thursday, October 6, 2022

Wedding Blank - A Match Game Short Story

Rated: PG (Language, discussions of divorce) 

Set: Directly after the end of episode 1325, taped September 10th, 1978


“And that’s a wrap!”

Brett Somers swept the napkin off her head the moment the cameras shut off. “What was that all about?”

“I think most people call it a wedding.” Her ex-husband Jack Klugman tried in vain to open the bottle of champagne fellow Match Game panelist Charles Nelson Reilly brought out with him. “So why don’t you enjoy it?”

She glared at him. “No matter what those jokers say, we’re not married.”

“Who says?” He made a face, shaking the bottle. “Damn it. I think it’s empty, or low. Charlie probably found a prop bottle somewhere.” 

“The state of California, last time I checked.” Brett grabbed the napkin before it hit the floor. “Why the hell did you grab me like that earlier? We were on the air!”

Jack smirked. “Since when did that stop us? It went along with the gag!”

His ex-wife blew out the candle nearest to her. “Some gag! You nearly knocked me off my chair!”

“You weren’t complainin’ about it at the time.” He blew out the other candle. “They were just tryin’ to have a little fun.”

“You’re one to talk. All you’ve done all this week is complain!” She gathered the ice bucket to drop it in the prop room. “Why did you start in on me with the ‘Hall of Fame’ Audience Match on the Monday show? There is a Hallmark Hall of Fame! You’ve watched them with Adam.”

“Ok, so I didn’t recognize it then! Sounded boring to me. I can’t tell one of those kiddie shows from another anyway.”

“Like ‘Football Hall of Fame’ is more interesting?” The second candle must have rolled under the desk after she put it out. “You just wanted to argue over something. You’re not happy unless you’re fighting.” 

His gravely voice rumbled as her fingers fumbled around the shag carpeting. “At least they do somethin’ out there on the field besides kissin’ an’ cryin’!” 

‘She finally retrieved the candle and climbed off her seat. “Here it is! Come on.” Her legs were already heading for the hall. “I’m gonna go get a drink before they start filming the nighttime show. Want to come with me?”

“What about Reilly n’ all them?”

“Charles went to talk to Gene about next week’s panelists. The others are likely in the green room already.” 

He made a face. “Ain’t you had enough?"

“You’re one to talk!” She grumbled as she handed the candle over to one of the stagehands. “I saw everything you drank at dinner. You had more than I did!”

“I was nervous!” He jutted a finger at the small TV they passed in the men’s dressing room. “I was watchin’ the game between the Rams and the Falcons. I got good money ridin’ on the Rams. Glad they won.” 

She threw up her hands in frustration. “Oh good gravy Marie! Can’t you just watch a game without betting on it?”

“See,” he started, “I got this angle…”

“You always have an angle!” 

“What about you?” He grumbled as they made their way down the hall. “You spend any time you ain’t takin’ care of the boys drinkin’ an’ partyin’. At least I’m workin’.”

Her hands waved at the hallway around them as two camera women pushed their equipment past them. “What do you call that, sitting around? This is my job, Jack! And I love it! I love helping people win money. I love joking with Charles and Gene and Betty. I may not be making the money you are on Quincy, but I am bringing something home!”

“Yeah, and then you drink it all with Reilly in West Hollywood.”

“You’re just jealous.” She smirked. “I got propositioned by three actresses the last time Charles and I were over there who didn’t know I was straight.”

He glared at her. “You’re way too old for that.”

“And you’re not too old for some of those ingeunes you flirt with at the studio? I’ve seen you, Jack! I saw you when we were married!”

They stopped in front of the entrance. “So I helped a few girls. Gave them directions. Said nice things. What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing, if that’s all you were doing.” Two actors in plaid leisure suits pushed past them. “Jack, we’re blocking traffic. I need to call Adam and tell him I’ll be home soon as we tape the nighttime show.”

He turned on that little grin she found so charming twenty years ago in New York. “Darlin’...since we got married again today…well, sorta…I’d like to take you and Adam out to a late dinner. We won’t talk about nothin’ but him an’ little stuff. No work, no gamblin’, no drinkin’.”

His lips turned down when she shook her head. “No, Jack. I’m busy tonight. In fact, I’m busy a lot.” She touched his hand. “Let me get used to all this, Jack. To being alone again. To us not being…well, us. Then we’ll see how things are.”

“And then, we’ll…see?” 

She sighed. “Maybe. Jack, I need to eat something.” 

He watched as she took off for the lounge, probably to talk to Reilly. “Jack,” he muttered to himself, “boy, were you dumb. Let go of somethin’ good. Someday,” he said under his breath, “someday, maybe things will be different. Maybe we’ll be friends. Or, even, well…” he chuckled, “or even somethin’ more.” 

That was when he remembered the Rams game. “Need to find out if those jerks won,” he muttered. He finally went to call his bookie in the men's dressing room…but his eyes followed his slender ex-wife as she strolled down the hall. 

The End

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Upcoming Stories and Projects

This is a list of stories I'm working on or are in the midst of developing. Keep in mind that this list can and will change depending on what I'm interested in and whatever else is going on in my life. 

Currently Working On: 

Match Game 1973 - 1982
Short Stories

Wedding Blank - Brett Somers and Jack Klugman, 1978
Acting Blank - Bill Cullen and Gene Rayburn, 1981
Change of Blank - Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Ross Schafer, 1990

Novels/Novellas/Chapter Stories

Richard Dawson: Wild Wild Blank (Alternative Universe - Western)

Original Short Stories for Children

Stories inspired by childhood memories, including:

Painting someone else's fence.
Little kids running through other people's yards when Mom and Dad aren't looking.
Beach frolics - walking home from the beach as a child.

Coming Up Next: 

Match Game 1973 - 1982
Short Stories

Fannie Flagg - Friendship Blank

Novels/Novellas/Chapter Stories

Gene Rayburn: Superhero Blank, Part I (Superhero/Fantasy/Sci-Fi)

Joyce Bulifant: The Wizard of Blank (Alternative Universe - Fantasy/The Wizard of Oz)

In Development: 

Match Game 1973 - 1982
Novels/Novellas/Chapter Stories

Brett Somers: Murder Is Blank (Alternative Universe - Film Noir/Mystery/Thriller)

Bill Cullen - Remember Blank (Alternative Universe - Comedy/Drama/Historical)

Richard Dawson: Spy Blank (Alternative Universe - Spy Thriller)
Richard Dawson: Singin' In the Blank (Alternative Universe - 1920's/Historical/Musical spoof)

McLean Stevenson: Raiders of the Lost Blank (Alternative Universe - Indiana Jones/Action)

Charles Nelson Reilly: Star Blank (Alternative Universe - Star Wars/Sci-Fi)

Betty White & Allen Ludden: Beauty and the Blank (Alternative Universe - Fairy Tales/Fantasy)

Gene Rayburn: A Christmas Blank (A Christmas Carol/Fantasy/Horror)
Gene Rayburn: Superhero Blank, Part II (Superhero/Fantasy/Sci-Fi)
Superhero Blank, Part III (Superhero/Fantasy/Sci-Fi)

Fannie Flagg/Ensemble - Freaky Blank (Fantasy)

Bill Daily
Debralee Scott
Marcia Wallace
Nipsey Russell
Elaine Joyce

Introduction - A Brett Somers Story: Blank In Wonderland

I know it's been a long, long time since I last posted anything here. I originally planned on doing a long Match Game western after Pirates of Blank, then a superhero story. They fell by the wayside when this idea caught me and wouldn't let go...and then I had a lot of personal problems and difficulty finding a place to live in late 2021 and early 2022 that often didn't leave me with time for extra writing, plus I came down with Covid around New Year's. 

I have, however, long been a fan of Alice In Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. So's Brett Somers, who's holding an after-taping party for some of the panelists and her sons and Richard Dawson's. Her own mind is really on her ex-husband Jack Klugman and her feelings for them...and it'll lead her down a very strange rabbit hole populated by "weirdos" who seem very familiar...

Blank In Wonderland, Part 1

Rated: PG (fantasy violence)

Set: Wrap-around sequences set around August 1976

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and having nothing to do; once or twice she peeped she had peeped into book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations 'and what is the use of a book,' thought Alice, 'without pictures or conversations?'

“MOM! Mom, come on! Dad will be around to pick us up any minute! Come play croquet with us!” 

“Yeah, Brett,” snickered Charles Nelson Reilly next to her, “I want to see you play croquet.”

“Like you'd be any better. Did they have to mention their father, Charlie?” Brett Somers made a face and took another sip of iced tea with gin, pushing Alice In Wonderland aside. “I'm not looking forward to seeing him as it is, even just picking up the boys for the weekend. That's really why I invited the panelists to my place after the taping, to make me feel better.”

“Wish Gene and Mary Wickes could have come.” Gary yawned almost as widely as his tiny daughter in his lap. “Mary said she was spending the weekend with her grandkids, and Gene had to fly back to Cape Cod for some gardening event with Helen. Gene really would have livened up things. I can hear his bad Dracula imitations already.” 

“Brett,” Charles whispered softly as Gary returned to bouncing the fussy baby on his knee, “how are know...going? With Jack and all?”

She sighed as she dropped the book on the faded wood patio table. “It's rough, Charles. Jack keeps trying to whittle down his alimony payments, and he wants half of everything we have. All we do when we're at court is fight. All we do when we're together is fight. It's like...he's not the man I knew when we were doing live TV twenty years ago and making out in the bathrooms at the theater. He just growls at me.”

Charles frowned. “And you growl back. I've heard you two fight. You've done it on the show.”

“Of course I growl back!” Brett's mouth tightened. “I don't take any of his guff, and he knows it. We're so competitive. It's part of...well, part of where the trouble comes from.”

Red and blue balls whizzed past her head. “Boys, be careful! Dickie, are you playing croquet, or are you playing baseball? That nearly took my nose off!”

Richard Dawson trotted over, his sons Gary and Mark fast on his heels, looking impeccable as ever in his white and blue sailor blouse. “Sorry, Brett, but I do think your nose would look better that way.”

“That's right, Miss Somers,” Gary added in a lilting voice that made him sound like a younger version of his father, “we didn't mean to hit it so hard! It got away from us.”

“Yeah, Mom.” Her son David, tall and lanky and dark-haired like her, ambled after them. “Croquet isn't my bag. I guess I don't know my own strength.”

“Your father always made that excuse. You're worse than he is sometimes.” She sighed. “Would you boys like some lemonade? You have to be hot and thirsty after your game.”

“Good idea, Mom.” Dave leaned his blue-ringed mallet against the nearest tree. “You guys want some lemonade? I know where it is in the fridge.” 

“Don't drink it all!” Brett yelled after the four boys as they trotted towards the door. “Us grown-ups might want a little too, you know!”

Richard settled on the ground next to her. “They'll be fine, Brett. I know my boys. They won't drink an entire pitcher that isn't theirs.”

“You may trust yours,” Brett muttered, “but I'm not sure about mine. I wish I could at least deal with David. It's not so hard with Adam. He didn't know his father when...well, when things were better. But Dave's older. He remembers the good times. He's so much like his father, so damn stubborn and grumpy all the time...”

Richard put a beefy brown hand on her shoulder. “Brett, I know we don't always get along, but I have been through a divorce. It was hard for me when Diana went back to England. It's still hard, but dating again has helped.”

“Dating...” Brett shook her head. “I haven't dated in almost two decades. I'm not even sure I know how to anymore. I'm just...too old for this, Dickie.”

“You? Too old?” Richard smirked as he sipped his lemonade. “Did I hear you admit you’re old?”

“No.” Brett gave him her most scathing mock-glare. “Some of us haven't been doing this for as long as you have.” She raised her eyebrow as a huge snore emerged from Gary at the picnic table. “You think we should wake up the little mouse over there? He's half-in the iced tea pot.”

“I'm sure his daughter will, sooner or later,” Richard chuckled. “Brett,” he added, his handsome tanned face becoming more serious, “if there's anything I can do, just tell me. I don't want you to be dragged through the mud like I was.”

“Dickie, that's very gallant of  you,” Brett started gently, “but I don't need a white knight to come to my rescue.” She sighed as Betty White and Allen Ludden strolled around her rose garden, admiring the red and white blooms hand in hand. “Look at those two. They're so crazy about each other, it's disgusting. Betty wonders why we're always teasing them on the show!”

“I think they're cute!” Charles sighed dreamily. “Someday, I'm going to find a guy who looks at me the way Allen and Betty look at each other.”

Richard snickered. “And what planet would he come from?”

Betty and Allen arrived just as Charles reached over to smack the chuckling Richard in the back of his head. “We seem to have arrived at an interesting time.” Betty's laugh tinkled like the water through the mini-fountain in the back of her yard. “Ok, ok, you two. No violence. I'm sure the boys are around somewhere. They don't need to see that.”

“They've probably seen worse on TV.” Allen nodded at the garden, the sun glowing on his wavy white hair and glasses as thick as Charles'. “How do you get your roses to grow like that? Those red and white roses especially. Betty and I are hoping to plant a rose garden when we move to Carmel after our house is completed. Do you paint them or something?”

“I must have your secrets!” Betty added with an impish grin. “Or I could take your head off!”

Brett smirked as she got to her feet. “I'd like to see you try! No, I don't paint them. Just give them lots of love and lots and lots of food and water. Here, I'll show you.” 

“That's all right. I was teasing.” Betty squeezed her husband's hand. “We really need to get going. Allen has to talk to Mark Goodson and Ira Skutch. I know Allen's working hard on Stumpers!, but they may be interested in reviving Password in a different format along with that.”

“I wish you luck,” Brett told her sincerely. “I know that's your baby, Allen. Hopefully Goodson is less of a stick-in-the-mud about your show than he is about Match Game. Gene told me he's pestering him again about being so comedy-oriented and not focusing on the game.”

Richard wrinkled his perfectly tanned nose. “The last time we focused on the game, we nearly went off the air. It’s comedy or nothing. I hope Ira can talk sense into Mr. Goodson. It's what he's best at, really. He certainly isn't much of a judge. If I had a dime for every time we had to argue for an answer that made sense, I'd be able to buy the damn studio.”

“He's just following the rules, Rich.” Allen sighed. “I don't envy him. He can't exactly use a dictionary, like the judge does for Password. It's not really his fault. It's how Goodson set up the game.”

Brett looked at her watch. “It's getting late. I have to make sure the boys are packed and ready to go. Charles, could you do me a favor and wake up Gary? He's still snoring back there.”

“Janet should be around soon with her car. Gary’s car is in the shop, and she had to run errands.” Charles stood and patted Brett's shoulder. “Want to go out for a drink after they leave?”

She sighed. “Yeah, Charles. I'll need it.”

“We'll see you later.” Betty gave Brett a hug. “Call me after the boys leave? We commiserate. Better yet, I'll join you and Charles. Allen's appointment will probably run over.” 

“Sure.” Brett looked over her shoulder. “The kids seem a little quiet in there. I'd better go see what they're up to, before they eat me out of house and home.”

The four boys were in the kitchen, gulping lemonade and stuffing potato chips in their mouths. “Hey,” Adam was saying, “let's see how many I can get in my mouth! Dave has the record so far.”

“That's nice to know.” Brett grabbed the potato chip bag. “Enough. You'll spoil your appetites for dinner.”

“Mom,” David complained, “we're just having fun. Dad will probably take us out for pizza or let us eat out of the fridge anyway. He was talking about taking us to the races...”

“I wish he wouldn't expose you to his vices.” Brett shook her head. “Gary, Mark, your dad's waiting for you. Time to go home. These two need to pack.”

“Mom,” Adam added as the younger boys rushed out the door, “can't you come with us?”

She sighed and made a face. “Sorry, kiddo. Your father and I...aren't getting along right now. It's best if I stay here.”

David slammed the refrigerator door shut. “Since when did you ever?”

“Hey!” Brett grabbed the refrigerator door before he could do it again. “That's not fair. Things have changed in the last few years, Davy. You know that.”

“Oh, come on, Mom!” He rolled his eyes. “You've always fought. You fight over everything!”

“Can you just come with us for a little while, Mom?” Adam pleaded with those big dark eyes that looked so much like Jack's. 

“I'm sorry, hon. I'm the last person your father wants to see.” She glared at David, who stuffed his mouth full of chips again. “While you're living in my house, you'll obey my rules.” She grabbed the bag. “Have you finished packing?”

“No.” He glared right back, enough to almost think she was looking in a masculine mirror. 

“Then get going.” She gave him a gentle shove. “Bad enough your father's already late. He should have been here to pick you up twenty minutes ago.” 

She peered out her front door, checking her watch. Still no Jack. Why couldn't any man in her life ever be on time? Even Charles almost never arrived on time for tapings. She was almost never late. Everyone could count on her to be on time for every taping, every rehearsal, every teacher conference and school play. 

I should have taken that as a sign, she thought bitterly as she peered out the front door. No Jack or that old red Ford Capri of his. You could probably hear that thing clopping along before you could see it. The dusty road outside their house was empty, except for the occasional rabbit or porcupine snuffling along or bright pink plastic flamingo being blown over.

“Mom?” David shuffled outside, dragging the battered duffel bag she gave him for a school trip two years ago. “When's Dad getting here?”

Adam frowned, adjusting the straps on his backpack. “Do you think he forgot about us?”

“He'd better not have.” Brett sighed. “Why don't you boys help me clean up the croquet game? That won't take very long.”

“All right,” David grumbled. “But only for a minute. Dad will be here soon.”

Richard and his boys were already gone by the time they went through the door and into the backyard. Charles tried to wake up Gary, who looked more like a mouse half-asleep in the iced tea pot. 

“Do you think Mr. Burghoff would be mad if we said Gina looked more like a little pig laying there than a kid?” Adam asked with a snicker as he gathered the wickets.

“Probably,” Brett chuckled. “But that doesn't mean it isn't true.”

Brett just picked up her copy of Alice In Wonderland and stuffed it under her arm when she swore she saw a flash of white darting around near the back fence. “Oh, my ears and whiskers!” it rambled. “I'm going to be so late! What will the Queen say? She'll say 'off with your head,' and they'll be no more White Rabbit, that's what she'll say! She'll be furious! And if the Red King finds out that I'm not playing the game his way, I'll be a stuffed rabbit on some child's bed!”

Ok, that was weird. Maybe it was her imagination, but that “rabbit” sounded a lot like Bill Daily, a jumpy sitcom actor who frequently sat next to her on the show. 

“Mom!” Adam darted over. “I swear I just saw a giant White Rabbit wearing a fancy blue coat with a lot of brass buttons and carrying a pocket watch!”

“We must have dreamed it.” Dave's eyebrows made almost the same incredulous expression as his mother's. “Rabbits don't talk, and they don't sound like Bob Newhart's weird neighbor.”

“Boys,” Brett said as she dropped the book on the chair, “I'm going to investigate. You stay here and wait for your father.”

“No way!” David forged ahead. “We're not sitting around and letting you do everything! I want to see this, too. Dad will wait.”

“Yeah!” Adam grinned, tugging her along. “This isn't something you see outside of cartoons. Maybe he knows Bugs Bunny.”

The rabbit kept muttering nervously, right up to the rose bushes on the edge of her property. “How did he fit in there?” David muttered as he managed to hop right in and disappear.

“I don't know.” Brett frowned. “We don't need to be trespassing.” 

“Mom, live a little! We may never get to do this again!” Her oldest son dropped on his knees and crawled under the brambles. His brother followed him easily.

“Boys,” Brett called out, “stay with me! I don't want you getting lost back there, or running into poison ivy or something.” She dropped to the grass and scooted under the brambles.

The brambles that grew wild along the fence were a maze of scratchy limbs and thorns that stuck her and grabbed at her pink flowered blouse and white shorts. Why did she have to wear that gauzy blouse, anyway? It ripped if you sneezed wrong. “Boys, wait!” She tugged through, wincing as the thorns scratched her head. “Of all the times to wear my real hair...”

She was so busy keeping up with the boys, she didn't notice where her hands were going. “Boys?” She called. “Bill? Bill Daily, if this is a joke, it stopped being funny two minutes ago! Boys, where are you? Boys?” She scrabbled along the pebbly ground, her hands scraping against the hard dirt. “Boys? Bill? Charles? Gary? Bill, what's going on...yiiiiiiiiii!”

The hard dirt suddenly gave way as the ground sloped so far downwards, she couldn't stop herself from slipping. Grabbing at the dirt and roots only made it scrabble further. The ground finally crumbled all together, sending her tumbling into the darkness. 

Blank In Wonderland, Part 2

She had no idea how long she fell, or where. She swore she passed by many of the props in Studio City on her way, including microphones and the empty food cart. They might have been there. It was hard to tell when she fell so fast!

“Oof!” She landed hard on a pile of soft leaves. It took a few minutes for her to regain her breath and figure out where she was. “Boys? David? Adam? Where are you? Bill? Mr. Rabbit? Damn it,” she grumbled at the hole in her elbow, “and I like this blouse, too.” Patting her hair revealed a number of leaves and twigs trapped in the ebony curls, which she hastily dislodged.

The alcove opened into a long hallway, like the ones between studios at Television City. It had the same too-bright track lighting and yellowing white paint from when it was built. All she could see were doors, doors, and more doors along the worn gray industrial carpeting. Most of the doors were normal human size, except the tiny metal gate at the end. She swore she saw a rabbit slide through there, but it could have been her imagination. 

“This seems strangely familiar.” She raised an eyebrow as a key and a bottle of brown liquid in a crystal jar appeared on the table in a small flash of light. “Ok, now I know it's familiar. The only way I can follow that rabbit and find my boys is to drink this and get small, right?” Her finger tapped on a label attached to the bottle with a piece of string. “It even says 'drink me.'” Drinking anything wasn't exactly a problem for her. “Ok, down the hatch!”

Her first chug revealed a flavor that...wasn't bad. Pretty close to brandy, but with an odd fruity note. Bourbon? Not full enough. Gin? Maybe with a little Hawaiian Punch? 

“Oohhhh...” She nearly swooned into the tiny glass table. “I don't feel so good. I knew that was one drink too many...” Her stomach churned as her limbs seemed to have a life of their own. Her arms and legs lengthened first, then her fingers and toes. Her knees would have dwarfed every skyscraper in LA, and her nose was bigger than even Jack's. 

“Good gravy Marie!” she yelped as her head hit the ceiling. “Ow! Damn it, I knew that was a bad idea!” She slammed her fist into the tiles, bringing down several bits of asbestos on her head. “Ouch! Now how the hell am I going to get out of here? Damn it! Damn it to all hell!”

She couldn't help herself. Big tears gushed out in great waterfalls before she could stop them. “I'll never find the boys! I'm stuck down here! How the hell will I find clothes and shoes that fit? And what will Jack think when we're all gone? Serves him right for being late! Big idiot probably got stuck in traffic on the Ventura Freeway...”

She cried so much and for so long, a massive pool of salty liquid formed around her gigantic feet. “Oh great,” she wailed, “I'm the only person in the entire world who could create the Pacific Ocean by bawling!” Her hand wiped across her eyes and nose. “Wish I brought a handkerchief. Hope I didn't ruin my mascara. I'd never hear the end of it from Charles if I showed up looking like a drenched rat in a rainstorm.”

At that moment, one of the doors slammed. The White Rabbit dashed along, still muttering under his breath. “I'm late! I'm so terribly late! I don't want to lose my head! It would make it awfully hard to eat carrots. The Queen loves animals – at least I'm not a human, or a card! It would be terrible. But that Red King...if I'm late with his invitation...oh! I could be sent to feed the Jabberwock, or worse, lose my muchness!”

“Excuse me?” Even Brett was surprised at how much her voice boomed in that small room. “Mr. Rabbit...Bill...could you, er, lend me a paw here? I'm really having trouble getting down...”

Bill the White Rabbit stopped on a dime, which couldn't have been easy with his big bunny feet. He turned slowly around, took one look at the gigantic, sobbing woman behind him, and let out the loudest scream she ever heard before taking off down the part of the hall that wasn't flooded.

“Oh, damn.” She made a face. “I didn't mean to scare him! Even as a rabbit, Bill's a nervous Nellie. Hey,” she added, noticing two white objects lying on the drier part of the floor, “what's this?”

Her fingers rubbed around tiny white silk gloves with black stitching over the knuckles. “They look more like what Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny wear.” Next to them was a rather attractive little fan, printed with tiny bunnies and flowers. “Well,” she panted as she snapped the fan open, “it is kind of warm in here, though that might be my hot flashes. I doubt he'd mind if I used this for a minute...”

She fluttered the fan around her face. It didn't really make her cooler...but she did feel herself shrinking the more she used it. “Good gravy Marie!” The fan and gloves dropped into the salty waters as her arms and legs squashed together. “I think I almost fanned myself out of existence!” She dropped into the water with a splash the second she regained control of her limbs.

At least the Pool of Tears was warm and pretty easy to navigate. “Wish I hadn't cried so much,” Brett muttered. “Jack's always going on about me being a drama queen, but this is ridiculous!” Thank goodness she learned to swim at that little pond on her family's farm in Maine. She easily stroked her way over to a large open heating vent on the end of the room and paddled in.