Ratings Game

Marlene had never had any intentions of becoming a celebrity or even going on TV.  In fact, she hated TV and had since she was a child. But, when the Reality Network, ETV, announced it’s new show, “Dream Date,” she couldn’t resist auditioning.  Audiences had long since grown tired of the same old reality format, pretty girl or handsome guy, who somehow had a hard time meeting a suitable mate, would go on TV to find their one true love.  The ridiculous variations of the same idea bled into one another and ratings began to sink.  Studios were forced to get more creative with their premises.  ETV was the first to truly take it to the next level. “Battle for Love” was their worldwide breakthrough. Five contestants were dropped into a jungle-like environment and forced to fend for themselves, and sometimes battle each other, to vie for the love of that season’s star; the final contestant was then given two options, marry or fight.  Either way, audiences got quite a show.  It maintained ratings for four seasons and would’ve kept going had it not been for an anti-reality show extremist named Rhonda Marshall, an actress upset that her hit sitcom had been cancelled to make room for more faux-reality. After infiltrating the show as a celebrity contestant, she sacrificed herself in the final battle.  It was the first brutal death on live, national television.  The studio, of course, had to say it was a terrible accident; that they were disgusted and saddened that something they created led to the death of an innocent woman.  But the ratings went through the roof, and for years after, audiences were fed nothing but what they called “Extreme Situation Reality.”

“Dream Date” incorporated a breakthrough in neural technology that ETV themselves developed– the ability to broadcast someone else’s dreams.  A group of men and women were to be strapped into the neural analyzer, a machine that looked similar to early twenty-first century MRIs, and put to sleep for the entirety of the season.  The contestants, a specially selected man and woman, would choose their ideal mate based on nothing but the sleeper’s subconscious thoughts.  The show, in concept, was far less daring and violent than their previous “hit” shows.  It was only a select group of executives that had seen the samples taken from test groups placed in the analyzer and were aware of what this show was actually going to air.

Marlene’s interest was from a specifically scientific standpoint.  Her father had worked at the lab that developed the basis for the technology until his tragic death twenty years earlier. She and a group of other neuro-engineers had submitted numerous petitions to gain access to what ETV executives were calling “the game changer.”  She, and others like her, had attempted similar endeavors that ended in pain, dementia, brutality, and, in one case, death.  They could not believe that ETV had succeeded before them.  But, all rights to the device, to the technology, and to its results, were kept under absolute lock and key within the ETV studios.  Marlene made it her mission to get on the show, to get her hands on that device, to see how it worked.

The first casting sessions were comprised of written and oral personality tests.  She paid an intern seven thousand dollars to get her previous samples of the tests. Her answers made their mouths water.  She came off as desperate for fame and willing to do anything to get it. She falsified her bank statements, so she appeared to be broke.  She was attractive enough, but made it clear she was willing to go through cosmetic procedures to improve that.  Of course, the studio would add a cup size to all of their female contestants.  They kept a personal decorator on the ready at all times.  Most cosmetic procedures had been simplified to the point that they could be done in a matter of minutes and without any blood spilled.

The second rounds of tests were a bit more intrusive.  Her blood and cellular stability were tested to make sure she had no possible cancers or physical ailments currently or in her future.  The studio could take no risk that their contestants would, at some point, contract a disease that the contestant could portray as being caused by the show.  This show especially.  The studio stood to make billions off the live broadcasts of contestant’s subconscious thoughts.  The idea that ETV would be airing content that could not be controlled was what made it so tantalizing and profitable.  No longer could the WCC restrict nudity, language, sex, or violence. There was no way to control it.  Of course, the reruns, the edited versions of the show, would be cut and scrutinized, but the live broadcasts, the original airings, would be untouchable and irresistible.  Most people found it unbelievable that the World Commercial Commission would even allow the show to air live.  It only proved that everyone had a price.

Marlene had gone through a complete blood and genetic transfusion prior to her audition, knowing this would be a part of the process.  She knew she was clear.  But, the third and final test, there was no way to control or fake.  It was the test ride in the analyzer.

Her heart was beating as though she was about go into battle when she first saw it.  A combination of excitement and fear took over her body.  She was shaking and couldn’t stop; all of the candidates were.  The doctor injected the mild sedative as she climbed onto the bed and was strapped into the network of cords and probes.  It wasn’t very comfortable, but she was not at all claustrophobic and easily dozed into a deep sleep.

She was told she’d been chosen the moment she awoke.  She was dizzy and confused.  She normally remembered every moment of her dreams, but woke as though she had experienced nothing but darkness.  As the effects of the injection wore off, excitement took over.  She was to have three months of access to ETV’s most protected innovation.

She was taken into pre-production right away.  She wasn’t even allowed to go back to her apartment to let her pog out – a genetically spliced pet that had become common when Marlene was young.  It was part dog, part pig, and had a lifespan of fifty-two years.  Every kid wanted one.  Not every parent could afford one.  Marlene won hers when she was eight.  Her father’s laboratory had a contest amongst the scientist’s children, the child who could develop the longest lasting pressurized travel suit using only items commonly found in the kitchen would get a trip to the World’s Capital and, more exciting to the kids, a pog.  His name was Darwin.  It was the last thing her father ever gave her.

Luckily, she was allowed a phone call.  Her mom would pick up Darwin and make sure he was well looked after until she got back from “her research project.”  She wasn’t allowed to say why she would be unreachable for the next three months.  Though, her mom found out two weeks later, when the first episode of “Dream Date” aired.

Over three quarters of World’s population tuned in for the first episode of the phenomenon.  Cities broadcast holo-screenings at their various public holo-tubes. Restaurants were empty.  Stores closed early.  Everyone rushed home to catch his or her first glimpse of someone else’s dream.

The first fifteen minutes were spent introducing the contestants and the sleepers.  The tension was palpable.  The anxiety was overwhelming.  Audiences scratched their heads and tapped their feet, waiting for the real show to start, waiting to see inside someone’s innermost.  ETV savored every moment of the record-breaking ratings.  They explained the process, introduced the doctors, explained the dangers, and finally, they strapped Marlene and the nine other sleepers into their analyzers.

The images were harsh and difficult to follow at first.  Marlene was flying and dashing through landscapes and people. It seemed her life was flashing before everyone’s eyes.  And then, as the sedative settled in, her uncontrollable mind focused on one image.  Her mother.  Marlene was nine years old and was being forced to attend a large event at her father’s laboratory.  Her mother immediately remembered the day as she watched from her midtown high-rise.  It was a day she would never forget, and she hoped and prayed the dream would not follow the actual events that transpired.  Her hopes, sadly, were not realized.

Marlene climbed out of the car, stomping her feet and screaming at her mother.  The language was not that of a nine year old.  Every swear word was fodder for excitement within the studio, knowing that each “Fuck” and “Cunt” was another promised future viewer.  Marlene’s father took the stage and began introducing a new product, something huge, something grandly important.  Marlene began to cry and a siren blared.  Her heart monitor, in the director’s booth, skyrocketed, and the doctor’s became concerned that she was going go into cardiac arrest.  The director insisted they maintain on her feed.

The secret that the studio had kept hidden, the reason they had not allowed Marlene or any other scientist to study their grand invention was the depth of dream the machine induced.  Average dreamers, not affected by sedatives and neural enhancers, could be physically affected by their dreams.  But, in order for the analyzer to effectively display the holo-vision, sleepers were given a series of injections that would increase these reactions, sometimes to a dangerous level.

The alarm surrounded Marlene. She cried and ran away from her mother.  She turned back and saw the flash of light, the pouring of white that filled the area.  And when it subsided, she saw the carnage.  Countless bodies, melted, burned, mutilated to an extent most audience members had never imagined in their darkest thoughts.  People were shocked.  The director vomited.  The doctors released her connection. The feed was cut.  The live broadcast was terminated.

Marlene’s heart monitor continued to pulse at a phenomenal rate.  They rushed to her table and released her from the mass of connections.  She was immediately brought to their critical care room, an area that was built for legal protection. The executives that would soon be under intense prosecution from the World Courts never thought it would actually be used. Marlene’s mother and billions of other viewers stared at the blank video screen, waiting for some news about what had just occurred. She dialed the network and was placed on hold for what seemed to be an eternity.  The theme song to “Dream Date” had not yet been taken off of their hold line and it bore into her ears, infuriating her to the point she hung up, grabbed Darwin and rushed to the ETV building.

The doctor’s scurried around the table, scanning and shocking Marlene’s body, doing everything they knew to do to revive her.  At this point the broadcast had been severed, but Marlene’s dream had not.  Her nine-year old legs waded through the milky aftermath of an experiment gone wrong.  She reached what had been the stage and saw what was left of her father.  She dropped to her knees and her heart felt it was going to burst. And, then, it did.

The doctors slowly moved back from the table.  The entire building was silent. The director rode the elevator to the lobby floor, where he saw Marlene’s mother arguing with security, trying to find out what had happened to her daughter.  The director’s face said it all.  Marlene was gone.

Her worldwide celebrity spread like wildfire.  Protests and boycotts against not just ETV but against all TV erupted in her honor.  Marlene never imagined she would be the end of ETV.  She never imagined she would finish what Rhonda had started all those years before.  But, as the world watched the holo-news broadcast of the ETV executives being sentenced to prison, everyone shared a moment of quiet respect for the death of Marlene and the end of TV.


2 responses to “Ratings Game

  1. We could only wish that reality TV would end.
    Your diversity of stories continues to keep me, as the reader, entertained, and most importantly surprised by the path the story takes. They all leave me wanting to know more about the characters and for such brief acquaintances with them I feel connected and feel the emotion

  2. Almost too close to what is happening already. Love to read more about the future. Love to learn more about these characters.

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