This was the home of one of the heads of the Fox Network. He was just a junior executive back in the mid-80's, when the network was founded...and promptly stumbled with such duds as "The Joan Rivers Show," "Mr. President," and "The Wilton-North Report." But he had managed to play a role (or at least managed to make it appear that he had played a role) in getting the likes of "Beverly Hills 90210," "The Simpsons," and "X-Files" on the air, and that made him a hero at the network, prompting his rapid rise up the corporate ranks.
And if Fox was nowhere near First Place in the ratings, at least it had succeeded in convincing most television viewers that there were now four TV networks, not just three. That alone justified the eight figure salary Rupert Murdoch paid him each year.
These were the dog days in television, the summer months when viewership is down and reruns rule the air. But the networks themselves are scrambling to piece together a Fall schedule that will pull in Nielsen numbers and rake in the advertising dollars. And in the dog days, this particular executive earns his salary, sweating over myriad programming decisions, contract disputes, and affiliate complaints.
The two young women sitting before him now in his home (it was Saturday, and he refused to waste this glorious Malibu afternoon at the office) represented a small problem for Fox, but one which could have major repercussions. Namely, the future of the entire network.
Jennifer Love Hewitt was a homegrown Fox star, having achieved fame as a cast member of "Party of Five," and now starring in her own spin-off show, "The Time of Your Life." She was loyal to the network, and she had an impressive Q Rating (that is, she was favorably recognized by a large segment of the population, even if they never watched her show). The problem was, "...Life" was tanking in the ratings. And, unlike "Party...," it was ravaged by the critics. Poor reviews were nothing new for Fox (see: "Married with Children"), but the combination of pans and low numbers meant that there was diminishing enthusiasm for the show within the network.
The exec thought that the program could be salvaged. He had concocted a major PR blitz during the dog days, a "Summer of Love" push that would feature all-new episodes. The goal was to snare some of the viewers who were already watching similar fare, such as "Felicity" and "Dawson's Creek" over on the WB. Were Fox to pursue this plan, it would mean a huge commitment to the show, and would no doubt influence network thinking with other shows. In other words, Fox would develop additional programming that would appeal to the demographics of Hewitt's show. That would lock Fox into a struggle with the WB for females 12-35, and tie up network resources that might otherwise be used to attract other viewers.
Melissa Joan Hart represented another tactic, however. Her show, "Sabrina, the Teenaged Witch," had been a solid success at ABC for several seasons, but it was dropped by that network nevertheless, because of ABC's new commitment to lure older viewers, and "Sabrina" was strongest with 8-21 year olds. The show had valuable assets: A backlog of episodes for reruns and syndication, a talented cast, a loyal core of viewers, and generally good support from critics.
Were Fox to pick the show up, which is what Hart had been campaigning for, it would dictate that the network develop similar programming to compliment it. And that would mean that Fox would, overall, be targeting youthful viewers, leaving the young adults to the WB.
Either direction promised both fabulous successes as well as grave failures. The right decision could at long last help put Fox on top. The wrong one could wreck Fox's ratings across the board.
And, realistically, there was no room at the network for both shows. They appealed to different viewership, and they set differing tones which were largely at odds with one another. It would create a schitzoid mentality at Fox, and that would undermine the network's effectiveness. And besides, money was tight, what with David Duchovney's latest contract, and the network didn't need to spread itself so thin by carrying both high-priced shows on the air.
And now this well-paid executive...the man who had given the go-ahead to air the risky "King of the Hill," the man who had given the ax to "Melrose Place"...couldn't make up his mind. He explained his dilemma to the two actresses, hoping that, somehow, they might suggest a solution.
To his surprise, they did provide a solution. At least, Melissa Joan Hart did.
"I think the answer is obvious," the honey blonde said. "One of us just has to agree to leave."
Jennifer Love Hewitt arched an eyebrow and looked at Hart. She no doubt was about to reply that this was a ridiculous suggestion. But she never got that chance.
Melissa grabbed Jennifer by the hair and yanked her to the floor. Clearly, the blonde's notion wasn't to have the two actresses decide the matter through sober discussion. Rather, one of them would be forced to yield everything by brute force.
The executive was startled at first, and for a brief moment, he moved to break them up. But then he sat back to enjoy the show...this promised to be the best entertainment since Neve Campbell and Mila Kunis slugged it out at last year's Christmas party!
Before the startled Jennifer could react, Melissa was atop her, straddling her chest and throwing punches to the brunette's face. Jennifer grunted and squealed in pain with each blow. The sinister look on the blonde's face betrayed the fact that she was hardly the sweet-mannered girl she portrayed herself to be...she was enjoying this!
But Jennifer was far from helpless. With her dancer's flexibility, she was able to bring her legs up, wrap them around the blonde's head, and yank her backwards. With a quick shift of her body, she converted the hold into a choking headscissors.
Melissa dug her nails into her tormentor's legs, but with muted effect; Jennifer was no doubt happy she had chosen to wear Capri pants this day.
But Jennifer was so intent on applying her scissors, she failed to notice that the blonde was maneuvering her body as best she could, until she was able to throw a kick that caught the brunette flush in the jaw, stunning her. (The blow would have been worse if the exec hadn't insisted that the two girls remove their shoes before they walked upon his white carpeting. Melissa would have liked to have been wearing her Italian ankle boots for that kick!)
Free from the punishing scissors, Melissa scrambled to her feet and delivered another kick to Jennifer's ribs, then stomped down hard on her belly, winding the brunette.
Feeling herself to be totally in charge now, Melissa placed her foot on Jennifer's throat and, with her full weight behind her, choked her. The brunette coughed and gasped, her whole body squirming, as she desperately tried to break the stranglehold.
It was the blonde herself who ended the torture.
With a smirk, she coyly asked, "Ready to pack your bags and get out, girly?"
With the ball of her foot on the brunette's chin, she started to move Jennifer's head up and down for her in a signal of acceptance.
However, Jennifer wasn't quite ready to agree. Grabbing the blonde's foot with both hands, she sunk her teeth into Melissa's toes! Hart screeched in pain and, losing her balance, fell to the floor.
Consumed with rage, the brunette was on her in a heartbeat! She threw a flurry of wild punches, but those that did connect did damage. Then, grabbing the blonde's mane close to the scalp, she slammed her head again and again into the floor.
Finally, Jennifer positioned herself so as to trap Melissa's head between her muscular thighs for a fight-finishing scissors. However, Melissa was also in a good position to apply the same hold, and she did.
It was a bizarre tableau...the two young women, each trying to crush the other's skull between their thighs. They barely moved, save for involuntary spasms, as they poured their fading power into their legs. Their labored breathing echoed in the room. Their faces grew red, and were twisted into masks of pain and determination.
Jennifer had a small tactical advantage, and she took it. Her foe was wearing a skirt, and that allowed the brunette to claw her nails into Melissa's thigh with one hand, while using the other to grab her panties and yank them into a wedgie. That added to the blonde's torment, and no doubt contributed to her finally gasping out...
"Enough! I give!"
The brunette released her and sat up, watching the blonde warily the whole time. With great effort, Melissa got to her feet and staggered out of the house to her car.
"Sabrina" would appear next season on the WB instead.
And Fox was proud to announce: "The Summer of Love!"