THE IT PARADE
Fill in the Blanks
All the spa pampering in the world couldn't console that aging TV news diva. Her creep of a boyfriend broke up with her via FedEx letterâdeliveredwhile she was recovering from plastic surgery. Paging bastard of the century! Think it can't get any worse? Read on, darlings. Apparently, it was
hormone specialist who got his sexual equipment back in working order. Just so he could use it on a much younger woman. Oh, and by the way, his current flame and his most recent ex will be cohostinga new talk show this fall. I'd give up my first born to be a fake eyelash in that makeup room.
party, and I'll bitch if I want to,” Sutton Lancaster snapped.
She was fifty. She was furious.And she was so fucking hot. Burning up, in fact. Actual sweat trickled between her breasts, as if a water faucet had been attached there. Goddamn hot flashes.
A nervous-looking Jay Lufkin stared back at her. “Hey, it's your night.”
“Is that so?” Sutton challenged him.
“You're the birthday girl.You're the star. Bitch away. Who's going to stop you?” Jay downed the last of his Pom-Pom, glancingaround for a waiter to take his empty glass.
Sutton glowered. The mere sight of this smooth-faced overachieverâsmug, ageless, and all-knowing in that Tucker Carlson sort of wayâonly exasperated her irritation. Here she stood, a news
with no real power, dateless at a party celebratingher half-century mark, and sick from an hors d'oeuvre binge twenty minutes ago. Of this much she was certain: Oprah had done fifty with considerably more panache.
She surveyed the Roof scene at Soho House New York, a private members club and hotel in Manhattan's Meatpacking District. Labor Day had come and gone. Everybody was back from the Hamptons. But the poolside theme still had the assortedrevelers behaving like summer might never end.
Sutton silently noted that nobody from Fox News had bothered to show up. How gracious. She expected as much from the network prima donnas. But what about all those little right-wing bitches and bastards that had glommed onto her for mentoring? Where were they? She tried to push the snub out of her mind. Who needed the assholes?
Every staffer at America's number one cable news networkwas probably putting money on how long it would take Sutton Lancaster to join the scrap heap of forgotten talking heads who left a good thing in search of more screen time and a higher profile.
Sutton took in the fantastic views of the West Village and the Hudson River, zoning out the cacophonous party chatter and the unimpressive turntable skills of computer-heiress-turned-DJPanda Dell.Wow.The girl could put the needle on a Nelly Furtado record. Big fucking deal.
Her thoughts zeroed in on the bigger deal at the momentâher own career. There were times (like right now) when she stopped to ask herself,
Why are you doing a high wire act at the age of fifty
The answer was simple.A woman could either take the leap or wait for the ax. Because the latter was inevitable. No matter how many times they told her otherwise, Sutton knew the truth. Internal support for her had eroded long ago. Now it was mere ambivalence. And there were whispers of concern ...
about her age
. Rumors were rampant regarding a secret memo being shared among executives that ranked the “fuckability factor” of all on-air female talent.
.Viewers actually believed that pick-up line. Several years ago Sutton had fallen for a come-on far worse:
We're going to make you a star
The Fox suits sure knew how to court a girl. But back then, Sutton would have been an easy mark for career attentionof any kind. Hell, she might have been tempted to jump into bed with the public access channel.
Oh, God, it was a bitter pill to swallowâthe realization that she had lived out an entire career standing on the precipice of something bigger and better that never came. Anyone who said that it just took talent, drive, and tenacity to make your dreams come true was a liar. Or an idiot. Because the two secret ingredientsfor real success were luck and timing.
To the untrained eye, Sutton had
, leapfrogging from large market affiliate to larger market affiliate on her way to grab the brass ring of every broadcast news anchor: a place on one of the big networks.
Ultimately, she darkened the doorways of every one, doing the substitute rounds on weekend newscasts, pulling correspondentduties on news magazine shows, listening patiently as executive after executive fed her cast-off lines like, “Hang in there. We're grooming you for a major slot. But you have to pay your dues.”
Then Fox News had come to the door with flowers, sayingall the right things.
We need a trusted, recognizable female anchor
You deserve to be a household name
So she jumped ship.
. And nothing happened.
. Once more, Sutton Lancaster got lost in the shuffle. Bill O'Reilly was Fox's Superman. Sean Hannity was taking off, too.Then the network poached Greta Van Susteren from CNN and gave her massive promotion with a cushy prime-time slot, relegating Sutton to more fill-in duties and the standard-issue ego strokeâher own Sunday afternoon week-in-review show.
And then, after years of low profile misery, she met Jay Lufkin, a producer with White Glove Entertainment. His call came like most life-altering calls doâfrom out of the blue. They met for lunch at Nooch, a Japanese-Thai noodle bar, and he told her about
, a new television project in developmentwith her in mind as top-billed host.
“It's a multicultural version of
,” Jay had pitched.
And at that moment, Sutton had wanted to get up and leave. But the ramen bowl was too tasty, and she was just starting to feel the tom yumtini cocktail. So she resisted the urge to bolt.
She thought about this producer's copycat pipe dream to muscle in on the vehicle that had turned Star Jones into a media monster and then publicly killed the beast to make room for Rosie, and after that headline-hogging train wreck, Whoopi Goldberg and Sherri Shepherd.
made it look easy. Put some women around a table.Watch them yack it up. But it was anything but easy. That's why almost every imitator had crashed and burned.
. What separated Jay's idea from those debacles?
“Our show is called
,” Jay had told her. “And you would be the Queen Bee.”
Right away, she wanted to hear more. “Go on.”
“Imagine yourself flanked by a Black American Princess and a gay man that every woman watching will wish was her best friend.” He paused a beat, smiling. “How's that for diversity?”
Sutton had experienced an electric tingle. This had real potential. A gut thing told her so.
“We've compiled a short list,” Jay continued. “Simone Williams and Finn Robards are the front-runners.”
Sutton's brain computer went to work. Both names rang a bell. Simone was an ex-model and bit player actress, though more famous lately for dumping New York Yankee Tommy Robb before the ball dropped last NewYear's Eve. Nine months later and the gossip columns were still sorting out the messy details.
As for Finn Robards, he was a trust fund baby and society It Boy, always turning up in Page Six,
at some glamorous event.
Jay seemed to pick up on her interest, because he moved in for the kill by launching into his own
. Loved talk shows as a kid. Lived for
The Merv Griffin Show
. Produced his own version in the backyard using neighbors as guests. Interned with Regis Philbin. Worked in various capacities with Joan Rivers, Ricki Lake, Queen Latifah, and Maury Povich before joining White Glove Entertainment.
Instinctively, Sutton knew that Jay Lufkin had talent. He might be pushing forty, but deep down, he was still that dorky kid pretending to be Merv Griffin. She could see the passion in his eyes.This guy was so desperate to step out of the shadows and run his own show that he would do whatever necessary to make it successfulâor die trying.
But Sutton had the most to lose here. She was hard news. This was entertainment fluff. And to say rolling the dice with daytime syndication could be a precarious career move was the understatement of the century. If it tanked, what then? Once she stepped into the alternate universe of talking about holiday fashions for Paris Hilton's exotic pet of the moment, she could hardly go back to lobbing serious questions about homeland security.
To a degree, what Sutton knew about White Glove temperedher anxiety. The young company had managed three successful launches in the past yearâa female-targeted celebrity game show called
, a reality series about young nurses, and
, a provocative hour hosted by former-porn-star-turned-sex-therapistAshlyn Saint. All were reaching at least ninety percent of American households and posting record ratings in key demographics.
“White Glove is very selective about the properties it chooses to develop,” Jay had told her. “They have sophisticated methods of researching and testing concepts. Feedback on
is already incredible. And it's still in the early stages of development.”
Sutton had just stared at Jay, recalling the
profileon Ashlyn Saint that detailed her shrewd profit participationdeal. That whore would end up making millions. “I'll want an executive producer credit and an ownership stake in the show,” she said.
That had been months ago. And now, on the eve of the program's launch, with stations and time slots secured, the publicity juggernaut under way, the staff assembled, the major guests booked, and the creative vision determined, word came down from top executives at White Glove that Sutton, Simone, and Finn were not quite enough.
Some last minute testing revealed that
needed a fourth host buzzing about. A relatable personality for the coveted young female viewers. Christ. At the end of the day, it always came down to age. Working in television
let you forget how old you were.
“Happy birthday!” Simone cooed, leaning in to offer air kisses on each cheek.
The intrusion sent Sutton crashing back to her own party. It was, after all, her fucking birthday. “Don't remind me.”
“Why?” Simone cried, glancing around appreciatively. “This night is fantastic. And everybody knows that fifty is the new forty.”
Sutton stopped to wonder. What would be fair punishmentfor girls under thirty who made such pronouncements? Immediate death came to mind. And if that seemed too harsh, at least facial disfigurement.
“You look amazing,” Simone went on. “I
the dress. It's Marc Jacobs, right?”
Sutton nodded, self-consciously fingering the oversized ruffles cascading down the left side of the slim silhouette. Was it too much? Did she look ridiculous? Could she still pull off sleeveless? Yes, she worked out like a demon, but no matter how hard she tried, there was still that slight jiggle of underarmflesh.
And here stood Simone Williams, impossibly beautiful, young, and thin, a vision of caramel loveliness, so unfussy in her black, one-shouldered evening dress by Prada, accessorized by a sturdy leather belt and a flirty Louis Vuitton Damier Sauvage bag. She didn't wear the look. She carried it. Everything about herâthe hair, the clothes, the makeupâwas a beacon of effortlessperfection. So naturally, Sutton wanted to kill the bitch.
Simone swayed to the beat of Michael BublÃ©'s “Save the Last Dance for Me,” popping a slender hip toward Jay. “You look like you're feeling no pain. How many have you had?”
Jay grinned blankly, bleary-eyed, close to being all the way gone.
“Enough to wake up in anyone's bed but his own,” Finn remarked, swooping in to kiss Sutton on the cheek. “Happy birthday, diva. How old are you? Twenty-nine again?”
She embraced him warmly, whispering “Fuck you,” into his diamond-studded ear. Something told her that Finn Robards might be
's secret weapon. He had a rare quality that rendered him infinitely appealing, a special brand of insouciance.
Sutton had never known a man who smelled better. Morning,noon, or night, his intoxicating scent never faltered. And he was sexy as hell, the exact sort of charismatic gay man who could infiltrate a straight couple's life, captivating the girl and titillating the guy.
As Sutton stood there with Simone and Finn, the reality did not escape her.Where only days ago they had been a signed and sealed triumvirate, they were now an incomplete quartet. The announcement to add another host had done a number on all of them. Nothing like a clarion call from the top to say, “This isn't working.”