Ed. note: Netflix has nothing on us. We have streaming serialized television ‘content’ too! We are pleased to present author Robert Johnson’s latest script for his new (ahem, his first) hit series … we’re publishing it in three parts. First episode here!
‘AMERICA’S FRIGHT FACTORY!’
Today’s premiere episode is hosted by world-renowned survival expert and sharpshooter Buck Ribeye, with a celebrity guest appearance by Dr. John Cartucchio, director of the National Institute of Horrible Diseases.
Dr. Cartucchio has graciously agreed to join our host on the grand-stand high above the “Fright Factory!” playground in sunny Florida, provided, of course, that social-distancing norms are observed. In a “Fright Factory!” first, Dr. Cartucchio has also designed the TRIALS in which three desperate contestants will risk everything to win prizes specially tailored to their needs. It promises to be a real scream-fest! So, if you enjoy being scared silly, just stay tuned.
RIBEYE: So, Doc, I bet a lot of our viewers don’t know that you always wanted to be on television.
CARTUCCHIO: That’s true. Back in the ‘80s, when I was horse-trading AIDS medicines at the National Pharmacological Union, I moonlighted as an actor. For several years I understudied Estelle Getty, who played Sophia on The Golden Girls.
RIBEYE: Did you ever go on the show?
CARTUCCHIO: Nah, Getty was too tough. Despite a series of mysterious accidents on the set, she never missed a day of work. I hated her. Did you know that I also wrote for television?
RIBEYE: I did not know that.
CARTUCCHIO: Yes, I contributed a pilot for a Golden Girls spinoff. My idea was a sit-com in which a serial killer is hired to work at Sophia’s nursing home, Shady Pines. I called it “Code Blue.” It could have made millions in ad revenue, but for some reason back then the producers didn’t think that old people dying was funny.
RIBEYE: Producers can be a drag.
CARTUCCHIO: In my experience, politicians are much easier to work with.
RIBEYE: So, what have you got for us today, Doc?
CARTUCCHIO: Well, Buck, I’ve designed three TRIALS that I know your viewers are going to love. These TRIALS are so scary, they will make your hair stand on end! I mean, your hair would stand on end if those testosterone injections hadn’t made you bald. No offense.
RIBEYE: None taken, dude. Hey, it’s a beautiful day here at “America’s Fright Factory!”, as always, and I know we’re all eager to meet our first contestant, but before we do let’s hear a few words from our sponsor…
The scene is a typical American supermarket. In one aisle, Marge and Gladys, both wearing clear-plastic visors, are stacking their shopping carts with toilet-paper rolls. Suddenly Gladys freezes, and a shudder passes through her.
MARGE: Why, Gladys, what’s the matter?
GLADYS (choking with tears): I’m so ashamed, Marge. It’s….it’s my body. I have an Unspeakable Physical Problem. It’s so ghastly that I can’t say its name on television. And….it itches! Shhh! (in a hoarse whisper) For God’s sake, don’t tell anyone!
MARGE: Don’t worry, honey. My husband, George, had an Unspeakable Physical Problem. It was disgusting, and almost ruined our marriage. But then we discovered Kabumibub. It’s a miracle drug!
GLADYS: Did it really work?
MARGE: Like a charm! George took just one pill a day with his juice in the morning, and he had no further symptoms until he died.
CUT to an image of the product. The medicine comes in a flaming orange-red box, with KABUMIBUB in bold letters followed by a picture of a mushroom cloud.
DISCLAIMER (spoken fast)
Do not take this product if you are nursing, pregnant, or ever plan on having children. Side effects may include rashes and bed-wetting. More serious side effects are rare. In some cases, people taking Kabumibub have been known to explode. If you experience severe bloating after taking Kabumibub, discontinue use immediately and call your local fire department.
Two weeks have now passed, and Marge and Gladys are back in the grocery store loading their shopping carts with cases of emergency canned goods.
MARGE: Gladys, you look terrific! Is everything OK now?
GLADYS (trembling slightly): Oh, yes! I’m so glad I learned about Kabumibub.
ANNOUNCER: And now it’s back to “AMERICA’S FRIGHT FACTORY!” [Canned applause and whistles as the camera pans across the set, where workers in Haz-mat suits have almost finished setting up the first TRIAL.]
RIBEYE: All right! Dr. Cartucchio, are you ready to meet our first contestant?
CARTUCCHIO: Bring her on, Buck.
RIBEYE: Here she is! Welcome to “America’s Fright Factory!”, Tiffany!
TIFFANY (jumping up and down and squealing): Ooooooh! I’m so excited!
RIBEYE: We know you’re excited, but are you scared?
TIFFANY: I haven’t slept for a week.
RIBEYE: Excellent! The producers told us you were kind of flaky. So, Tiffany, before Dr. Cartucchio reveals what he has planned for you, why don’t you tell us why you wanted to come on “America’s Fright Factory!”?
TIFFANY: Well, you know, I was in school.
RIBEYE: You were wasting your time getting educated, right?
TIFFANY: Um, I don’t know. I was in an MD/PhD program, and thought that when I finished medical school and my doctorate I could work for the advancement of humanity. Then the Virus hit, and I lost my internship; and, you know, the interest on my student loans is pretty steep. So, I was hoping….
RIBEYE: You were hoping for a bailout?
TIFFANY: I guess so.
RIBEYE: Well, I won’t lie to you, Tiffany. That’s pathetic. Don’t you agree, Dr. Cartucchio?
CARTUCCHIO: Um, hmmn.
RIBEYE: People who aren’t already rich have a lot of nerve enrolling in professional school. And why you think you need some fancy degree to make money, anyway, I’ll never understand. I have buddies who are driving “previously owned” Cadillacs today, and they barely graduated from sixth grade. You’re a dumb-ass, Tiffany, but I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. If you can make it through the TRIAL that Dr. Cartucchio has designed for you, we’ll give you a bailout. “America’s Fright Factory!” will pay for your first month back in school, and, because we know you’re living with your parents again, we’ll throw in a new, designer kitchen with high-end appliances. The kitchen will be free, if you agree to go on our sister show, “America’s Celebrity Garage Makeover!”
TIFFANY (crying): Oh! Thank you so much!!!
RIBEYE: Why are you crying, little lady?
TIFFANY: I just (choking with tears), never thought I could have this.
RIBEYE: Well, you haven’t got it yet. So, Dr. Cartucchio, what do we have in store for Tiffany today?
CARTUCCHIO: It looks as if the technicians are done now. Do you have any guesses, Buck?
RIBEYE: It looks like a triangle.
CARTUCCHIO: Not bad, Buck, not bad. Heh, heh. In fact, we have created our own version of the Bermuda Triangle right here on the set! The tank, filled with wastewater from the fracking fields of western Pennsylvania, is choked with a Sargasso Sea of rotting lettuce and discarded restaurant produce that “Fright Factory!’s” team of dumpster divers has collected for us. The gasses rising from that pool would make an elephant keel over. But that’s not all! We also stocked the tank. It’s teeming with farm-raised tilapia every one of which has tested positive for Covid-19. We considered piranha, but then we found a wholesaler who would take the tilapia off our hands when we were done. Tiffany will need to complete three laps around the pool to get her bailout.
TIFFANY (shivering): Ugh. Do I get any special equipment?
CARTUCCHIO: Don’t forget to wear a mask.
TIFFANY: My handicapped little sister sewed this mask for me from an old bed-sheet.
CARTUCCHIO: Nice pattern! Is that Wamsutta?
TIFFANY: Sis, you know I love you!
RIBEYE: Good luck, little lady! There she goes.
A splash is heard, followed by a long silence.
RIBEYE: Well, it looks like Tiffany isn’t getting her bailout today. What a loser! Did anyone ask if she could swim?
CARTUCCHIO: Tch, tch.
RIBEYE: We’ll have a better contestant for you in a minute, Dr. Cartucchio. But while we wait for the boys to dredge the tank, let’s hear a message from our next sponsor.
Stay tuned for AMERICA’S FRIGHT FACTORY!‘s next episode here.
Robert Johnson is a dance critic based in New York City.