Rising-star showrunner Stacey McCreedy has one goal: to leave behind her nerd-girl origins and become a power player like Ann Dalloni, her former mentor and current producing partner. Ann, meanwhile, is feeling her age and losing her mind. But she’ll be damned if she cedes control of their hit primetime TV show to Stacey.
After Ann hires Jenna, a young actress hoping to restart her stalled career, as an assistant, the relationship between Ann and Stacey deteriorates into a blood feud. Soon, Jenna must choose whom to support and whom to betray to achieve her own ends. And Stacey will find out if she possesses the killer instinct needed to stay on top.
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Stacey was in her office with the door closed, reading a script, when she heard her producing partner, Ann, bray her name from outside her door. “Stacey! You in there?”
She marked the spot that she’d read to and pictured Ann steamrolling down the hallway. Three, two, one: Ann flung the door open and stepped inside. “There you are. I want you to meet someone.”
Stacey did not grimace at the interruption. She made her eyes go bright and friendly and held up the script. “Hold on, I’m halfway through the latest draft of episode 5.”
“I’ll be quick. And that script is fine; I already approved it.”
If Stacey were keeping track of Ann’s little put-downs, that would be the first of the day, the fifth this week. On a Tuesday morning.
Ann pulled in from the hallway a slim, pretty actress whose credits included the lead in a low-budget horror movie, a four-episode guest arc on Gossip Girl, and featured roles in the ensemble casts of two short-lived cable shows. She had also done a TV spot in the previous year for The Olive Garden, as a perky waitress, if
Stacey was not mistaken. But what was she doing in the office?
Ann said, “Jenna, I’d like you to meet Stacey Sampson, the second woman in Two Women Walking, and co-creator of The
Benjamins. Stacey, this is ”
The second woman? Make that slight number six. Stacey said,
“Jenna Kuyt, isn’t it?”, stood, shook hands, and hoped Ann had not gone behind her back and cast this Jenna without Stacey’s consent.
She had nothing against the girl, but there were protocols in place for who did what when and consulted with whom. Protocols
Ann was inclined to forget.
“It’s such a treat to meet you!” Jenna said. “I was just telling
Ann how much I loved Mothers and Daughters, and you worked on it, too, right?”
“I did, yeah. And hey, I liked your work in East Side, West
“You mean you were one of the ten people who saw an episode before it was cancelled?”
Jenna was enough of an actress that Stacey couldn’t tell if the modesty shtick was false or true. What she could see was that
Jenna’s face was a study in the golden ratio that defines physical beauty. Up close, she was breathtaking, in a pan-ethnic, oliveskinned,
green-eyed, auburn-haired kind of way. Like a citizen of the future, an ambassador of the planet.
Next to Ann, she looked like Baby New Year alongside
“But thanks,” Jenna said. “It’s good to know someone watched the show other than my parents and my boyfriend.”
Okay. What was Jenna doing there? And why were Stacey’s calf muscles tensed, and her heart rate elevated?
Ann said, “Jenna’s going to be my assistant while Candace is on maternity leave.” And to Jenna: “Stacey is number one on my contact list. We call each other eight times a day, minimum. And text or message countless more times. Right, Stacey?”
“Sometimes,” Stacey said, “we even speak to face-to-face, like we’re doing now.”
Jenna smiled politely, Ann rambled on about the nature of their partnership, and Stacey wondered what Ann was up to with this hire. Maybe Jenna’s acting career had slumped (The Olive
Garden, for Christ’s sake) from C-list to off-list in the last year,
and she was reduced to doing temp work, so why not become an assistant to an industry heavyweight like Ann? And it would be just like Ann to take pleasure in bossing around she would call it mentoring a pretty, semi-known actress. That was probably what was happening: the two of them were engaged in mutual exploitation, and Stacey’s fight-or-flight response was an overreaction.
“I should get back to this script,” she said. “Welcome aboard,
Jenna. I hope you like it here.”
“I’m sure I will. It’ll be fun to learn how the business works from the other side of the camera.”
Yeah, non-stop fun was what they had, all right. Stacey said,
“Ann, a quick question what happened to that kitchen argument scene between Ryan and his dad? I didn’t see it in this draft.”
“I moved it to ep 6. And like I said, don’t worry about that script.”
“Me, not worry? Is that even possible?”
Ann ignored that, and on her way out, said to Jenna, “Stacey started in the business as my assistant a few years back. I took her on straight from college, and now her office is almost as big as mine.”
Ann’s version of the how-they’d-met story positioned her as a wise old bitch and Stacey as a young, eager-to-please pup plucked from a litter of interns and trained until she became Ann’s top dog.
It was true enough that Stacey didn’t need to hear it again. She got up to close the door and heard Jenna ask, “So, which one of you is the showrunner?”
Good question. Stacey waited, doorknob in hand, to hear
“I am. On the creative side, anyway. I’m the Оminence grise around here.”
“The head honcho.”
Stacey shook her head. Ann would take full credit until forever for their combined work, and for the work of the three hundred people that their production company employed to produce The
Benjamins, a primetime dramedy (the inevitable tagline: “It’s All
About Them”) centred on the hopes, dreams, and weaknesses of an interracial L.A. showbiz family.
Glory-taking was Ann’s way, and there was no denying that her track record of thirty-one years in television take this in:
she’d started in TV the year Stacey was born had helped sell the show to the network. But The Benjamins concept had been all Stacey’s to begin with. She’d dreamt up the concept during her non-existent spare time while producing Ann’s last show. She built and devised the storylines, characters, and arcs for the entire first season and put together a complete show bible before she even brought the idea to Ann. Before Ann had tweaked it and assumed ownership of it.
Ann said, “Stacey’s a rock, but her role is to look after the logistical side of things. She’s got an accountant’s mind she’s all about dotting i’s and crossing t’s.”
Stacey eased her office door shut. The secret to survival when working with Ann was to pick out the occasional tiny gold nugget of approval from the dross she blurted out daily. So Stacey would take being called accountant-ish and rock-like as a compliment,
and she would get back to work.
As of that August morning, two episodes, post-pilot, of the eight-episode first-season order of The Benjamins were in the can,
the fourth was in production, the premiere was slated to air in a month, and Stacey was so busy she had to compartmentalize. She picked up the script and tried to focus in on it, but she couldn’t concentrate
her mind skittered and bounced over the words on the page. She lifted her head, dropped her jaw, and placed two fingers on the pressure point beneath her collarbone. She breathed in and out and ordered her brain to calm itself, to de-tense. That was better.
When she’d finished reading the script, she made some notes on it and gave it to her assistant, Topher, to distribute, though without employing any of the techniques Ann had used in Stacey’s assistant days. There were no imperial summons or hollered orders,
and no throwing of papers across the room. Instead, Stacey got up from her desk, opened her office door, and waited until Topher finished his phone call before asking him to please pass the script on.