Last week's issue of New Times was very popular. We got lots of phone calls. Readers picked up papers so quickly that by Thursday most of them were gone. Staffers from all departments reported an extraordinary amount of comment among friends and acquaintances.
That issue contained a new column called "1 Herald Plaza" and a cover story called "The Secret Script." The column was made up entirely of true facts. The cover story was simply made up.
What better way to relieve the Miami summer doldrums than to have a little fun with a light-hearted spoof? Much of "The Secret Script" was based on fact. A new CBS sitcom called Dave's World, drawn from the writing of Miami Herald humor columnist Dave Barry, will in fact debut September 20. Most all details bore close resemblance to the truth: Fred Barron did create and write the pilot, he did visit Barry in Miami, the Herald did decline to allow the program to use its name or film its offices, and the pilot's plot does center on Dave coaching his son's soccer team.
But did we actually receive an anonymous CBS envelope containing a script, a memo, and a letter from Herald publisher Dave Lawrence? Of course not. Our staff wrote everything and art director Brian Stauffer created the documents. We hope everyone who saw it had as much fun reading it as we did putting it together. And we hope it fooled a few people. At least for a little while.
Apparently it did. No less an authority than Hal Boedeker, television critic for the Herald, wrote, "After a close reading, insiders might realize the package is a parody, but other readers might not." We couldn't fake out Dave Barry, though. He saw right through it. Just goes to show that it's difficult to pull a prank on a prankster. In any case, the man who has become famous for poking fun at people failed to see any humor in our humble efforts. As he told Boedeker, "This isn't remotely funny." What a sourpuss!
But Dave can be forgiven if he assumed we were trying to be "funny." The fact is we weren't. We were only doing our best to re-create television's idea of humor, which, of course, usually isn't very funny. Usually it's just banal. The fake script was banalin a realistic way.
Same with Dave Lawrence's fake letter to a CBS attorney. The fake memo from Dave's World creator Fred Barron was banal (though Dave might have thought otherwise). It's possible that after reading the script, Dave realized that his TV show, like most TV shows, isn't likely to rise above mediocrity, and that millions of Americans will come to view him and his writing that way, too. Now that would be enough to put anyone in a bad mood.
Humorists, however, are notorious for being cranky characters in real life. So maybe Dave's reaction was predictable. But boy, were we surprised to hear about the response of a certain unnamed executive ensconced at 1 Herald Plaza. We have learned that at least one honcho, after perusing last week's issue, was so livid he could hardly contain himself. He ranted. He raved. He wanted to squish us like insects.
Eventually a message was conveyed specifically to me, though it arrived indirectly: I should talk to an attorney.
Think of it. Someone in a position of power at Miami's media giant threatening to drag this poor little free weekly into court over a good-natured lampoon. Now that is funny.
But what high-ranking executive could possibly be so dumb and so hilarious at the same time? Who would have the authority to instigate legal action? Only three people come to mind: Jim Batten, Dave Lawrence, and Roberto Suarez. I doubt it would be Knight-Ridder chief executive Batten. Given his corporation's lackluster performance recently, I assume he's got better things to do than obsess over some trifle we'd print.
Herald publisher Dave Lawrence was on vacation and incommunicado this past week. But his sidekick, Roberto Suarez, was in town. Suarez, president of the Miami Herald Publishing Company and publisher of El Nuevo Herald, is best known for standing tall alongside Lawrence during last year's battle with Jorge Mas Canosa. In a soul-searching rumination over the controversy, Suarez addressed freedom of the press. "Ah...freedom of the press. Perhaps it is this right that has some people worried," he wrote on January 26, 1992. "It was one of the first freedoms we lost under the Castro tyranny. Is it possible that we Cubans have learned nothing in this great nation?" Ending with a flourish, Suarez declared, "I will not be intimidated."
Bravo! With such lofty principles so dearly held, how on earth could Suarez be considered as a suspect in the threats against New Times? What force at the Herald could possibly cause him to abandon his ethics? Who might wield enough influence to intimidate the man who won't be intimidated? I can barely imagine the scene:
INT. MIAMI HERALD OFFICES - DAY
DAVE STOmpS INTO PUBLISHER DAVE LAWRENCE'S OUTER OFFICE, A TATTERED COPY OF NEW TIMES CLUTCHED IN HIS HAND. HE IS BREATHING HEAVILY AS HE POUNDS ON THE DOOR. NO ANSWER. HE POUNDS AGAIN.
DAVE: (SHOUTING) Dammit, Lawrence! Open up! It's Dave Barry! Dave Barry!
HE SPINS AROUND TO GLARE AT THREE STARTLED SECRETARIES.
DAVE (TO SECRETARIES): I know he's in there. Make him open the door!
THE SECRETARIES LOOK AT EACH OTHER NERVOUSLY. ONE OF THEM RISES HESITANTLY.
SECRETARY (TO DAVE): I'm sorry, Mr. Barry, but Mr. Lawrence is on vacation and can't be reached. Is there something I can do for you?
DAVE: Do for me? Is there something you can do for me? Yeah, you can get Lawrence back here now.
SECRETARY: I'm sorry, Mr. Barry, but that's impossible. He's on a boat and simply can't be reached.
DAVE: Oh, that's wonderful. That's great. This pathetic rag's cash cow can't talk to the publisher because he's on a boat somewhere? Would that be somewhere between Cuba and Key West? Is he interviewing a rafter for his terrific Sunday column?
SECRETARY: Perhaps you'd like to speak with Mr. Suarez.
DAVE: Mr. Suarez? You want me to speak to the mayor?
DAVE TURNS DIRECTLY TO THE CAMERA AND ROLLS HIS EYES.
DAVE (CONT'D): And people don't believe me when I say, "I'm not making this up."
SECRETARY: Mr. Roberto Suarez.
DAVE (TO SECRETARY): Who?
SECRETARY: He's the president of the Miami Herald Publishing Company.
DAVE: Never heard of him. And he's probably never heard of me.
SECRETARY: Let me see if I can get you in immediately.
INT. SUAREZ'S OFFICE - DAY
DAVE LEANS OVER SUAREZ'S DESK, HANDS PLANTED AGGRESSIVELY AT THE EDGE. SUAREZ IS OBSCURED FROM VIEW AS HE HOLDS UP A COPY OF LAST WEEK'S NEW TIMES.
SUAREZ: Please, Dave, give me a minute to finish it.
DAVE: You'd be done by now if you didn't have to say each word out loud.
SUAREZ LOWERS THE PAPER TO REVEAL HIS FACE. HE SMILES WEAKLY.
SUAREZ: Honestly, Dave, I don't think it's so bad. You didn't like the part where you hugged Tommy after the game?
DAVE: Very cute. Maybe we should switch jobs. You obviously are the funniest man in America. Listen, Suarez, I don't know what you do around here and I don't really care. Lawrence is out of town and that leaves you at the top of this slag heap. I want you to do something to kick some ass about this. Now. Comprende, amigo?
DAVE WHIRLS AROUND, STORMS OUT OF SUAREZ'S OFFICE, AND LOUDLY SLAMS THE DOOR. SUAREZ'S EYES WIDEN AND HE PICKS UP HIS PHONE. HE IS VISIBLY SHAKING.
SUAREZ (TO HIS SECRETARY): Julie, I want you to find out who's the meanest son-of-a-bitch attorney in Miami and tell him to get over here immediately.
INT. SUAREZ'S OFFICE - LATER THAT DAY
SUAREZ PACES BEHIND HIS DESK AS HE TALKS TO A MAN SEATED WITH HIS BACK TO THE CAMERA.
SUAREZ: It's an outrage on Mr. Barry. And another thing. Did you see this?
HE PICKS UP NEW TIMES AND OPENS TO "1 HERALD PLAZA." THE ATTORNEY'S BACK REMAINS TO THE CAMERA.
SUAREZ (CONT'D): This is the last straw. This is a challenge to my personal integrity. An insult! Who do these carajos think they are? They don't know they're dealing with Roberto Suarez!
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ATTORNEY: (NODDING AGREEMENT) Yes, sir.
SUAREZ: I don't care what it takes, we're going to screw these guys. I want them screwed. Do you understand?
ATTORNEY: Yes, sir.
SUAREZ: We're going to squish them like little insects. When can you get a lawsuit together?
ATTORNEY: Well, sir, I'm not exactly sure what you want to sue over, but don't worry. I can have something ready this afternoon.
SUAREZ: Excellent! I knew you were the man for the job.
ATTORNEY: Thank you, sir.