“Prior to Broadway”

23 August 1997
[Betty reviews Scott's letter of introduction.] Teleplay by Rupert Holmes.

Story by Rupert Holmes and Emily Whitesell.

Directed by Richard Shepard.
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For those that feared that more drama and a continuing arc would signal the death of light-hearted episodes, this one is offered as exhibit A for the defense.

Many have been concerned about not getting an answer to Victor's question, "Who...is Scott Sherwood?", right away. I think Rupert needed to follow up the season premiere with something lighter to convince a segment of the audience that WENN wasn't turning to doom and gloom (although I thought the premiere was very funny as well as dramatic).

It looks like the speedier opening remains in place. I'm a little disappointed with that. I always liked the bom bom BOM bom just before the end.

However, the same monotonous intro starting on the radio, then watching the young woman sit down (what a loiterer; she's there every week), then moving to the "On the Air" sign, is gone. Frankly, I thought it'd worn out it's welcome quite a while ago.

In "Radio Silence", in her depression over Victor's death, Betty began using her writing to work through her pain. If she couldn't be happy, then by Jove, her characters could be: "It's a miracle!"

Now, in "Prior to Broadway," she's working out her confusion over a revelation over Scott's identity by having characters in her shows have massive revelations about each other's identities. "Sister Mirisa, have you never wondered why I came to visit this Catholic parish even though I am a Protestant minister?" Have we ever wondered why Scott Sherwood agreed to manage WENN even though he's (admittedly) had no radio experience?

"You know our good friend, Brother Paul? He's your brother...Paul."

Just as in "Radio Silence", the other WENN personnel are aghast ("Brother, I've seen cemeteries with more inviting plots than this."), only this time they don't understand the motivation. (And since it's not so nearly an emotional pit as Victor's death, it's not as overwhelming as before.)

Hilary is stunned to find she has to actually do the food preparation on Home Sweet Home she usually pretends to do. (Watch Gertie in the background as Hilary and Betty treat her as a postwoman.) The sponsors, Mr. and Mrs. Sweet, are watching from the control room. Outraged, she complains to Scott, who refers to her as "Hildy", "Hilly" and "Hil".

After all the times Hilary has intentionally and rudely mucked up other people's names, there was some gratuitous pleasure in seeing Scott dish the same thing to her. :)

"I refuse to tolerate these parts any longer," Hilary exclaims as she tosses the script at Scott, who ducks and manages to avoid a series of paper cuts in his face.

"Well, the people from these parts will be sad to see you go. Hah! A little humor, there."

"I'm a Broadway actress, steeped in the classics of the stage! When, oh, when will this station understand how you squander my skills?"


Briefly thinking he said "Someday", "Well, of course they'll...what, what is Sunday?"

After having her new role as a Calico Jones, Cat Detective spelled out for her, Hilary hisses at Scott, "I'll scratch your eyes out!"

Hilary obviously takes exception to making inhuman sounds on the radio, which Scott thinks "works for Sinatra." Sinatra had been doing radio work in New York when Harry James discovered him in 1939. However, James' band had no significant hits during that time and Sinatra remained largely unknown. Sinatra moved over to the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in early 1940. Assuming this episode takes place in Spring, 1940, Frank Sinatra would have just had his first hit vocal on Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra's "Polka Dots and Moonbeams."

Other indications about the time and the WENNiverse follow immediately. Jeff is reading a February issue of Radio and Television Mirror (I was unable to verify that it was Feb, 1940, but the magazine title and design is consistent with 1940). Hilary makes reference to Thornton Wilder's Our Town just receiving the Pulitzer. In our universe, this happened in 1938 (with its first performance on 4 February, 1938). It seems to have happened later in the WENNiverse. Also, Hilary refers to the national home of theater, Broadway, in New York City, being 214 miles away from WENN in Pittsburgh. This is consistent with other indications in the series that Pittsburgh in the WENNiverse is located further east than it is in our universe (where over 300 miles separate the two). In my Walk Through of "On the Air," I stated that "I'm considering Remember WENN as taking place in the WENNiverse, a universe similar to ours, but not the same as ours."

She also quotes Robert Frost's line: "...miles to go before I sleep" from his poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," collected in his New Hampshire (1923).

Hilary wants to be on stage where her acting craft can be viewed again. "I have to be seen to be believed."

"No argument there, Hilary." As in "Magic," the barbs are clearly flowing with affection nowadays.

Hilary is given a letter of introduction written by her mentor, Giles Aldwych, introducing her to a new playwright: "The gentlemen bearing this note is a budding playwright whose passion for your work has affected me deeply. I'm sure you'll find him deeply affected as well."

Now, that sounds like a typo, as if Giles meant to write, "I'm sure you'll find he will deeply affect you as well." But no, Giles was very precise. Which takes us to the WENN word-of-the-week. An affectation is an attempt to produce an effect using an artificiality of manner or behavior. For instance, Hilary put on an affectation when she was going to be interviewed about Grace Cavendish. She tried to act as she thought a big, big star should act. "Affected" is the adjective version of "affectation." As the episodes demonstrates, Giles was spot on.

"See him in, Mr. Eldridge."

"He is in, and I am he. How very thrilling for you to have me introduce myself."

Euripedes Moss is a fan of Hilary's. His words even sound like Hilary's. So much so that she later declares, "Now, that's how a real playwright acts."

Euripedes was the name of one of ancient Greece's greatest tragic poets. Of his 90 plays, 18 tragedies survive. Among his themes was dignifying the position of women. He was critical of double standards regarding men and women. Thus, it's not too surprising that he's captivated by Hilary.

"Miss Booth, your slightest twitch interests me."

"This man is a talent to be reckoned with!"

Jeff, with an accent: "I reckon."

"What is your play about."

"About an hour and forty minutes." Laughs at himself, "Professional joke."

Polite laughter.

Jeff: "Professional laugh."

"The Bell of Babylon." Kinda makes me wonder if there's a piece of fiction alluded to in Babylon 5 with the word "Remember". [Several similarities, clearly unintentional, have been noted between the series by the fans, with high quality being at the top of the list. So we're always on the look out for more. Which takes us to...]

Betty is searching for a different letter of introduction: the one by Victor that accompanied Scott Sherwood to WENN. She finds it and starts reading it to herself, hearing mentally the voice of Victor. Although I don't expect to see John Bedford-Lloyd (unless it's the season ender) again this year, it was nice to hear his voice over. Maybe another B5/RW similarity. Several episodes into season two of B5, Michael O'Hare had a small bit, a vid he sent to Garibaldi, that had been recorded earlier to be inserted into the episode. JBL probably taped this voice-over when he did the season opener to be dropped into this episode.

"Scott Sherwood has overseen a score of innovative enterprises in Portugal, Cairo and Dublin." World traveler? Let's not forget Madrid, Spain.

Scott walks in on her and he recognizes the letter. "Victor was unusually complimentary...all about your successes in Portugal and Dublin and," making a change, "...Persia."

"Cairo," Scott volunteers.

Which makes it clear he knew what was in the letter. Not proof of anything, but bad form. But he seems awfully nervous for Betty to be looking at it and asks to have it. Betty promises a Photostat instead.

Continuing to read it, Betty finds one of Scott's pet phrases, "Look at the time," in it. Much more disturbing than Scott's knowledge of "Cairo."

Despite having to fully do Home Sweet Home because of the Sweets, Hilary and Jeff enjoy an evening dinner with the couple. At the end of the evening, back at WENN, Hilary uncovers that Mr. Sweet has had thoughts of backing Broadway plays.

The Sweets could have the money for them, Euripedes has the play for them, they just need to prove the play has wings and the Sweets will become their "Broadway Angels." Hilary decides to use willingness to play Calico Jones as motivation for Scott to let WENN broadcast "The Bell of Babylon," thus testing out the play.

Hilary is in a rapturous mood when she arrives to rehearse. "Oh, Mr. Eldridge, can't you feel it? A kind of tingling all over"

"Yes, but I think a little liniment will help."

Jeff has found a newcomer director who won't bark orders at Hilary: Mr. Foley!

Euripedes' play is very grim, but Jeff thinks, that with the news of the European war seeming more ominous each day, that comedy is more needed. Jeff suggests a mixture of the two to Euripedes.

With skepticism: "You want to mix drama with comedy?"

"Exactly, we could call it a dramedy."

"Or a comma," Hilary alternately suggests.

A skeptical Euripedes questions mixing drama and comedy where Jeff sees no problem with the two co-existing. Perhaps Rupert is alluding to fans (or others) who fear the drama will overwhelm the comedy and is trying to reassure them?

I had higher hopes for the Hilary and Jeff working together on stage, but the rehearsal doesn't go well. Despite seeming interested in Jeff being a part of the play, Hilary quickly returns to self-obsessment and has the first two pages of the play deleted since she isn't in them. She doesn't want Jeff walking in front of her or for her to ever turn away from the audience. While there are actually valid concerns of presentation there, she takes it too far.

Jeff, busy trying to bring a light-heartedness to the play, plays a little loose with the words. While the "your" and "those" distinction doesn't seem important to this play, it may be that the ownership of the geese plays a part later in the script.

The conflict between Jeff, Hilary and Euripedes over the creative decisions is best summed up by Hilary when she tries to coin a word describing both a tragedy and a drama: a trauma!

Just before the broadcast, both Jeff and Hilary speak with the separate Sweets. They each indicate they will back the play if its thrust is to their liking.

"I'm ready to write a check tonight," Mr. Sweet says. He wants comedy. "There's too much tragedy already."

"Well, tragedy is really comedy that isn't amusing."

"Cute, cute. I'll bet you'll have the radio audience rolling in the aisle."

"Aisle...bet I do."

"Aisle...bet?" Riotous laughter.

Hilary goes into a panic about how to make only a play about a woman with only 10 days to live humorous.

Eugenia comes to fetch, Hilary. "Are you ready, Hilary?"

"Jeff was right! I was wrong!"

"I'm sorry ma'am," dead seriously, "I thought you were Hilary Booth."

Hilary tells Eugenia to play funny music for her part instead of the serious music they had planned. "I know 'Barney Google'," she volunteers. (A big hit for Ernest Hare & Billy Jones as well as Georgie Price in 1923.)

Mrs. Sweet wants drama. "Do not ask for whom the bell tolls."

"Oh, no, no, no, no. Of course not. Hmmm. Who are you saying it tolls for?" LOL.

She wants a play "that confronts the tragic Babylon we live in. I'm ready to put every penny of Sweet's Supplies into that play."

Jeff tells Eugenia to switch his music from light to tragic. "I know 'Marche Slav'." (Op. 31 in B Flat Major. A big hit for Piotr Tchaikovsky in 1867.)

So both Jeff and Hilary decide to do the polar opposite of what they had planned. Each probably thinks they'll make the other happy since they are now in agreement. Briefly meeting in the hallway, they agree completely there must be no mix of comedy and drama, but all one style.

In what seems to becoming a 2nd episode of the season tradition, Jeff and Hilary get to play a scene twice in the episode. But the scenes are 180 degrees apart. I love the contrast between the rehearsal and broadcast. Jeff did the tennis bit humorously, but now takes the same lines to bitter despair. Hilary takes her sad lines, then turns them around in broadcast to slapstick.

Mr. Moss, as you would gather, is distressed. On the air he has the cast and crew vote for tragedy or comedy. The listening audience decides to participate. In the first episode, Gertie came up with some mythical phone calls that kept Betty at the station. I wonder how accurate her claims that the numerous phone calls were coming in to kill the show. (We did hear a phone ringing when Gertie came in before the door closed.)

Much like the bit in "Magic," when Jeff and Hilary were describing their act to Betty, we have a very nice moment between the couple again. Perhaps they've realized that starring in a play together would spoil the happiness they've come into.

I'm enjoying it while I can (such a pleasant change from "The Bickersons" of early days), since I'm now convinced that Jeff is "pulling the wool over" Hilary's eyes as foreshadowed in "Magic."

Just as a kiss nearly closed out the previous episode, Jeff and Hilary kiss before we move to the final image, ancient drama masks representing comedy and tragedy.

Next week, Scott's thievery is going to come back to haunt him as we find the word that will strike fear into his heart, "audit." But this doesn't necessarily mean we'll get the final word on "Who Is Scott Sherwood?" (If we don't get a definitive answer, it'll be another B5 parallel. The fourth season's "Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi?" didn't really answer the question. That answer came much later in the season.)

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