Monday, March 1, 2010

DBTL 69: The Ground Floor

This is the latest installment of the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth, and where World War II never took place. In Hollywood, California, as the new decade of the 1940s dawns, the movie business continues much as it always has done. Some, however, see change looming on the horizon . . .

Culver City, California, USA
10 January 1942

“Drop whatever you’re doing and read this,” David O. Selznick announced dramatically as he swept into Louis B. Mayer’s office. “It’s your ticket to the future!” With a flourish, Selznick placed the day’s issue of Daily Variety in front of Mayer, open to one of the interior pages.

Mayer glanced at the paper and said, “So Errol Flynn’s getting married again. So what? He doesn’t even work for us.”

“No, not that, the one below it,” said Selznick.

Mayer continued to read, growing more puzzled as he did so. “NBC has set up a separate corporation for the Blue Network. Again, so what?”

“So this,” Selznick said, undeterred by his boss’s indifference. “This is because of an antitrust suit the Justice Department has filed against them. Mark my words, L.B., NBC is going to lose, and when that happens, they’ll have to cut the Blue Network loose. And we need to be there to pick it up.”

“It may have escaped your attention, David, but this studio makes movies, and you can’t show movies on the radio.”

“But you can show them on television,” said Selznick, “and that’s what we’ve got to be ready for. Everyone saw the television broadcasts at the New York World’s Fair, and the FCC just started handing out commercial broadcast licenses last year. In another year, television is gonna take off, and when that happens, MGM has to be there.”

“Little pictures in a box,” Mayer said dismissively.

“L.B., people already sit around in their living rooms watching a box that doesn’t have any pictures at all. This’ll be a hundred times better! And the best thing is, we’ve already got the pictures to show ‘em. The Thin Man! Gone With the Wind! Northwest Passage! Babes in Arms! Better than that, we’ve got the stars! Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy and William Powell, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. And right now, we can get the Blue Network for a steal. NBC knows that once they get rid of the Blue Network, their antitrust headaches go away. They’ll be ready to give it away. And you know, L.B., if we don’t buy it, someone else will. Maybe Warner, maybe Paramount. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, our chance to get in on the ground floor.”

Mayer sat and thought for a while. At last he said, “You’re sure you can make money from this thing?”

“L.B., I guarantee it.”

“Okay,” said Mayer at last. “Work up some numbers, and get back to me. What are we gonna call it, anyway, the MGM network?”

Selznick shook his head. “We do that, and the Antitrust Division is gonna be coming after us. We can call it Metropolitan Broadcasting or something.”

“Hmmm.” Selznick had seen that look on Mayer’s face before. Perhaps giving the proposed new broadcasting network a name had made it seem more real to him. Selznick smiled to himself. When Louis B. Mayer got that look on his face, it meant you were in like Flynn.

Selznick went off to work up some numbers.

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