DISCLAIMER: I own nothing, except my admiration and respect for the work of Gregory Maguire and L. Frank Baum.
A/N: The time is somewhere between 1978 and 1981. Shh, Dallas is about to come on.
Every evening, the good citizens of Oz could turn on their televisions and watch Glinda Upland bring them the six o'clock news. She did it with such sparkle that even the bleakest headlines seemed like rainbows.
But it hadn't always been that way. At the age of twenty-five, Glinda had made the jump from the local Frottica station to the national broadcasting corporation feeling sure that this was it – her big break! She soon realised that her new job as a lowly Occasional Correspondent gave her less screen time and was vastly less interesting than her old job on the crime beat at Frottica Regional News.
"Why don't you come home?" her mother would say, over the phone.
"Because I'm happy here. It just takes a while to get established, that's all."
"But once you're established, then what? What will you have to show for it?"
"Why, a career, of course."
"Oh, these careers. They're nothing but trouble. You can't have a career and a husband, you know. No man wants his wife competing with him in the workplace."
In the safety of her apartment, Glinda rolled her eyes.
"Things have changed, Momsie. Didn't you hear? These days a girl doesn't have to choose. We can have it all."
"Is that some nonsense you read in Ozmopolitan?"
"It's not from Ozmopolitan," said Glinda. "It's the zeitgeist."
"We're just worried about you, darling. Living alone, working all hours. Wasting your looks and charm. Are you sure you're all right?."
"I'm fine, I promise. Give my love to Popsie. I'll call you next week."
She put the phone down, and sighed. It wasn't as if she was doing much in the way of the zeitgeist herself. Most of her stories were about things like kittens rescued from wells, or grand envelope openings. There was a special trade name for these kinds of stories: fluff. Glinda hated fluff. Of course, it didn't help that she had turned out to be so good at it.
At first, she had tried to suggest ideas for more serious Occasional stories, but this always seemed to backfire. She would make an appointment to see Chuffrey, the Head of News, and present an outline for something in-depth and hard-hitting.
"That's an excellent idea, Glinda," Chuffrey would say. "Quite excellent. That's just the kind of thinking we need – real out of the box stuff."
As well as being Head of News, Chuffrey also doubled as the ten o'clock anchor. He cultivated a distinguished air: silver hair, gold cufflinks, fine cigars. He was on his third marriage. The present Lady Chuffrey was twenty-nine and had recently retired from a career in surface acrobatics (otherwise known in the newsroom as table dancing). Glinda had met her once. She wore wraparound sunglasses and shoes that cost more than Glinda earned in a year. As Head of News, Chuffrey was regarded as generally fair and easygoing by his staff. As a journalist, he was well-respected but had lost his edge years ago, having settled into the role of a calm, kindly figure who appeared on TV every night to tell everyone everything was perfectly fine.
"I'm so glad you think so," said Glinda excitedly. "I went ahead and did some work on the different angles we could pursue – "
Chuffrey seemed not to be listening, lost in his own administrative thoughts.
"I'm not sure this fits under the Occasional remit, however," he said. "How about I take this to the Politics desk and see what they can do with it?"
"But I thought perhaps I could – "
It was no good. Chuffrey was already shuffling through the paperwork on his desk, a sign that their five-minute meeting was over.
"Thank you, Glinda," he said, giving her a genuine smile. "Excellent work. Would you mind closing the door on your way out?"
This is a disaster, she thought. I'll languish in fluff forever.
EBC1 had two daily news bulletins: six in the evening, and ten o' clock at night. The news at six was read by the veteran reporter Don Cutter. He had gunmetal grey hair, a voice like gravel, and a scar on his grizzled brow. Aside from the times when they had to work directly together, he had exchanged no more than two or three words with Glinda in all the time she had been at EBC1. He was known for his volcanic temper, and occasionally he and Chuffrey could be heard shouting heatedly at each other behind the closed door of Chuffrey's office.
One evening she was in the studio, waiting to go on the six o'clock news and talk about the unveiling of the new Guard uniforms at the Palace. They were about to go on air when Cutter lost his temper, and suddenly there it was: Glinda's lucky break.
"This isn't news!" Cutter roared, tossing the pages of his script into the air. "We should be telling people something real, not this trash!"
The senior producer, Amanda Morrible, and the junior producer (whose name nobody bothered to remember), ran down from the production suite to try and calm him down. Morrible was usually able to deal with Cutter's rages. She always wore brightly-patterned, vaguely avant-garde clothes – misshapen and billowing. Her clothes made her look almost jolly, but there was something cold about her. Glinda half admired her, reflecting that it couldn't have been easy to make it so far in the boys' club of television news. On the other hand, she had seen what happened to anyone petulant or inept enough to get on the wrong side of Amanda Morrible. It wasn't pretty.
But Cutter didn't care about any of that. He ignored the attempts to placate him, and pointed wildly to his forehead.
"Do you know how I got this scar? Covering the Glikkus Mining Strike, that's how! My first big story, thirty years ago. Do you know how hard it was to get footage from the picket lines? We had riot police beating us up. That was censorship. But we didn't care, because we were doing our jobs!"
"Come on, now," said the senior producer, soothingly. "Nobody here is censoring you."
"Not in so many words, Amanda, but Oz, have you looked at the stuff we've been broadcasting lately? What's our lead headline tonight?"
Cutter was waiting for someone to answer him. There was a moment of fraught silence. Then the junior producer said, in a nervous voice:
"Exactly! A spoiled heiress, famous for being famous. That's all the news means to people these days! Well, it means more to me."
"You just need a moment," Amanda said. "It's all right. Everybody understands."
"No," he said, suddenly sounding weary. "I don't need a moment. I don't need anything from you people any more."
Then he walked out, like a boxer leaving the ring. The studio doors swung shut behind him.
"Three minutes to air!" cried the junior producer. "What are we going to do?"
"Get Chuffrey. He'll have to do it."
"Chuffrey's not here. He's at that press briefing, remember?"
"Who else is around?"
"Nobody else can be ready in time!"
"Oz damn it," Morrible swore. Then something struck her, and she clutched Glinda's arm. "Glinda."
"What?" said Glinda, startled at the strength of the woman's grab.
"You can do it."
"Yes, you. Chuffrey's away, and there's no-one else. You're ready to go on, aren't you?"
"Yes," said Glinda. "But – "
At this point, a pert voice had piped up from the vicinity of the weather board.
"I could do it."
"We need you to stick to the weather, Pfannee. We don't want to surprise the viewers any more than we have to."
"But won't it be a surprise when they see Glinda instead of Don?"
"Absolutely not. They see Glinda all the time as a correspondent."
"No they don't. She's hardly ever on."
"She's on often enough," Amanda said, ice in her voice. "It's a natural transition."
"Two minutes to air!" squealed the junior producer.
"Here," said Amanda, shoving the scattered pages of script at Glinda as she pushed her towards the anchor desk.
"But I don't know the script!"
"Nobody really needs the script. It's all on the autocue. You've used the autocue before - just say the words you see. And try not to look like you're reading."
Glinda sat down behind the desk. Like everything on set, it was a lot flimsier than it appeared. But that didn't matter, she knew. It was the sheer fact of the anchor desk that was important: the aura of authority it conferred. When she first started working at EBC1, she had spent hours observing skilled broadcasters like Chuffrey and Cutter. It seemed that if you spoke in calm, measured tones from behind an imperturbable desk, people would be inclined to believe almost anything you told them.
"One minute," said the junior producer, who seemed to be calming down.
Hands fluttered around Glinda, fastening a tiny microphone to her blazer and giving her an earpiece. Pfannee called out from the weather board again, with a distinct note of resentment.
"She's a bit shiny."
"Make-up!" shouted Amanda.
In another second Shenshen from make-up was dusting pressed powder over her face. Glinda sneezed once, twice. When she looked up, everyone had melted back into the shadows behind the camera line, and Amanda and the junior producer were nowhere to be seen.
Heart hammering in her chest, she straightened the sheets of paper in front of her and tried to breathe. In her earpiece she heard the ridiculous, clashing fanfare that served as the intro music. She had time for one last thought to flash through her mind – how lucky that she had worn the charcoal skirt suit! After all, it was her smartest and most serious work outfit – before the fanfare was fading away and Amanda's voice came over the earpiece, close as a whisper.
"Ready Glinda? Counting you down. On three, two, one…GO."
For a moment Glinda felt sure her throat had closed up. She couldn't speak. She had been on television before, of course, but not like this. It was the knowledge of all those people, watching her. Waiting for her to tell them everything they needed to know. Waiting to believe her.
"Glinda," hissed the voice in her ear. "We're on, for Oz's sake!"
Her eye caught the flickering lines of text on the autocue. That steadied her. She smiled, to buy herself a few more seconds. In ordinary situations Glinda's smile was very pretty. Her teeth were white and perfect, and she had a dimple in her left cheek that she secretly counted as one of her most adorable features. But the medium of television altered Glinda's smile. Alchemized it. On television, it was a thing of radiance.
"Lurline," said the junior producer back in the safety of the production suite. "Look at that. It's like sunshine."
"Shh," said Amanda.
And then Glinda spoke. Melodiously, surely.
"Good evening, citizens of Oz. This is EBC1, bringing you the six o'clock news. I'm Glinda Upland. The headlines tonight: interest rates, up or down? We bring you the latest obfuscation from the Bank of Oz. And as building work stalls again on the Yellow Brick Road, the Minister for Infrastructure faces tough questions over spiralling costs. But first: our top story. She was the girl who had everything. In line for the Eminency of Munchkinland and heiress to a fortune, in recent years Nessarose Thropp has become known more for her hard partying ways than her high name. Tonight, she awaits bail after a dramatic confrontation with a paparazzi photographer outside a luxury Emerald City hotel. We ask: could the girl who has everything lose it all? Let's go live now to our Legal Correspondent, outside the High Court..."
It wasn't until she handed over to Pfannee for the weather that she realised the bulletin was nearly over. They had been on air for nearly forty-five minutes. Once she got over her initial anxiety, Glinda found that it was really ridiculously easy. Almost effortless, in fact. It was as if no time had passed at all. Meanwhile, Pfannee was flipping her hair and talking in her sugar-plum weather voice as she pointed to a picture of a rain cloud to the right of the map.
"We can look forward to a clear day tomorrow, but looking ahead to the weekend we see this band of rain moving in from the Nonestic Sea. Most of that should dissipate over the desert, but we might still see some brief showers – probably heaviest in the Vinkus, with sunny spells breaking through the cloud further in the East and in the city. And now," she said sweetly through gritted teeth, "back to Glinda."
"Glinda, wrap it up," the voice in her earpiece warned.
"Thank you, Pfannee," Glinda smiled, turning back to face the camera. The autocue screen was blank - each newscaster had their own unique way of closing the news, their own dear adieu, so the sign-off wasn't scripted. What could she say? Say anything, she told herself. Anything special you can think of. "I've been Glinda Upland, and that was the six o'clock news. Chuffrey Duke will be back with your night-time news at ten o' clock. Until then, from all of us here at EBC1, we wish you your own sweet time."
Then the lights were dimming around her, the fanfare was playing in her ear, the off-air buzzer sounded, and it was over.
"Thank Lurline," she said. The adrenaline was ebbing away, leaving Glinda feeling jumbled-up and tired: relieved, and oddly victorious, but also bereft. The moment of her lucky chance was past - but had she done enough to seize it? She stood up and started taking off her earpiece and microphone, only to be interrupted by Pfannee.
"What was that about?"
"What do you mean?" Glinda asked.
"What you said at the end. When you wished them their own sweet time."
"I don't know," she said. "Amanda was telling me to sign off and the words just…came into my head. Why?"
Glinda and Pfannee had been hired at EBC1 more or less at the same time, and they had rapidly established a paper-thin friendship. Pfannee thought that Glinda gave herself airs. Why, she had actually started out on regional television – so provincial! Glinda, meanwhile, thought Pfannee was an airhead. They maintained a veneer of cordiality, interspersed with veiled insults and subtle undermining. So it was that Glinda, expecting a barb, was taken aback at Pfannee's next words.
"I just thought it was a nice touch, that's all."
Pfannee nodded, grudgingly. "You were really good."
In the production suite, the junior producer looked over at his boss.
"I thought she did pretty well," he said, tentatively.
"Did pretty well?" the senior producer exploded. "Did pretty well?! That was the best anchor work I've seen in years. I thought she was singing us a lullaby. I don't even remember half of what she said. She's a natural. It was perfect."