Fragments from 'Dan! The Musical'

From time to time the news cycle offers up an event of such import and complexity that it can only be comprehended through the medium of musical theater. This week resident composer Ben Greenman examines the Dan Rather/Katie Couric contretemps.

[DAN RATHER is sitting at home in his rocking chair, musing. His hunting dog is at his side. A cup of Postum is in his hand. In the background, music plays softly on his Victrola.]

DAN

There is something in the air,

There is a feeling of unrest.

It's like when a stranger rides into town

In a movie about the Wild West.


What is it that's nagging at me

And dragging at my poor old heart?

What is it that's making me feel

Like my world is coming apart?

Oh.

I know.

[The Victrola suddenly grows louder. To the accompaniment of Vess L. Ossman's "Hot Stuff Patrol," a ragtime hit from 1897, DAN springs from his chair and begins to dance and sing.]

DAN

The news, my dear news

It now gives me the blues

What was so rough and tough

Is celebrity fluff

Remember the days

Of the long, level gaze

And the sober report?

They have been cut short

And what's now in their place

Is the tarted-up face

Of a new kind of anchor

By gum, I should spank her.

They took what I loved and dumbed it down

I remember a day when this televised town

Was a city shining from the top of a hill

I wish it was shining that way still

The job once meant truth and respect and adventures

Now it's all toothless—or at the very least dentures

[DAN sits back in his rocking chair, winded. KATIE COURIC enters. She is wearing a tight t-shirt with no bra, shorts, and high heels.]

KATIE:

Dan, please: the foul breeze

That streams from your lips

Will cause me to pause

And put my hands on my hips

I can bring home the bacon

Fry it up in a pan

But I never have taken

A cheap shot at you, Dan

[Dan tries to stand but fails. He snaps his fingers and his dog trots

off and returns with a cane in his mouth. Dan takes the cane and

stands.
]

DAN

I didn't say you weren't smart

I didn't call you a tart

My comments were directed

At the trend that has connected

Celebrity flash to improving ratings

How I loathe these cosmetic updatings

[KATIE tries to reason with DAN.]

KATIE

What is your issue?

Why are you scared?

It's been more than two years

Since your last newscast aired

A female anchor

Is long overdue

I'm hardly a fembot

My mom is a Jew

[DAN seems distracted by her bralessness, or possibly by his Victrola. He raises his voice until he is shouting.]

DAN

There's a war on

There's a war on

Who cares if Paris

Has her drawers on?

[KATIE takes out her iPhone and places a call to CBS head Les Moonves.]

KATIE

Get me Les—

Les, it's Katie

This old wreck's

Nearly eighty.

You should hear

How he wheezes

And he might

Have diseases.

DAN

Nearly eighty?

Come here, young lady

And I'll show you

A thing or two

KATIE

Les, I swear

Say a prayer

For this spent

Piece of leather.

When I'm done

With my fun

He'll be doing

The weather.

DAN

I was going to

Give you a pass

But this just in:

I'll kick your ass.

Where you're going

Isn't heaven.

So dress for heat.

Film at eleven.

[KATIE attacks DAN with a broom, a high-heeled shoe, and a pack of

Virginia Slims. DAN counters by pouring the Postum on his dog, which

seems like a stupid move, but the dog, not scalded but annoyed — the Postum was only warm—nips at KATIE, who topples backwards on her high heels.
]

DAN

You can beat me

And assail me

But you know who

Will prevail? Me!

[KATIE hits DAN with her iPhone and knocks him unconscious. The camera pans back to show that the entire fight has been filmed and is, in fact, being reshown on an evening news report hosted by WALTER CRONKITE.]

WALTER

A clash of generations

Is a painful thing to witness

As are altercations

Between the wilted and the witless.

Change can't be stopped

So why even bother?

The news of my day

Dismayed my father.

And now we have cable

And the Internet, too

It'll change again next year

And then what will we do?

Has journalism endured

Or has it become showbiz?

You decide—watch or don't watch.

And that's the way it is.

[WALTER signs off. After the news, the network shows a special preview of "Pirate Master."]

Ben Greenman is an editor at the New Yorker and the author of several books of fiction. His latest book, A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both, was recently published.

Previously: Fragments from 'Lindsay! The Musical'