PORTLAND, ORE. — It was almost midnight when my phone rang. "Sorry to call so late," said the voice on the other end, "but I'm in charge of a major Hollywood production company, and as you probably know we don't keep regular hours here. When a good idea pops up, we run with it, no matter what the hands on the clock are doing."
"And somebody thought it would be a good idea to call me?" I asked.
"Here's the deal," he said. "We're developing a new series for a major star, and he wants to portray a media personality."
"Could be risky," I pointed out. "I heard Jason Alexander's show about a sports-talk guy isn't coming back for a second season."
"You're referring to 'Listen Up,' " the voice said. "We're all sad about that. But listen: We want to use your career as the template for our project - character depth is the key. The star agrees completely, and has volunteered to move into your home for three months to learn everything about your work habits, opinions, and behavior quirks so his onscreen persona will be fully realized from the get-go."
"Is this hotshot going to pay rent?" I asked.
"I'm not finished," said the producer. "We're looking for a breakthough in the creative process. Minicams will be installed in your house and all daily interaction with the star will be broadcast directly to our building via closed-circuit so our writing staff can actively participate in the development of plot lines and subsidiary characters."
"If you're going to that much trouble," I said, "why not just install the cameras and put me right on the air?"
"The reality-TV trend has peaked," the voice replied. "Besides, you have no name recognition among viewers. Our star has a solid fan base."
"But my family has lots of intriguing elements," I countered. "The two dogs are always getting into mischief, my daughter just turned 16, and my wife is a children's book author."
"Super!" the producer exclaimed. "Our star has a contract to publish a children's book. Your spouse can give him tips."
"Excuse me," I cut in, "but if your big star is going to be a children's author, it seems logical that my wife and I can star in our own series. Are you telling me the only way to get on network TV is to already be on TV?"
"Yeah, that's pretty much how the system works," he admitted. "But this is your chance to rub elbows with a real celebrity. Maybe get interviewed by People. Your lack of enthusiasm puzzles me."
"Sorry," I replied, "but I don't lose anything by saying no. I still have my life, which is more interesting to me than just about anything on the air, and that's why I keep the set turned off most of the time."
"What a terrible thing to say!" he scolded. "If a majority of Americans were like you, TV ratings would plunge, fewer shows would get produced, and lots of people in the entertainment business would have to find other jobs."
"Maybe that wouldn't be a bad thing," I suggested. "Anyway, thanks for the offer. Is there anything else you wanted to tell me?"
"Yes," he said icily. "You'll never eat lunch in this town again."
• Jeffrey Shaffer writes about media, American culture, and personal history.