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I took up the invitation one day and was ushered into the famous black tower. We rode an elevator to whatever floor the screenings were happening, and I ended up entering a tiny theater with about fifteen to twenty other people. There was a projection screen (as I recall) for us to watch, and we sat in cloth-padded chairs that had consoles attached to them. Buttons corresponded to laugh moments, moments of approval and disapproval. I guess all of this "data" would go into some master view of audience reaction - a mediocrity Rorschach, in a sense.
I did mean mediocrity. "Melba" was pure formula. Even Lou Jacobi's asides, I remember, sounded like Yiddish-English commentary from a laugh barrel. Melba herself seemed a bit lost in her own sitcom. I voted with my buttons - sure that I might make the difference whether this show might air. I remember being incredulous that CBS didn't understand the dross they were offering for review.
After the lights went up, we were able to scribble a bit on our tiny comment cards with the usual dulled half-pencil. I started writing an essay on the foolhardiness of airing this comedy-like piece, so filled with clichés. A CBS page urged me to finish and exit, which I did - offering the card filled with my disapproval.
To my astonishment, CBS did air "Melba". I didn't remember that it was the night of the Challenger explosion, though I do remember that day. Perhaps I watched in astonishment once again, though I was hardly surprised that the show didn't make it any further than the ill- fated shuttle. In both cases, you had ground crews who might have known better, though thankfully no lives were lost at CBS - just jokes.
Upon exiting the floor I was given a ballpoint pen in a box "signed" by Donald T. Grant, thanking me for my time. I cherish it as a memento of 80's New York, and another adventure from much younger years.