THE YEAR IS 2016.
Things aren’t looking good for the future of space exploration. Things aren’t looking good for the state of reality programming, either. It is at this intersection of earnestness and stupidity that the idea for Waste of Space is born.
Naturally, it involves teenagers.
And so it comes to pass that in the midst of a rare Los Angeles thunderstorm, a dozen shadowy figures meet in the small hours of the morning at a secret and nefarious location: the Denny’s off Wilshire Boulevard. They take up two tables, eight urns of coffee, and five carafes of orange juice. The astrophysicists wittily order Moons Over My Hammy. The television executives order nothing.
The following meeting ensues.
Item: Transcript of audio recording
Source: Development meeting
Date: January 4, 2016
[Note: Due to the difficulty in identifying multiple voices, most speakers have been labeled with their organizations rather than as individuals; this format will be employed in several instances throughout this report.]
DV8: You’re okay with us recording this, right?
NASAW: We don’t know what “this” is yet.
Waiter: [off-mike] Who ordered extra hash browns?
[thirty seconds of unintelligible chatter, rustling, sound of plates being placed on table and silverware clanging]
DV8: All right. Now that you’ve got your breakfasts—
NASAW: Aren’t you going to eat?
DV8: We don’t have time to eat.
NASAW: Not even a bagel?
DV8: Especially not a bagel, Paleo doesn’t—forget it. Back to the matter at hand: our proposal. Chazz?
[sound of a throat clearing, then a chair scraping across the floor as Chazz Young, CEO of DV8, stands up to address the group]
Chazz: Ladies and gentlemen of science, I hate to break it to you, but astrophysics isn’t cool anymore. Sure, people embrace technology when it allows them to post photos of epic bacon-wrapped food items, but drag them into a planetarium and you’ll end up with desperate scratch marks on the walls. Funds have been cut, the man on the moon is several decades in the rearview mirror, and the youth of America continue to respond to the vast and impossibly boundless possibilities of outer space with an emphatic yawn.
NASAW: What about Cosmic Crusades? Cosmic Crusades is cool.
Chazz: Science fiction is cool. Science is not.
Chazz: Example: two different panels at Comic Con, one with the cast of a space-movie franchise and one with genuine astronauts. Which do you think will be better attended?
NASAW: [unintelligible grumbling]
Chazz: Exactly. Likewise, we admit, people have grown bored with the repetitive nature of reality television. They can only watch so many bar fighters, spurned lovers, table flippers, bug eaters, bad singers, and cat hoarders before it all seems like stuff they’ve already seen before. The world is clamoring for something new! Otherwise they’ll have to turn off their devices and go read a book, and we simply can’t have that.
NASAW: Books aren’t bad!
Chazz: Books are the worst.
NASAW: [unintelligible grumbling]
Chazz: So. You need to drum up interest in the space program, and we need more eyes on more screens. Luckily, we’ve come up with a solution that we feel will be mutually beneficial to both of us.
NASAW: And that is?
Chazz: We want to take a bunch of teenagers and shoot them into space.
Chazz: And put it on television.
NASAW: That’s—er—not possible.
Chazz: Why not?
NASAW: Aside from reasons that should be apparent to anyone with a functioning brainstem, it’s a logistical nightmare. They’d need to undergo months of training and health assessments. You’d need a ship big enough to accommodate a cast, crew, equipment—
Chazz: Oh, we’ll be faking it. The whole thing will be shot on a soundstage. You really think The Real Housewives of Atlantis was filmed at the bottom of the ocean? Please. Those women were so full of silicone they would have floated straight to the surface.
NASAW: But we thought this would be a purely educational endeavor. Didn’t you say you were from PBS?
Chazz: Yes! We lied. We’re from DV8.
NASAW: DV . . . 8?
Chazz: It’s a cable television network with several blocks of programming across multiple platforms, including streaming services, our own website, and every social media outlet there is. We’d like to cram all of them full of this.
[sound of coffee urns shakily hitting the rims of coffee mugs]
Chazz: Which is why we need you! Our first choice was obviously NASA, but they not-so-politely declined. So the low-rent version of NASA it is!
NASAW: I beg your pardon. We are the National Association for the Study of Astronomy and Weightlessness. We are not some piddling little administration—
Chazz: Which is exactly why we’d like you to be consultants. We’ll take care of the casting, the production, everything on that end. You, meanwhile, design a convincing spaceplane—
NASAW: [overlapping] Spaceship.
Chazz: —you tell us what all the rumbles and beeps and boops are supposed to sound like, and we’ll bring in the best special-effects team money can buy.
NASAW: But won’t this seem like one big joke? With all due respect to your special effects, not even the major Hollywood movies can get it a hundred percent right. It’s going to look silly.
Chazz: People believe what they want to believe. Remember America’s Next Top Murderer? Viewers thought that victims were actually being picked off by a serial killer. The network had t...