n the movie "Casablanca," Rick's Cafe
Americain is shut down by a Vichy official who says he is "shocked,
shocked," to discover that gambling takes place on the premises. A
moment later, a croupier hands him his winnings for the evening.
Imagine now that that scene is being reshot, but with dramatic
tension provided by travel industry channel wars instead of World
"And ... action!"
Classic Custom Vacations chairman Ron Letterman: "How can you
close me up? On what grounds?"
Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch: "I'm shocked, shocked, to find
that your boss, Barry Diller, is a ruthless competitor to
traditional travel agencies."
The director turns to his assistant. "Get me a rewrite. I'd like
an alternative version of this scene."
The scene is rewritten, the lines rehearsed.
"And ... action!"
Upchurch: "You want to close me up."
Letterman: "I'm shocked, shocked, that you would think that I'm
not committed to traditional travel agents."
The director frowns. "Something's not coming together here. Get
me that guy who does audience focus groups. You there! You! Tell
me, why isn't the audience buying this?"
The audience researcher looks perplexed. "Actually, sir, the
audience loves it. Many of them are gleeful."
"Yes, sir. They enjoy seeing Letterman's company rattled."
The director looks confused. "But Letterman is a completely
sympathetic character. He's a natural: Ron Letterman has always
been the friend of the travel agent. Didn't they love him in
'American (Express) Hero?' And 'The Carlson Kid?' And I thought
this Classic series he's been doing had real legs ... "
"They do love him, sir."
"Then why do they want to see him rattled?"
"Not him, sir. Remember in the script where Expedia buys his
The director smiles. "I thought it was brilliant. Adds some
dramatic tension. Our hero becomes an antihero, caught between a
ruthless boss and the people he serves."
"Problem is, sir, despite the story line showing Classic's
activities supporting agents, there are all those other scenes
where agents are battling Expedia for business. Remember that early
scene where Carlson parted ways with Classic shortly after it was
acquired by Expedia? And that Boss Diller -- he kind of frightens
the audience, sir. Suppliers included."
"He's suppose to be frightening." The director strokes his chin.
"Wait a minute. If Diller is so scary, how come Upchurch is just
realizing this now?"
The researcher consults his notes. "The audience, too, is a
little confused on this part. In the next scene, we've got
Letterman accusing Upchurch of becoming a wholesaler in competition
with him. But we've got time to work this all out, sir. With all
the buzz we're getting, the studio is already planning several
"OK, we'd better get this moving again. Action!"