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 War II.

"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 company?"

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 sequels."

"OK, we'd better get this moving again. Action!"


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