My thriller, The Shop, opens with a nighttime raid on a luxury chalet in Aspen, Colorado. Among those killed in the house are the finalists of a reality TV show and its pop-star host, Brienne Cross. Their deaths touch off a media frenzy, which is the very goal that the clandestine assassin team (code named "The Shop") had sought.
The premise of The Shop came to me as I began to notice the media's insatiable appetite for celebrity death stories. Celebrity deaths and sensationalism have always been a sure-fire audience favorite, perhaps because we want to be familiar with the rich and famous or because we want to know their troubles.
Cable “news” and updates streaming over the Internet create a constant babble of sensational crime that drip feeds us. Anna Nicole Smith’s death was bumped off the air by the battle over Terri Schiavo (including a grandstanding House Majority Leader who called a special session of Congress to restore her feeding tube) and Terri Schiavo’s celebrity was in turn trumped by the death of Pope John Paul II.
The media’s madness for sensational stories was exemplified when CNN developed the menacing Jaws-like music for their all-day coverage of O.J. Simpson’s murder investigation and trial. O.J.’s case had all the ingredients to keep the public enthralled: a grisly Hollywood double murder, flight from the law, and a lovable former football star who leapt over turnstiles in Hertz commercials and played a cameo role in a Naked Gun movie.
But what is the opportunity cost of dedicating so much time to celebrity sagas?
Sometimes, history’s great moments are blunted by the banal. The Iranian protests of a few years ago were an important precursor to the Arab Spring. For the first time the people on the street could send tweets to the world. Through their lens, we saw the young woman, Neda, die in front of our eyes. It was a moment that transfixed the world. The visuals of the Iranian protests were snuffed out here in the U.S. not by the ayatollahs’ crackdown, but by Michael Jackson’s death. Once again we were in O.J. Land, with television blasting 24/7 the death of Michael Jackson and the aftermath.
These event and others (like the sobbing judge in the Anna Nicole Smith child custody case) are perhaps the most powerful way to draw attention away from news that is significant. And this is the idea that fuels the premise for my thriller, The Shop.