VISIONARY: So there’s this dog.
PBS SUITS: We’re listening.
VISIONARY: And he loves books.
VISIONARY: He knows all about classic books.
SUIT #1: Adorable.
SUIT #2: Like a cartoon dog?
VISIONARY: No, no. A live Jack Russell Terrier.
VISIONARY: He belongs to a boy named Joe.
SUIT #1: Nice.
SUIT #3: And Joe reads him the books?
VISIONARY: No, Joe couldn’t care less about books.
SUIT #3: Oh. Okay.
VISIONARY: Joe and his friends’ day-to-day scrapes resemble the plotlines of great novels, and Wishbone like, picks up on it.
SUIT #2: Wishbone?
VISIONARY: The dog.
SUIT #2: Oh.
SUIT #3: The name seems like more of a turkey thing…?
SUIT #1: Should we name him something literary? Something like Dogstoyev-
VISIONARY: No. His name is Wishbone. Unlike his human companion, Wishbone is a great lover of books. When Joe’s life reminds him of a masterpiece, as it so often does, our canine Virgil guides the audience on a journey into that book.
SUIT #3: So the dog can talk.
VISIONARY: Nope. Joe and his friends and Joe’s mom just think he’s a regular dog.
SUIT #2: …Joe’s dad?
VISIONARY: Ellen is a single mom. She’s a widow. This is a story about the limitless ecstasies of the imagination, but we want to respect the complex lives of our young viewers, so sometimes things are very real.
VISIONARY: Wishbone can narrate, though.
SUIT #1: So when we travel into the world of novel…
VISIONARY: Live actors, costumes, the works. Mini-Masterpiece Theater. Also, Wishbone is a character.
SUIT #2: Narrating?
VISIONARY: No, he is an actual character in the book.
SUIT #1: Ah, I get it. In the book part, all the characters are played by dogs?
VISIONARY: You get nothing. Wishbone plays a character, for example Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, and the other parts are played by adult human actors.
SUIT #3: But you said he can’t talk to humans.
VISIONARY: No, see, in the world of the book, nobody thinks he’s a dog and people understand him. Just not in the real world. But then what is “real,” right?
SUIT #2: Like they just never acknowledge he’s a dog?
VISIONARY: I mean he wears a costume, so.
VISIONARY: It’s imagination, guys! Kids understand. And that’s what reading’s all about. Personally, when I read, I picture Ivanhoe as a dog like half the time. At least.
SUIT #3: Literally Wishbone is wearing a Romeo costume and standing in front of a grown woman in an Elizabethan gown who’s asking him to deny thy father and refuse thy name, but no mention of the fact he’s a dog?
[Suits shrug, like ‘I guess that checks out’]
SUIT #2: All fours or hind legs?
VISIONARY: That really depends on the themes of the book.
SUIT #1: Uh, can you go into more detail as to how a middle-class American boy’s life constantly resembles episodes from the literary canon?
VISIONARY: Like, his female friend wants to play soccer with the boys’ team and that’s kind of like Joan of Arc wanting to fight in the Hundred Years War.
SUIT #3: Is it?
[Suits take drinks of water. Visionary does not drink, he only sees]
VISIONARY: The classics really resonate with kids’ everyday lives. Maybe you don’t want to babysit your little sister and that’s just like A Tale of Two Cities! Or, off the top of my head, just thinking of what kids these days like to do, maybe our man Joe starts a business delivering groceries, which seems really great at first — until the corporate megalomania transforms him into a prepubescent Midas lording over the suburbs. The connections are almost too easy, know what I mean?
SUIT #2: Here’s the thing, Lance. There’s a lot of great stuff here. Creativity, out-of-the-box thinking—
SUIT #1: Out of the kennel, if you will—
[the Visionary will not]
SUIT #2: And the dog-teaching-kids-to-read concept, that’s perfect for our demographic.
VISIONARY: He doesn’t teach them to read. He inculcates in them a passion for timeless narratives.
SUIT #2: Okay.
VISIONARY: Joe’s in middle school, he can freaking read. Not that he ever bothers.
SUIT #1: I think what Dave’s trying to say is—
VISIONARY: My winsome Jack Russell Terrier is no mere peddler of phonics. He is the bard, the scop, the muse. He is the flame that lights the cave.
SUIT #3: And that’s totally PBS! But see, it’s a half-hour slot. There just isn’t much time to cover a whole Joe-gets-into-mischief A-plot and then dig into the Penguin Classics…
VISIONARY: Oh you don’t do the whole book. Ha, no. A summary is fine, or maybe even just the beginning, and then you pretend like that’s a valid representation of the text. I’m thinking probably with Oliver Twist you could just end it after chapter three?
SUIT #3: Okay, but—
VISIONARY: We’re getting kids to read here, Janice. Give them just enough to tantalize their literary palates and I guarantee you they’ll devour all these titles, cover-to-cover, and certainly not just use the surface knowledge gleaned from Wishbone to posture before their future professors and Internet dates for the rest of their adult lives.
[Suits exchange glances]
VISIONARY: Trust me, they will all finish Silas Marner.
SUIT #2: How does the dog read?
VISIONARY: The same way you do, Dave. With an open heart and ready mind.
[Visionary begins to hum.]
SUIT #1: This seems like it would be a lot more feasible as an animated series—
VISIONARY: NO. He is a LIVE JACK RUSSELL TERRIER. His eyes are fathomless pools of knowledge reflecting all the pathos of great literature. The suffering and beauty of humanity bled onto the page and breathed in by generations of readers, connecting them — us — in an unspoken communion of shared loneliness that both celebrates and eases our pain. This is where we see that books do more than describe our human condition, Kevin. By shaping our minds and drawing us ever closer together, they create it.
SUIT #3: …In a dog’s eyes?
VISIONARY: A Jack Russell Terrier’s eyes, yes.