Just A Typo: The Cancellation of Celebrity Mo Riverlake

John Bennardo

Book Cover

GENRE

COMEDY SATIRE FUNNY

    Core Theme

    MISUNDERSTANDING

    TIME PERIOD

    Contemporary

    COMPARABLE TITLES

    THE OFFICE (TV), THIS IS SPINAL TAP, TO DIE FOR, THE NETWORK

    CHARACTER LIST

    MO RIVERLAKE: LEAD. 40S. MALE. OFFENSIVE, RUDE, LACKING SELF-AWARENESS, FUNNY.

    TOM MULARKEY: 40S. LAWYER.

    JERRY BALONEY: 40S. LAWYER.

    LEXI: 20S. CO-WORKER/FRIEND.

    TODD: 40S. BROTHER.

    Logline

    America’s favorite game show host accidentally sends an offensive tweet, turning fans, friends, and fame-seekers alike into an angry mob eager to voice their displeasure. With his show sunk and his career canceled, can Mo Riverlake clear his name and find happiness again?

    Target Audiences

    Age: 18-34,35-54,55+

    Target Gender: Universal,Male Leaning

    Setting

    New York, Los Angeles

    Based on a True Story

    No

    Publishing Details

    Status: Yes: self-published

    Publisher: Self-Published

    Year Published: 2021

    Starting Description

    Celebrity game show host Mo Riverlake is two weeks removed from a Twitter typo that turned the post into something offensive. Since then, people from his past have come forward with twisted tales & false narratives that have branded him the most prejudiced man on the planet. He is getting arrested.

    Ending Description

    Mo has related to his lawyers (and us) how he rose to fame, and how innocent acts along the way came back to sink him. He's released from prison into a dystopian world where people are afraid to communicate for fear of being offensive. But there's a family reconciliation and a path to happiness too.

    Group Specific

    Information not completed

    Hard Copy Available

    Yes

    ISBN

    9798597493756

    Mature Audience Themes

    Language/Profanity,Nudity

    Plot - Other Elements

    Happy Ending

    Plot - Premise

    Other,Rags to Riches

    Main Character Details

    Name: Mo Riverlake

    Age: 7 through 40

    Gender: Male

    Role: Protagonist

    Key Traits: Narcisstic,Funny,Sarcastic,Naive,Uneducated,Blunt,Charming

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Lexi

    Age: 35

    Gender: Female

    Role: Emotional

    Key Traits: Modest,Sexy,Selfless,Sophisticated,Educated,Honorable,Empathetic,Faithful,Aspiring,Gracious

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Barry Stephenschmidt

    Age: 38

    Gender: Male

    Role: sidekick

    Key Traits: Clumsy,Sarcastic,Funny,Aspiring

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Todd Besilio

    Age: 41

    Gender: Lgbt

    Role: skeptic

    Key Traits: Blunt,Outspoken,Insecure,Complex,Unapologetic

    Development Pitch

    There are two ways this book can be adapted into a successful screenplay. One is to tell the story in a partial documentary format, similar to the Nicole Kidman film, "To Die For". Some of the back story and its current consequences can be related by these amusing characters themselves, all during the time period while the main character is in prison. The ending of the book, where Mo is released, would presumably take place after all these documentary interviews were recorded. A more conventional and straightforward adaptation would be truer to the way the book currently stands, but I would alter the structure some to allow for more immediate payoffs of the incidents that get Mo into trouble, while also giving him more of an active role in his fight to keep his career. As a screenwriter trained at the American Film Institute, I understand how to effectively alter the structure of this story to work more as a movie. The characters and topic are already in place for a great film.

    Genre

    COMEDY, MATURE AUDIENCE, DRAMA

    Brief

    Celebrity game show host Mo Riverlake finds himself the next target of cancel culture following a typo in a tweet gone viral and is tossed from his lavish LA home to a prison cell.

    Overall Rating

    FAIR

    Point of View

    FIRST PERSON

    Narrative Elements

    Authors Writing Style: GOOD

    Characterization: FAIR

    Commerciality: FAIR

    Franchise Potential: FAIR

    Pace: FAIR

    Premise: FAIR

    Structure: GOOD

    Theme: GOOD

    Accuracy of Book Profile

    Yes, the book profile is accurate.

    Draw of Story

    The author's voice is distinct and confident and both the story and language offer an impressive number of laughs per page. Much of the humor in this book is fresh and original, and often surprising. Bolstered by the first-person style, the narration at times has the feel of a stand-up comic firing on all cylinders with a quick, sharp wit. The premise of cancel culture gone too far is timely and interesting, and protagonist Mo Riverlake is an enigma readers will enjoy trying to figure out.

    Possible Drawbacks

    The potential of this story does not feel fully realized. Despite a thought-provoking theme and much clever humor, the plot feels sloppy (for example, the unfortunate typo that sends Mo on this dark path is too obviously a typo to make such a situation plausible, even in this realm of over-the-top satire). The ending of the story seems to fly in the face of the theme by suddenly reversing Mo's trajectory and reconciling him with friends and family in order to provide a happy ending, but a more tragic ending would feel more appropriate to the story and its sharp satire. The characters are not developed in any significant manner with the silly humor of the plot given priority at all times; while this genre allows for less character development than others, more development of the characters here would be of great benefit to the book, as, if the characters felt more real, the humor would cut so much deeper. As well as this, while critiquing cancel culture is a welcome and thought-provoking concept, a delicate exploration of this idea is required in order to avoid a sense of bitterness with society and with the victims of powerful and wealthy figures, and this novel comes a little too closely to being flippant in this regard.

    Use of Special Effects

    THE STORY DOES NOT RELY ON SPECIAL EFFECTS

    Primary Hook of Story

    The premise of cancel culture gone too far is timely and interesting and the rapid-fire humor is fresh, clever and surprising.

    Fanbase Potential

    I'm not sure enough people are as fed up with supposed cancel culture as the author of this book is, and so I doubt that people would flock to theaters to watch a satire of such. However, comedies are naturally popular, so if the characters are given more room to develop and grow, and if some subplots are introduced to create a real story out of this beyond mere satirizing of cancel culture, it is possible that a film like this could find an audience.

    Awards Potential

    I don't think so. Comedies rarely fare well in the awards community and certainly not any that lack character development and significant plot. It is possible that, if a very clever mockumentary-type adaptation was made in exactly the right kind of believable-but-ridiculous humor, then there may be potential for screenwriting awards.

    Envisioned Budget

    LOW BUDGET

    Similar Films/TV Series

    THE OFFICE (TV), THIS IS SPINAL TAP, TO DIE FOR, THE NETWORK

    What’s New About the Story

    Original is the unique and very clever humor that occurs on each page, and the exploration of cancel culture is thought-provoking and, as a concept, fresh. A slightly more grounded, realistic version of this story would make it more unique, allowing the humor to cut deeper, and would avoid putting off many viewers through its lack of believability or lack of character development. By making these characters live and breathe on the page, blurring the line between satire and realism, the satire would be more, and not less, powerful, and the film would feel more original.

    Lead Characters

    Protagonist Mo Riverlake is the only character who truly stands out here, but he does pop off the page. He is an enigma, as we never know where the truth and Mo's fictitious spin of it begin and end. Mo is simultaneously slimy and earnest, charming and off-putting, funny and tragic.

    Uniqueness of Story

    No, I think it needs much more work in the areas of plot, structure and character development in order to be classified as a rare gem.

    Possible Formats

    TV Series - Network, TV Series - Limited Run / Mini-Series

    Analyst Recommendation

    WORK IN PROGRESS

    Justification

    Sloppy, not enough plot or character development or realism, and the ending needs an overhaul.

    Tips for Improvement

    More character development, more realism, more believability in the events of the plot and behaviors of the characters, and overall a more delicate and intelligent approach to what is an extremely controversial topic. As well as this, as a victim of "cancel culture," the story would benefit from a protagonist who is not a white male, for obvious reasons.

    Brief

    America’s favorite game show host accidentally sends an offensive tweet and finds himself the next victim of cancel culture. With his show sunk and in prison waiting for trial, can Mo Riverlake clear his name?

    What We Liked

    John Bennardo's voice is distinct and confident and both the story and language offer an impressive number of laughs per page. Much of the humor in this book is fresh and original, and often surprising. Bolstered by the first-person style, the narration at times has the feel of a stand-up comic firing on all cylinders with a quick, sharp wit. The premise of cancel culture gone too far is timely and interesting, and would encourage much conversation, which makes the film easy to promote as publications would have an interesting angle from which to discuss it. Protagonist Mo Riverlake pops off the page. He is an enigma, as we never know where the truth and Mo's fictitious spin of it begin and end. Mo is simultaneously slimy and earnest, charming and off-putting, funny and tragic, and viewers will delight in watching him worm his way through justifications for his actions which we are never really sure Mo believes.

    Film: A character suddenly finding himself in a bad situation that only gets worse is a classic template for a feature film (indeed it could be said it is the archetype of all film noir), and with the right balance of humor/realism, character/satire, it could be an extremely successful film. More thriller-focused films in this category include much of the Coen Brothers' catalog but there are many zany comedies that follow this template as well (PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, ANCHORMAN). What makes JUST A TYPO unique is its fascinating protagonist Mo Riverlake who is an enigma; we never know if he believes what he claims--is he a hapless dimwit not at all self-aware, or is he an extremely clever manipulator? With the right actor and balance between satirical humor and realism in the script, Mo could be a protagonist everyone talks about and could provide awards opportunities for the actor who plays him.

    TV: JUST A TYPO would make an excellent adaptation for TV, especially if it was done in the style of a comedic mockumentary such as THE OFFICE. The situation Mo finds himself in is ridiculous but plausible and the contrast between how the public view Mo and how Mo views himself is both hilarious and fascinating. Done well, Mo could be as complex and simultaneously likeable/cringeworthy as THE OFFICE's Michael Scott, or, if a darker tone was pursued, Mo could be portrayed similarly to the endlessly hapless titular character, played by David Cross, of IFC's THE INCREASINGLY POOR DECISIONS OF TODD MARGARET. An ever-spiraling series of unfortunate events provides much opportunity for subplots and characters to develop, allowing for multiple episodes and possibly even multiple seasons.

    Key points: Thought-provoking premise; extremely funny in a fresh and clever way; fascinating enigma of a protagonist; fun, over-the-top plot; low-budget and not requiring SFX.

    Synopsis

    LOS ANGELES: MO RIVERLAKE (40s, average build, average in many respects) wakes up inside his posh Beverly Hills home, hardly fazed by helicopter sounds as he makes Pop-Tarts. He checks outside: people are still picketing at his gates and there’s a continued police presence. He’s used to it. He turns the TV on and sees a bird’s eye view of his own home from the circling helicopter. The news indicates that Mo is about to be arrested. Assuming it’s just an orchestrated arrest to end the media circus, Mo changes into appropriate attire and puts gel in his hair. He waits by the door and is surprised when police kick it open and aggressively arrest him. He is dragged through the jeering crowd and into a police car. Realizing this is serious, Mo says, “It was just a typo. I didn’t mean to offend anyone.”

    This arrest and picketing pubic was the end result of a series of unfortunate events incited by a tweet of Mo’s after the Supreme Court voted against an initiative that would have given LGBTQ people fundamental rights. In tweeting about it, Mo—who is a celebrity game show host—wrote the following, accidentally missing the letter L in “flag”: “Sad news for America; we should all have our fags at half-mast today.” He tried to explain the mistake, but no one listened. Then, a litany of people he once knew came forward, “twisting” Mo’s every previous action and word into something resembling prejudice.

    At the police station, the watching crowd hurls threats and insults at Mo, throwing fruit and other items. They book him and take his mugshot. Attorney TOM MULARKEY (sleazy, buffoonish, but a good lawyer) arrives. They talk in a private room. Tom says the tweet isn’t the issue here: “It’s everything else you’ve done. Let’s face it, you’ve offended nearly every race on the planet.” They agree that the other offenses, which happened to some degree but were mostly innocent and harmless, are only a problem now because the tweet has put everything in Mo’s past into a new context.

    JERRY BALONEY (the other lawyer at Baloney-Malarkey law firm) arrives. He’s heavier than his colleague and similarly buffoonish and talented. They discuss Mo’s parody songs (like Weird Al’s), many of which are now deemed offensive, as well as some racial faux paus on his hit game show, Hats Off. Mo begins to tell his side of the story, and his tales prompt FLASHBACKS of Mo in many of the situations that have recently been twisted: One was in college, where he had a bad breakup with a girlfriend who eventually becomes an Oscar-winning actress. In another, he gets a job at a restaurant where he makes tips by singing parody songs to customers or asking them trivia. One night, Mo’s colleagues get him extremely drunk. Mo wakes up with no memory of what happened and is fired by his manager who says, “You know what you did.” Mo does not know—not until much later, after the typo event. Other stories involve what happened when Mo got a trivia gig at a sports bar and was told by his manager to heckle the customers to make the evening more fun.

    Back to real time. Mo is taken before a judge with Jerry and Tom, his feet in shackles. The judge reads the charges: disorderly conduct, public endangerment, indecent exposure, assault on a minor, multiple counts of defamation. The prosecution wants bail set at $1 million; the defense argues for no bail due to the misunderstandings—Mo is socially clueless and naïve but a good person who does charity work and sponsors children overseas. The judge disagrees; he’s never seen a case like this, but he has seen first-hand how Mo has affected people; as an example, the judge’s daughter is Jewish and she’d like to castrate him for what he did to offend them. The judge denies bail but expedites the trial. Mo is thrown into a cold, dingy cell.

    When Mo’s attorneys visit him the next day, he continues his story, which leads to more FLASHBACKS: Mo auditions for the Game Show Channel. Producers shoot down his proposal of a generic trivia game and tell him to leave. Desperate, Mo pitches a show in which people wear different hats to indicate categories of questions—“like Jeopardy! with hats”. The producers decide to make the show. Hats Off is born. So begins Mo’s great 11-year run as host. The show is a hit and Mo gets rich and richer. During its run, two Black men in suits representing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People challenge Mo and the producer about the show’s lack of Black representation—there has never been a single Black contestant, and on the image boards for the questions, only one portrayal was ever of a Black person - and that portrayal was of a burglar. The men demand more representation or there will be problems. Mo tasks his producer to fix it.

    At his 40th birthday bash, set up by his show’s co-host and blossoming friend LEXI (beautiful blonde, busty, with an incredible vocabulary), Mo has an argument with his brother TODD, who is gay and bitter about an incident where Mo tried to out him in San Diego. Todd’s bigger problem is that Mo doesn’t use his celebrity platform to help advance gay rights. This argument forms part of Mo’s motivation to tweet his condemnation of the Supreme Court vote—the tweet with the typo that got him in all this trouble. During the Twitter backlash, it is Todd’s angry retweet of Mo’s tweet that caused the viral spread.

    Back to real time in the prison, Mo and his attorneys review everyone who came forward with false narratives after the tweet. Jerry shows Mo a video of when Mo posted the tweet from his cell phone while in Starbucks. Mo leaves Starbucks and inadvertently flings a coffee, which hits an old man’s face, knocking the old man over. There are photos of old Halloween costumes Mo wore, which are now somehow offensive. There’s video of Todd on TV, twisting stories of childhood pranks into the narrative that Mo was a hateful, evil person growing up.

    Jerry shows Mo more clips of various people who Mo had only ever met in passing, such as an air hostess who thinks he mocked safety protocols. One clip shows a decorated military general speaking about how awful a roommate Mo was back in the day. Jerry tells Mo that clips from Hats Off , after his producer fixed the issue with the NAACP, are being shared around the internet to show Mo’s racism. But it gets worse: photos of an extremely drunk Mo at a Chinese restaurant have surfaced which depict Mo mock-performing various sex acts in various positions on a Buddha statue. Because of this, Asians now despise Mo. He is fired from the game show, and his lawyers don’t think they can fight all the solid evidence they’ve gone through. Also, Mo’s old writing partner has gone on a tour of TV shows pretending to have been merely a bartender at the sports bar where Mo did his trivia show as a young man. Although this bartender wrote all the jokes, he describes them as Mo’s own words, which insulted virtually every demographic on Earth. To cap it off, Mo’s ex-landlord and that landlord’s daughter go on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where the daughter claims Mo forced himself on her—a rape charge added into the mix. We know from the earlier flashback what really happened, but no one is believing Mo nowadays. He is scared and upset.

    Mo languishes in an isolation cell in prison with no way to pass the time other than staring into his reflection in the TV the superintendent cruelly installed without a way to power it up. Staring at himself every day, Mo comes closer to looking inwards at the man accused of so many misdeeds. One day some months into Mo’s sentence, the guard approaches and tells Mo that he’s going home as the charges were dropped. His co-host Lexi arrives to pick him up in a dirty rent-a-car. She is disguised as a man and she tells Mo to get into the car and to put on the disguise that she brought for him. Turns out that everyone with charges like Mo’s had their charges dropped; after Mo’s case, the world changed: everyone was pressing charges against everybody else, many of them making it up, and the resulting apocalypse became too huge a strain on the justice system. Lexi drives Mo to Long Beach airport and tells Mo not to say anything or look at anyone, because these minor incidents are now the norm for offensiveness. There is no security at the airport—telling people to take off their belts and shoes has become a recipe for a lawsuit in this new culture. They fly to South Africa, where Lexi has relocated Mo’s family and friends, including Todd. They now understand what happened and are there to surprise him, hugging him and welcoming him back to the world. Mo runs a sandlot version of his game show with the poor children he sponsors, finding family and doing what you love more important than anything.

    About The Author

    John Bennardo received a Master's in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. He lives in South Florida.