I would have read this in an anthology in the 1980s, but the book was borrowed from an older cousin, so it's probably from the 1970s or earlier. I don't really remember anything about the book itself, or even what other stories were in it.

The viewpoint character is a youngish TV producer; his uncle is an executive at the same company. They produce TV shows where the audience can vote on the outcome of the heroes' actions at various points. Things along the lines of "Will Steve escape from his manacles before Mr. Bad Guy returns?! Or will he be fed to the fire ants?!" (Not an actual quote.)

We are shown that being an actor on these shows is extremely brutal. Medical technology allows healing from most damage that would have been fatal, and having a live show respond to audience whims makes special effects difficult. It's easier to just give the actors real bullets and then patch up the ones who get shot.

The protagonist meets with an older actor who has been acting for a number of years. (Not a lot of years, maybe 5 at most.) He is a barely functioning alcoholic, no longer able to properly act, and has been reduced to basically dying "humorously" -- a clown who gets maimed on a daily basis. He wants to quit, but he's still under contract. He pleads with the main character to get him out of it, there's no way he can survive another year of this, but the contract is iron-clad.

He meets a young, aspiring actress who is being considered for a spot on the show. She is fairly naive, and really excited to be in the running. He falls in love with her; she likes him, but her heart is really on being an actress. She is offered a contract to join the show, and after failing to convince her not to sign up, the protagonist re-writes it so she can get out of the contract if she really wants to. She goes off to meet with the executives, they wine and dine her, and she comes back excited to have signed up, except they have convinced her to sign the original contract, with no exit provisions. His uncle comes to talk to him after about not messing with the business.

The actress starts off on a high, really loving the show. Her only complaint is the jealousy she's getting from an older actress on the show, but the old actress disappears after a while. But then the pressure starts to get to her; she's no longer as fresh and exciting, so the audience starts voting more often for things to happen to her. She starts to suffer from stress and anxiety. She comes back to the main character, asking him to help her.

Then one day she complains to him that they've hired a new young actress. I believe she uses the line "Her talents are in her tits," to disparage her. (She seems to lack self-awareness.)

His older actor friend finally escapes his contract by getting himself killed. It is reported to the main character that he tried to choke a lion with his head, and he couldn't be revived.

The final scene of the story has the main character at home, watching TV. He's watching the show the actress is on, and just before a break the audience is asked if the hero will rescue her, or if she will be tortured. His fingers hover over the voting button and he thinks he has plenty of time.

(This question was prompted by this older question that I believe has the same answer.)

1 Answer 1


"What Do the Simple Folk Do ...?" (1979) by Alan Dean Foster. I read it in his anthology ... Who Needs Enemies?, which according to the ISFDB is the only place it has been published.

The old actor is Slappy Williams (I'm not sure we ever learn his real forename). His death is described as:

By the way, did you happen to catch the 'Slappy Williams Hour' this evening?"

"No. Why? I was soused from late afternoon on."

"Great show, great! Real trouper, that guy. They bowed him out according to voter demand. Finished by choking a full-grown lion to death with his own body. Hysterical! Laugh index was over eighty-five. Unfortunately there wasn't enough left for the resurrectors to work on. His own fault. Didn't handle it well. They think he might have been drugged at the time. Too bad."

The ending of the story is:

"If you wish the lovely Jade to be rescued, please press the first button on your kinovoter; that's button one, the red. On the other hand, if you wish Generalissimo Bohr and his men to succeed in their nefarious activity, press the green button, number two. The choice is yours, afficionados!" She does a dramatic turn to face the wall map.

David stares unwaveringly at the screen. The glow throws his features into sharp highlight. His expression is unfathomable.

His hand moves slowly to the side of the bed. A small pink box is set there, firmly attached to the frame. It is featureless, except for two small buttons projecting outwards, one red, one green.

His hand hovers over the buttons. He has plenty of time...

  • That is so obviously it! And the cover of this: isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?26981 looks familiar. Thank you!
    – DavidW
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 16:33
  • 1
    @DavidW you remembered the story in such detail it was an easy identification :-) Incidentally this and Foster's related short story collection With Friends Like These are really good and I thoroughly recommend them. Commented May 9, 2019 at 16:36

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