One Small Change

December 15th, 1999

Very quietly, the arrangements had begun in early November. Meetings took place at high levels. Negotiations were carried out, and control was exercised in ways that will probably never be known. The production itself was completed in absolute secrecy, far from the prying eyes of the Hollywood press. For roughly forty-five days, the celebrity who was to star in the show quietly disappeared as did the sixty or so of television's most talented production personnel.

Only a week before the date, the scheduling changes were announced to the public. With very few exceptions, this was too late to be included in all but the daily TV listings. Bereft of the usual barrage of publicity that comes with TV specials, the media barely took notice. This was all quite intentional. The true nature of the program was unknown to even the top network executives who negotiated with the company. And, even they didn't yet know that it would be running simultaneously on several other national networks, both here and abroad, appearing in each locale's prime television viewing slot.

Over the weekend, the news that the program was sponsored and produced by the world's software giant was carefully leaked. The word got out that this would be "the most important thirty minutes in the history of television." This was not an official statement, of course.

8:00PM, EST

The program opened with appropriately grandiose music scored by one of Hollywood's best-known composers, supporting a thirty-second animation based on the company's logo. Throughout the open, images of the company's products being used in very important situations that were part of everyone's lives. The brief sequence where a shot of a young girl doing homework dissolving to a nurse at a computer in an Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit was particularly touching.

With an artfully crafted digital effect, the open transitioned to a wide-shot of a large stage on which was a dramatically lit set, also based on the company's logo. The camera craned-down in a sweeping move to reveal that the host would be one of Hollywood's most widely-known and widely-loved personalities. In the tradition of the Henry Fondas and Gregory Pecks, he could be respected as a virtually paternal authority without giving the impression of being condescending. His face and distinctive voice would be recognized easily throughout the world. It would be impossible not to smile and feel a little safer and more assured as he began to speak.

His script was the result of nearly twelve months of careful preparation. It started as a measure to be used just in case certain problems developed. As development timelines fell victem to a deepening quagmire of software bugs, it was determined that it would unquestionably be needed.

His eyes narrowed slightly as he spoke his first words were, "We are heading towards a serious problem that can affect us all." The camera slowly moved in on him when he paused, allowing a moment for his eyes to brighten and a hint of a smile to cross his lips. "But there is a solution that each and every one of us can participate in."

He continued in the same, firmly positive tone, stressing how the company's products had an impact on nearly every facet of our lives, what great contributions it has made. It was something we depended on and it always delivered. It was a truly great speech. One would barely notice how the music crept in discreetly under his deep and profoundly calm voice or how the picture transitioned to a montage of images captured by one of the country's most acclaimed directors.

As he finished, we were returned to the studio and the camera angle changed and revealed another part of the set that was a tasteful, sculpted pattern based on the characters "Y2K." At this point, the more technically aware viewers shifted a little in their seats. There were some issues here that the company had been ominously silent about. After a few introductory sentences, the host began to talk about the Y2K Leap Year problem. He didn't use the phrase, but it had become informally known as the "Yukly Bug" in the cubical-bound world of corporate computing. "An obscure exception to an obscure rule" is what he called it; something of concern to astronomers but few others.

The host turned and another camera angle placed a stylized calendar page of the month of February in the background. "That one day," he continued after a very dramatic pause, "is going to cause a tremendous problem for all of us."

At this point, it was hard for some viewers to avoid feeling a slight twinge of disappointment. Apparently, the program was nothing more than the long-awaited unveiling of the company's newest version of its software which would be completely tolerant of the millennium's oddities. For months, rumors abounded about how deeply mired the project was in problems and that the widely-touted "ground-up" revision had been built on an the faultiest of foundations. So, there was an element of relief in their letdown. But, this soon changed.

"We're working on a new breed of software that will not only correct this problem, but bring a new level of power to your computers. And this revolution in computing is less than a year away." Jaws of the technically-concerned began to lower across the country. "Just one, small change will get us by until then."

The camera traveled past the host so the lower left portion of the calendar filled the screen. The "29" dissolved away, leaving the "28" as the final day of the month.

8:29 PM, EST

dissolve to credit roll