As the World of .com Turns

As if bosses don't have enough to worry about in regard to employees wasting time online (think Internet smut and virtual shopping), the Website wants to get its hooks into women who have Internet access at work.

Calling it "the very first Cyber-Sit-Com," the site launched The Estrogen Files: Men, Money & Motherhood in October after hiring comediennes Anna Collins of Fort Lauderdale and Fran Capo of New York City to write the scripts. A new episode is posted every weekday, and each consists of an e-mail exchange between two single women in their thirties. As much soap opera as sitcom, the show (a term used loosely here, since it currently consists of still pictures and paragraphs of text) relates comically embellished experiences from Collins' and Capo's lives written in the guise of their cyber-egos, Anna Litical and Fran Tastica.

The final twist is that their daily correspondence is intercepted by two male government agents charged with figuring out what makes women tick. The bumbling spies file interpretive reports on the women's adventures at the end of each episode, and they never get it right, which is exactly the point.

"Our target audience is working women who want a break during the day, just a five-minute break," claims Collins, author of the best-selling book spoof Women Are From Bras, Men Are From Penus.

Already, as fan e-mail attests, plenty of women -- and a few men -- are logging on for their daily voyeuristic fix. One day last week, for example, they learned about Fran's home-refurbishing project and Anna's nightmare double date with her old best friend in "I'll Fix It Myself! & Missing Melinda." Above the introductory-page image -- a photo of a stud in jeans, white T-shirt, and boots holding a huge pipe wrench in his hand -- appears the subtitle: "Where's the Guy With the Big Tool When You Need Him?"

Click on the arrow in the upper right corner of the screen, and the episode begins with Fran's e-mail to Anna. "Dear Anna,… My dad used to be our McGiver," writes Fran. "He was great at rigging things. My old PC monitor's on/off switch didn't work. It wouldn't stay depressed (too much Ritalin). So my dad took a spoon, bent it under the monitor and hooked it around to push the button…." Then, following a litany of the household projects she had to complete on her own, Fran muses: "I want a handy intellectual…. I find something sexy about a man that has brainpower and can use his hands, not only on my breasts."

"Your Dad's the Italian McGiver! I'm surprised he didn't use a pasta machine to mix wallpaper paste," begins Anna's reply. (Insert rim shot and groan here.) She then switches from sitcom silliness to soap sappiness, detailing the dreaded double date from Hell and how her old best friend, Melinda, never spoke to her again after Anna expressed her contempt for Melinda's new beau, Carl, a high-price massage therapist who just happened to be a former cocaine dealer. Anna concludes: "Frannie, no matter who we date, the other doesn't have to like him! It's our friendship that's important…. Love, Anna."

If this show had a soundtrack, at this point weepy violins would crescendo and readers -- er, viewers -- would be reaching for the Kleenex. And it's precisely by adding some levity -- if often a bit corny -- to emotion-evoking snippets of life that the cowriters aim to reel in an audience of women who can't tune in to soaps at work.

Unlike soap plots, though, Collins and Capo's stories -- however embellished -- are plausible. "That's why I think this is popular. People can relate to it," says Collins, who has lived in Fort Lauderdale for 13 years and got her start as an opening act for national standups performing at area comedy clubs.

Eventually, Collins says, the show will be produced in a streaming-video format, and shots of the women pecking away at their keyboards will segue into actual action scenes. Will that mean an expansion from writing to writing and acting for the cowriters? Says Collins: "We'll probably cast actors and just do Hitchcockian cameos."

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John Ferri