[sidebar] December 19 - 26, 1 9 9 6
[Arts 1996]
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Events and non-events on TV

Strange bedfellows

If politics and entertainment have become synonymous, how come the campaigns this year were so boring? The most entertaining moment of the presidential race occurred during the Democratic Convention in Chicago, when Bryant Gumbel, visiting the cast of a revival of Hair that was trying to evoke the spirit of the '68 convention, donned an Afro wig and sang, "Black boys are delicious . . ." (Truly Must-See TV.) Over on ABC, petulant Ted Koppel walked out of the GOP Convention, calling it a spontaneity-free "infomercial" (as was the Democratic Convention), and even imperturbable David Brinkley melted down on the air and called the president a bore. The only trenchant punditry all year came from the likes of Al Franken and Chris Rock on Politically Incorrect, which will soon be following Koppel's Nightline on ABC.

The Summer Olympics

The Obnoxiousness Decathlon was the Atlanta Games' most heated event. The bronze medal went to the FBI and the media, who overzealously double-teamed Richard Jewell by all-but-convicting him for the Centennial Park bombing without a scrap of evidence. The silver went to Kerri Strug, who is not responsible for the ad nauseam reruns of her sore-ankle vault but definitely is to blame for exploiting her notoriety on Beverly Hills 90210. And the gold went, of course, to NBC Sports, not just for going to record lengths in the jingoistic excess of its coverage, but for hiring John Tesh.


Aliens, mutants, and freaks

Last year it was Friends clones; this year, it was X-Files ripoffs. Maybe NBC's Saturday-night line-up of such shows (Dark Skies, The Pretender, and Profiler) is part of a Fox conspiracy to make its flagship program look even better by comparison. X-Files, which cannily taps into populist skepticism about authority as well as an inchoate yearning to believe in something, remains a unique success. Even series creator Chris Carter hasn't been able to duplicate the formula with his scary Millennium. Of course, if the government really were clever and powerful enough to suppress evidence of an alien plot to create a race of superhuman mutants, it would also be able to get The X-Files canceled. Yet even benign aliens keep popping up on the tube, including the delightfully daffy cast of 3rd Rock from the Sun, The Drew Carey Show's Mimi (she of the unearthly fashion sense), and new MTV host Dennis Rodman. So do superhuman mutants, including Hercules, Xena: Warrior Princess, and the cast of Baywatch.

Rosie O'Donnell

Sure, her morning gushfest has brought niceness back to daytime TV, and it's a welcome change from Ricki Lake. Still, three years or so from now, when we're bored again with daytime TV because it's filled with Rosie clones, the cycle will surely swing back toward exploitation. At least those evil masterminds of chatdom, Kathie Lee Gifford and Jenny Jones, got their comeuppance this year, though both pulled a Sergeant Schultz ("I know nothink!") when confronted with the crimes they had allegedly abetted.

Homeboys in Outer Space

The outer edge of the VHF dial, that is. How come ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox have cut adrift most of their black performers, leaving netlets UPN and WB to cram their schedules full of sit-coms with predominantly black casts? Parent 'Hood, The Steve Harvey Show, In the House, Malcolm & Eddie, Goode Behavior, Sparks, Moesha, Sister, Sister, The Wayans Brothers, The Jamie Foxx Show, and the aforementioned Homeboys could easily find a home on the Big Four. In fact, some of them were unceremoniously evicted from there before becoming hits in their new neighborhoods. At least Fox still programs black shows (Martin, Living Single, and New York Undercover) against NBC's mostly white Thursday night, knowing that plenty of people don't want to watch pale, dithery, youngish singles whine about their selfish needs while living in fabulous apartments.

Future "Where Are They Now?" entries

Sherry Stringfield quit TV's top series, ER, to spend more time with her boyfriend, and Singled Out hostess Jenny McCarthy (who makes Vanna White look like a neurosurgeon) left her show for the movies, as did Spin City's Carla Gugino (who she?), who didn't even have the tact to wait for her series's first season to end. Haven't they ever heard of David Caruso or Shelley Long? Don't worry, they'll all be back soon, just like those '80s stars -- Bill Cosby, Michael J. Fox, Justine Bateman, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Robin Givens, and Ted Danson -- who slunk back to TV this year.

Oprah's book club

This literacy craze could be dangerous. If Oprah keeps getting millions of people to put down their clickers and read literature by such Nobel Prize winners as Toni Morrison, who's going to have time to watch her show?

Going out with a bang

In this spring's season finales, Roseanne's husband had a coronary, Homicide's Detective Pembleton had a stroke, and George's fiancée died from licking cheap envelope glue on Seinfeld. But the real catastrophe was the departure of Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, from which the show has yet to recover. Also smacking of desperation is Roseanne's flailing transformation of her show into The Beverly Hillbillies, with the Conners winning the lottery and becoming the opposite of the working-class strugglers whom viewers used to identify with. Where's Dr. Kevorkian when you need him?

[Ellen DeGeneres]

Great Non-Events

Ellen DeGeneres's coyness (come out, already! or don't, but make up your mind!), the Friends cast's pact not to sleep with one another, and the O.J. civil trial (the fact that the trial really is a soap opera, on E!, is the best argument for putting cameras back in the courtroom).


Another great non-event. This year it was MSNBC and WebTV that promised to help viewers become their own TV programmers. HDTV and V-chips are on the horizon. So how come there's still nothing on worth watching?

-- Gary Susman

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