Hindsight makes butt-heads of us all. But it shouldn't detract from the malicious fun of examining the year in television, circa 2004. I've often thought news stories should carry...
Hindsight makes butt-heads of us all.
But it shouldn’t detract from the malicious fun of examining the year in television, circa 2004.
I’ve often thought news stories should carry the verbal equivalent of an expiration date, one that reads: “At the time, it seemed important.”
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Think what this warning could do for the small-screen moments that provoked temporary hysterics over the past 12 months.
It would get TV news off the hook for having turned Howard Dean’s attempt at inspiration into a case of candidate dementia. It would give viewers who usually don’t watch the Super Bowl halftime show an excuse for having hit the “FCC complaint” button like a 5-year-old Kool-Aid addict in front of a mole-bashing game.
The benefit of poking fun at TV’s follies is, to be sure, derived completely from the Monday-morning armchair. Some of this stuff once may have seemed vital even to me (or at least good enough material for an otherwise dead week).
And some of it was significant. On Friday, we’ll get to the crucial occasions that defined television and signaled our direction as an audience, a society and a nation.
Today, we recall the overblown, overrated and just plain over:
Jan. 8: “Apprentice” contestant Kristi Frank’s résumé exposes a gig on the soft-porn series “Red Shoe Diaries.” Strangely, this has zero impact on a reality show where future “executives” wear skirts hiked to the nether regions and a three-buttons-unbuttoned minimum.
Jan. 23: Bob “Captain Kangaroo” Keeshan dies and industry executives mourn, demonstrating how easy it is to praise one of the last major advocates for non-commercial children’s programming now that he’s consigned to history.
Feb. 3: On a day of stultifying infamy, Janet Jackson exposes a pretty good body for an aging pop star. Revolted by a breast used for anything besides selling beer, viewers forced to watch the replay endlessly on TV news, the Internet and TiVo finally alert the FCC.
March 21: Donald Trump tries to trademark the phrase “You’re fired,” a revelation that underscores the depths to which investigative Web site www.smokinggun.com has fallen.
April 2: Kelly Osbourne checks into rehab, an announcement destined to rank with the news that there was more than one Lassie.
April 20: ABC heads Susan Lyne and Lloyd Braun are axed after picking up “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” for the 2004-2005 season. Luckily, audiences don’t care about anything before it’s on TV, and so ABC safely keeps its loser reputation through the period when advertisers decide what to pay the network for commercial time.
May 2: NBC debuts “10.5,” the earthquake flick whose early victims include the Seattle monorail. A month later, life imitates art and a fire puts the real monorail out of service. The only thing massive is civic indifference.
May 6: Fifty-five million watch “Friends” sign off. Co-star Jennifer Aniston compares the pain of parting to hitting a brick wall, which may explain the numbness and utter absence of follow-up stories about a show that supposedly — sniffle — meant so much.
May 13: “Frasier” exits a week later, leaving Seattle with a smug sense of superiority and confirming the show had no effect on us.
June 7-12: Ronald Reagan’s funeral becomes an orgy of revisionism and self-negating coverage as news outlets praise his legacy of aggressive, pre-emptive dealings with foreign governments while managing for an entire week not to mention Iraq.
July 16: Martha Stewart gets five months in jail after an insider stock sale and a stretch as the villainess of cable news. A month later, Trump emerges untarnished as Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts declares bankruptcy. Outrage at TV’s double standard subsides when Stewart inks a new series, the true arbiter of justice in America.
Aug. 13: Craig Kilborn announces he’ll leave “The Late Late Show.” To ease the momentous transition and avoid upsetting the show’s 37 viewers, CBS signs a new host also named Craig.
Aug. 20: Regis Philbin breaks the Guinness World Record for most hours before a TV camera (15,188). The 73-year-old host of “Live with Regis and Kelly” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” also takes over Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve gig on Friday, suggesting — contrary to a world of overhype — that low-impact TV is the best way to succeed.
Sept. 19: “Angels in America” sweeps the Emmys, supplanting “Roots” as the TV movie record-holder and asserting Hollywood’s knack for valuing the ephemera of political statement over the durability of great, classic entertainment.
Sept. 24: Norman Mailer debuts on “The Gilmore Girls,” pairing the windiest author with the gassiest series on TV. But the septuagenarian writer’s appearance fails to spawn a Web site following among the show’s teenage female fans. Which is just as well.
Sept. 30: Networks rebel against the coverage rules laid down by John Kerry and George Bush for the first presidential debate. Cameras defiantly cut to reaction shots, ensuring at-home audiences will be privy to an additional 48 hours of entirely speculative commentary.
Oct. 23: The world learns Ashlee Simpson has lip-synched her song on “Saturday Night Live,” perhaps irreversibly destroying the hard-won credibility of a make-believe show.
Oct. 24: After a promotional bombardment, “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” harangues 116,000 viewers into voting for the outcome of an episode while driving at least twice as many away.
Nov. 15: Nicollette Sheridan drops her towel in front of Philadelphia Eagles star Terrell Owens in a promotional ad for “Desperate Housewives” that again spurs an FCC uproar. Why can’t the world realize football and scantily clad women don’t mix?
Nov. 30: Ken Jennings ends his streak on “Jeopardy!” with a record $2,520,700. For a day or so, bespectacled nerds and weird hobbyists celebrate the Utah software programmer’s triumph before being ignored by TV again.
OK, so it’s not a review of 12 months of bad TV — only 11. What did you expect from a medium that averages just 22 new episodes a year for a typical series? At least this countdown is commercial-free.
Kay McFadden: firstname.lastname@example.org