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Damn, it’s hot!

Aug 13, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Maybe George W. Bush would be less aghast at the notion of cloning if some other term were used. Don’t think of it as cloning, George W. Just think of it as “digital remastering.”
I’d love to be digitally remastered, wouldn’t you? Especially if I could come back in a new, improved director’s cut: about 100 fewer pounds and about 75 more IQ points. (Never mind writing in to say I could use 200 more IQ points, please.)
As for stem cell research, well don’t think of it however it is you think of it, Georgie-Boy, think of it as the repurposing of old embryos. Like almost everybody knows, with the likely exception of George W., “repurposing” is one of the most popular words in the broadcasting and cable lexicon these days. It’s up there with “convergence” and “broadband.”
It might even someday be placed in the official Pantheon of Most Deeply Cherished Terms-maybe even alongside the most cherished term of all (next to money, of course), “deregulation.”
Ascertaining that precise tiny millisliver of difference between a repurposed television show and a “rerun” requires delicate calibration indeed. The Pax network, a hotbed of repurposement, would seem to be airing reruns of each week’s editions of “Weakest Link” after they’ve aired on NBC. But no, that’s no rerun, that’s a reporpoise, or maybe a member of the reporpoisie. Or maybe just a “repo” for short.
No, wait-“repo” is confusing. It means something else. There are a lot of shows on television that deserve to be repos in that other sense.
Euphemisms have always flourished in broadcasting, of course. Those of us old enough to remember, “The following program is brought to you in living color on NBC,” are also old enough to remember that for years the networks refused to acknowledge the term “soap opera.” No such animal existed.
If you asked flacks about soaps, they would look at you as if you had just said, “Networks should give 5 percent of their profits to public television.” Which would have been a great idea, of course, if it had been initiated 40 or 50 years ago.
No, there were no soap operas. There were only “daytime dramas.”
Incidentally, if indeed you are old enough to remember that, then you can forget about landing a job in the programming department at NBC. Because you’re not “old enough” for that, you’re too old. At the recent network press tour in Pasadena, Calif., that spring chicken Jeff Zucker, my new favorite least-favorite network executive, scolded and ridiculed members of the press for failing to fall within the magical 18- to 34-year-old demographic group preferred by most advertisers.
Zucker suggested that the critics in the room, almost all over 34-and none, so far as I know, under 18-were so unforgivably elderly that they just didn’t “get it” where those hip, edgy NBC shows like “Weakest Link,” “Spy TV” and “Fear Factor” were concerned. Actually, he shouldn’t have included “Spy TV” because the ratings for that one suggest it’s too hip for almost everybody in the country, however old they happen to be.
This inspired my distinguished colleague Lisa de Moraes to search out the ages of Zucker’s fellow NBC executives in Burbank, Calif., since obviously any of them 35 or older were by definition too dotty and decrepit to program this fabulous Network of the Young. Not only did de Moraes search out the ages, she published them in her column [in The Washington Post], and oh boy, a yowling went up from Burbank that was like unto 100 possessed Linda Blairs in 100 “The Exorcists.” They groaned and moaned and licked their little paws, poor injured darlings that they are.
By now you may well be wondering just what the hell my column this week is about? George W. Bush, cloning, stem cell research, repurposing, euphemisms, soap operas, public television or-yuck-Zucker? Maybe it’s time for a column about reality, or unscripted programming. Ya think? Not much has been written about that.
Anyway, what this column is about is simple. This column is about it being August and hot and dry and dull and just about everything having anything to do with television already having been written about to death.
Actually not much has been written about George W. Bush’s use of television, mainly because he hasn’t been using it. Talk about your shy guys. I can’t believe how seldom Bush shows his puss on the air. Has he even had a live press conference yet? Maybe one. Apparently his advisers are telling him that the best way he can ingratiate himself with the American people is to hide from them.
And they may be right. It’s not as if Bush won the election on the basis of his amazing telegenic powers. He didn’t precisely win it in the first place. He “sort of” won. Of all the presidential elections in Television Times, this one was unique in that neither candidate did substantially better than the other on TV. Not the way John F. Kennedy towered over Richard M. Nixon, nor even the way Bill Clinton outshone George W. Bush’s nasty dad.
Of course Pops was no television dream either. He slid in on the policies and the TV-fostered memory of Ronald Reagan, the greatest presidential television star of them all. Ever.
The question is, how long can a president hide from TV without it hurting his popularity rating? Maybe the longer Bush stays off TV, the higher his rating will be. Maybe indeed, some Congress of the present or future is going to have to pass legislation requiring presidents to appear regularly on television just so they can’t cunningly sequester themselves the way George W. Bush has.
Remember Lina Lamont in “Singin’ in the Rain”? She was a silent film star, fictitious of course, whose studio never allowed her to make public speeches because her voice was so screechy and grating. Finally she made a speech and, plop, her career tanked. Perhaps George W. Bush is the Lina Lamont of TV presidents.
He kept his inauguration speech real short, remember? And he got away with his first speech to a joint session of Congress because-well, perhaps because-there are always so many reaction shots.
Finally, in closing, may I take note of what sons of bitches those guys at HBO turned out to be? Last Friday, HBO ran an ad in USA Today touting the return of reruns-or are they repurposings-of “The Sopranos,” HBO’s greatest-ever drama series. The ad was filled with critics’ blurbs, but wait a minute, those blurbs weren’t really from critics at all.
One was from George F. Will, the intellectual conservative columnist. Another was from Frank Rich, vaunted eminence of the op-ed page in The New York Times. Another was from David Remnick, editor of the hoity-toity New Yorker magazine. Remnick attempted being a TV critic once but was bounced after only two or three appearances on the CBS News show “Sunday Morning.”
Obviously he was “too good” for the job.
HBO’s ad was quite a slap in the faces of all the TV critics who over the years have heaped praise by the vatload on “The Sopranos,” brought it to the public’s attention and helped make it a hit. Now that it is, HBO gets all snooty and fruity and runs quotes from highfalutin’ geeks. Jeez, where was the quote from Mortimer Adler? Oh yeah, he died in June. Too bad. He might have made it.
Maybe next week HBO will run an ad for “Sex and the City” with quotes from Betty Friedan, Maureen Dowd, Tina Brown and, oh, how about a member of royalty?
I can see it now: “We are amused”-Queen Elizabeth II.