I take most of it all back

Feb 4, 2002  •  Post A Comment

With Armageddon apparently just around the corner, one is inclined to (A) resume smoking, (B) drink heavily and (C) make amends. This was going to be the first in a series of approximately 1,748 columns under the umbrella title, “Things I wish I hadn’t said,” but it’s doubtful, the state of the world being what it is, that I’ll be able to do the complete series.
What makes me so sure of apocalypse-any-day-now? One member or another of the Bush administration keeps announcing that monstrous new terrorist attacks are imminent and that they will be more horrendous than previous ones. Even now, apparently, plans are afoot to fly airplanes into nuclear power plants and wipe out thousands of lives. That Bush administration sure knows how to boost national morale, don’t it?
But other signs are evident. Nostradamus himself wrote of the day that “a short bald guy will become head of programming for one of the major networks, and I’m not saying which one but its initials are NBC. And that network shall program opposite halftime of a Great Football Game a special edition of `Fear Factor’ that shall feature Playboy Playmates eating worms in their bikinis. Er, that is, the Playmates shall be in the bikinis and the worms shall be in the Playmates.”

The ascendancy of Jeff Zucker has in fact always seemed to me a near-biblical sign that the world was coming to an end, and not just at a theater near you.
There’s atoning to be atoned, though, and I should probably try to get in as much as possible before the next nightmarish catastrophe to be wreaked by “religious” fanatics turns the world upside down and makes us all think about where we’ll be spending the hereafter.
No one believes this when I tell them, but after writing a column that’s been particularly mean to one poor helpless fabulously overpaid filthy-rich celebrity or another, I always ask editors if I’ve been “too mean” and if the column should be “toned down.” Nine times out of 10 over the years the answer has been along the lines of, “No, it’s not too mean. If anything, it’s not mean enough.” I have almost always been encouraged to be meaner. See, it’s really all the fault of editors. Oh the stories I could tell. But can’t tell.
Perhaps I should apologize first off to Larry, I mean Garry, Shandling, who in a recent column I said owed me $10,000 and had a fat ass. Mr. Shandling called, sounding quite hurt (though come to think of it, he usually sounds quite hurt), and said that while he found most parts-well some parts-of the column funny, he was quite hurt by the allegation that he owed me money. Strangely, he complained not a bit about the comment on the size of what is tactfully referred to in an aria from “Porgy and Bess” as one’s “settin’-down place.”
Getting paid
Anyway, Garry Shandling doesn’t owe me $10,000. It was wishful thinking. The sad fact is that nobody owes me $10,000, while on the other hand, there is a long list of creditors to whom I owe at least $10,000. What a difference a day makes, yes, but what a greater difference $10,000 makes. And then I read that Katie Couric is making 65 grand a day and suddenly I realized that the problem of one little person doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. I just made that up. Like it? Here’s looking at you, kid. And say, here’s looking at you, Katie. Nice going.
I feel I should offer apologies of a sort to Larry King, too, for the many little digs I’ve taken at him over the years, calling him the world’s greatest expert on nothing or whatever it was I said. But somewhat in the spirit of my attitude toward Ms. Couric, I really think Larry should be able to take his lumps, having just signed his own contract, this one with CNN, for something like 25 million bucks. Or was it 50. When it gets up into those rarefied registers, what the hell damn difference does it really make?
Imagine what that must do for the morale of the average CNN correspondent out schlepping around the scenes of crimes in mud up to here or even there, or waiting in the rain for the crew to arrive so he or she can shoot a 15-second stand-up. Larry King is getting 25 million bucks for sitting on his settin’-down place and gabbing with celebrities who are lured onto the show and booked by producers. Someone said Larry King is making enough money to last for the rest of his wives. It’s things like Larry King’s salary that can really make a guy root for the Fox News Channel, no matter how morally corrupt it may be.
I would offer profuse apologies to Kathie Lee Gifford if I thought it would bring her back to television at least for those annual Christmas specials with which she used to delight us to the very marrows of our bones and the battered cockles of our hearts. Attacking Ms. Gifford’s Christmas shows with a meat ax seemed to do wonders for my career. Oh it didn’t boost my income, of course; I’ve given up all hope on that front. But people everywhere wrote to me and told me what a hero I had become to them. I think that among other benefits, I won the undying gratitude of Regis Philbin, to the extent that any emotion can be said to be undying where people in show business are concerned. Even Johnny Carson called once to say he enjoyed one of the reviews. And Johnny is God.
I wish I hadn’t been so critical of a TV movie Carroll O’Connor made of “The Last Hurrah,” a beloved book about politics, because Mr. O’Connor is gone now, and I am not sure I apologized while he was alive. I tried to make up for the review-which Mr. O’Connor carried around in his wallet for months, maybe years, so he could show friends what a monster I was-by properly praising Mr. O’Connor’s amazing work as Archie Bunker on “All in the Family.” Even now I am often knocked for a loop, when I see reruns of the show, at how forceful and yet subtle Mr. O’Connor could be and how much he worked in extreme close-up, “60-Minutes”-style close-ups, where the slightest, merest crinkle can weigh heavily. He was a great actor who was lucky to get a great part he was able to play for years.
Speaking of Johnny, I think I even wrote unkind things about him at a certain point in his Herculean career as the nation’s nightcap. When Dave Letterman burst upon the scene in the early ’80s, I think Johnny started feeling a little old, or else he got some new young writers who urged him to be more Lettermanesque-as if anyone but Letterman could be or would want to be that. I took at poke or two at Johnny, which in retrospect I thoroughly, absolutely and sheepishly regret.
When you think of the hours he gave us, when you think of the depressions he cured, when you think of how effortlessly he was able to banish the blues in the night, to have carped or complained at any point seems the height of ingratitude. Oh to have Johnny to help see us through these fearful last gasps of the planet Earth.