Deja bad taste all over again

Apr 29, 2002  •  Post A Comment

“Living With the Dead”? Gee, I thought it was going to be the story of a regular viewer of Nick at Nite. Or maybe TV Land. It could even be an umbrella title for the May sweeps, since the networks have gone mad with nostalgia fever and will pull out all the stops and pop up all the daisies in an effort to convince us that we are actually being entertained.
We all know why this is happening. It’s either because the networks have keen institutional memories and are run by sentimental executives who lovingly remember the golden days and grasp at any chance to revive them-or-it’s because Carol Burnett kicked ass with her clip collage on CBS earlier this season. Let’s see, which might it be? Hmmm. So hard to decide.
NBC’s peacock is going whole hog because it’s been decided that the network will use May to observe the 75th anniversary of the National Broadcasting Co. Network brass rejected outright some upstart’s original suggestion that the celebration be titled, “The Sarnoffs Are A-Spinning in Their Graves.”
Worse, a special “Network Executive Edition” of “Fear Factor,” taped last month, was junked and will not air, and that’s a pity because who among us wouldn’t tune in to see Jeff Zucker with a face full of tarantulas? It turns out the tarantulas got scared and ran away. Zucker also failed the first competition in the show; he ran running from the studio screaming and waving his arms in panic when he saw the words “Good Taste” flashed onto a large chroma-key screen.
Questionable taste
Good taste may actually prevail, or at least make an appearance, at “NBC’s 75th Anniversary Special,” a three-hour extravaganza airing 8 p.m. (ET) Sunday and originating in 30 Rock’s legendary Studio 8H. Lorne Michaels, creator and producer of “Saturday Night Live,” is in charge along with Marci Klein and Steve Higgins, two “SNL” co-producers.
Somehow Andrew Solt got in as a producer there, too, which is not a hopeful sign. Solt’s the guy who got hold of all the old “Ed Sullivan Shows” and butchered them into ‘ittle bitty bites.
I get the feeling that NBC’s celebration will not exactly be a Toscanini festival nor be loaded with excerpts from such NBC shows of the distant past as “Wide Wide World,” “Omnibus” (which aired on the other networks too), “Producer’s Showcase,” “Wisdom” or “NBC Experiment in Television,” to which Federico Fellini once contributed an episode. Instead, NBC is a tad more likely to celebrate its recent past and generously plug its present.
What’s old is new again
One special, “20 Years of Must See TV,” will, says NBC publicity, salute “the most-honored night in television.” Gosh, how generous, NBC airing a tribute to the old CBS Saturday night lineup. Or the old CBS Sunday night lineup. But this is of course, actually about Thursday nights on NBC, and Eric McCormack of “Will & Grace” will be the host.
NBC will also do a “we-told-you-so” salute to the 10th anniversary of Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show.” Gosh, has it only been 10 years? It seems like 10 decades. Jay really makes time fly-right into a wall. And go splat. And dribble down onto the floor.
In addition, there’ll be plenty of somewhat macabre stunting on episodes of NBC’s regular prime-time series. Members of the old cast of “Cheers” dropping in on “Frasier” Tuesday night (technically, Frasier will drop in on them, because in the story line, he flies to Boston). A few “Hill Street Blues” veterans will visit “Third Watch” (whatever that is), and doctors from “St. Elsewhere” will show up on NBC’s best new comedy of the season, the ineffably inventive “Scrubs.”
CBS will be staging reunions, too, including the third or fourth “Mary Tyler Moore” reunion and what might be called “The What’s Left of The Honeymooners Reunion.” The actual “Honeymooners,” Jackie Gleason and Audrey Meadows, are gone, of course, so Art Carney and Joyce Randolph have been limousined into a studio and miked-up for the occasion.
ABC will reunite “Laverne and Shirley,” both stars of which have been down the reunion path before-but hey, each generation should get to see its own reunion of shows that aired before it started watching television, right? Then there’s “Dick Clark’s First Fortune and Fourth Face-Lift,” or as ABC is calling it, the 50th anniversary of “American Bandstand.”
Lawrence Welk made a lot more money for the network than Clark and did it in prime time, but can you imagine ABC honoring him? C’est too, too square, dude. I doubt they’ll be saluting “The Voice of Firestone” either, any more than NBC will bring back highlights from “The Bell Telephone Hour.”
Too bad with all these reunions going on we won’t be able to see a reunion of, say, Grant Tinker and Brandon Tartikoff. Now there was a great team. They’re the ones who put NBC in the Thursday night business in the first place, among other more auspicious accomplishments.
All this recherchering of temps perdus has virtually nothing to do with celebrating real greatness or brilliance, of course. Too many of those running the networks now think “Golden Girls” was one of the first sitcoms ever made. They don’t even know that a colossal flop called “My Mother the Car” predated a more recent and therefore more notorious flop called “Pink Lady and Jeff.”
`Tunnel’ vision
I’m starting a cable network, by the way, called Flop TV, and it will consist entirely of disasters. And the sad thing is, a lot of those once infamous discards and rejects will look pretty good-or at least pretty gentle-compared to some of today’s cynical smasheroos.
Speaking of sad: In a recent issue of TV Guide, one in which a number of celebrities were asked to name a TV program that had played a significant role in their lives, Bill Moyers picked “The Tunnel,” a landmark documentary produced by sometime EM contributor and former NBC News president Reuven Frank. It was the incomparably tense and moving story of people digging their way to freedom under the Berlin Wall, and Moyers was correct in saying it was the first time a documentary was named program of the year at the Emmy Awards.
The sad part is I wonder if “The Tunnel” will get so much as a mention, a nod, a passing glance on “NBC’s 75th Anniversary Special.” Of course, now they’ve been warned. They can still squeeze it in-maybe between tributes to “The Weakest Link” and a biographical portrait of Carson Daly.