Hail, Yes, Sir Howard

Feb 12, 2007  •  Post A Comment

For a good time, honor Sir Howard Stringer.

You’ll get a wickedly funny “tribute” by Adam Sandler. Carly Simon will give your goosebumps goosebumps with a slightly gospelized rendition of “Let the River Run.”

“The View’s” Barbara Walters will identify herself as a cross-eyed, blonde wild woman from Sir Stringer’s past. “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl will tell “the real story” of her former CBS boss’ rise from Welsh immigrant to chairman and CEO of Sony Corp., which was the other honoree of the Museum of Television & Radio’s annual winter gala last week. You might also get a relatively serious paean by Alan Alda.

This was all under the amiable orchestration of emcee Tom Brokaw, who joked that the terrific turnout Thursday in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Grand Ballroom had nothing to do with the thought that gift bags might contain a 42-inch flat-screen TV.

Instead, the bags contained Ms. Simon’s new CD “Into White” on Sony BMG’s Columbia Records label. They also included a weighty program filled with full-page ads, including a separate page from David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants. “Howard,” it said, “without you we’d still be in our underwear.”

In a signature gesture, Mr. Letterman sent a video explaining why he could not attend the tribute. When Mr. Stringer was running CBS, he wooed Mr. Letterman from NBC for what was then an amazing salary and now is about what Katie Couric is making as “Evening News” anchor.

“I’d be there, Howard, but I don’t like these kinds of things,” Mr. Letterman said. Actually, on Thursday nights Mr. Letterman tapes two editions of “Late Show.”

The absent Jean and Dan Rather took out an ad.

TBWA and OMD got their message and Sir Stringer’s career across in just two words: “Sir Overachiever.”

Mr. Sandler, one of the biggest stars in Sony’s film universe, traced Sir Stringer’s career through letters the executive allegedly had written to Penthouse Forum. The running themes were evolving descriptions of Sir Stringer and his hair, loose women and random sexual encounters, and daydreams and objects that would come to be associated with Sony.

The cross-eyed blonde, despite Ms. Walter’s claim, was actually one of Mr. Sandler’s Penthouse Forum inventions. Specifically, said blonde was a hooker in Vietnam named Blu-Ray, which of course is the name of the next-generation disc format Sony, among others, is promoting.

Mr. Sandler delivered the letters with inflections that brought to mind “Teabag,” the scummy smarmball on “Prison Break.” Sir Stringer wasn’t the only sacred cow Mr. Sandler skewered, all to raucous laughter, until his last punchline produced a sudden silence that was as funny as a joke.

(He also spoke touchingly of why he loves Howard Stringer, who charmed the comic’s late father in his inimitable style that now is known worldwide.)

“His originality is extraordinary,” Mr. Stringer said of Mr. Sandler (who also received a plug for his upcoming dramatic film, “Reign on Me”). “I didn’t write all those letters,” Mr. Stringer added.

The man of the evening then was off on his own rendition of how Alan Alda’s character on “M*A*S*H” helped him “come to terms with my Vietnam experience,” how he became “the accidental occidental,” and how much the acquaintances and friends he’s made all along the way mean to him. One of them, the very lovely actress Joyce Randolph, was sitting at The Insider’s table and was truly touched to be mentioned by Mr. Stringer.

The Insider cannot sign off without two big fat thumbs up to the crew from Dogmatic, who brought gala lighting and video into the presentation. For the first time in The Insider’s knowledge, no one on stage looked dead or otherwise spooky.