"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 16 March 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
TV Is God



Two weeks ago, Fred Friendly

died. With a name like that, how

could you not be involved with

television? Indeed, Friendly was

a producer at CBS in the '50s

and '60s, making his reputation

by deflating Senator Joe

McCarthy's gassy unAmerican

Activities sideshow. That nifty

trick landed him the presidency

of CBS News in 1964. Just two

years later, he resigned when

network brass refused to

interrupt a rerun of I Love

Lucy to let him cover a Senate

hearing on Vietnam. That may

sound like a metamedia moment

too perfect to be true. But who

could make this shit up?

Friendly spent the next 30 years

railing against the slow,

head-bobbing descent of TV

"journalism" into cheap

revival-tent entertainment. That

Maury Povich, John Tesh, and

Jerry Springer aren't hosing

down peepshow booths instead of

hosting TV shows is evidence

enough of how fruitless

Friendly's efforts were. When he

died last Tuesday at the age of

82, doctors say Friendly

suffered a series of strokes.

But we suspect CBS's coverage of

the Nagano Olympics left him

vulnerable to the real coup de

grâce - the Grammy Awards

broadcast. The older generation

just can't abide such a public

display of self-flagellation.

That, after all, was the whole

point of cable, right?




More than one critic has noticed

the similarities between

masturbating and watching TV: We

all do it, but we wouldn't want

to get caught. Still, times are

certainly changing. Diddling

yourself has become stylish

(although Woody Allen noticed

"at least it's sex with someone

I love" long before the era of

safe sex), and it's chic indeed

to take TV seriously (even Woody

remade The Sunshine Boys with

Peter Falk for CBS last

Christmas). And why shouldn't we

take it seriously? Why should

our hairy-palmed Christian

friends have a monopoly on all

the great vices?

If watching TV

is the moral and menial

equivalent of whacking off, it's

not all that different from

getting down with someone just

like you. In other words, TV may

be the purest form of

homoeroticism yet devised. But

one thing's for sure: ABC

executives would rather not

pursue the question in a light

prime-time comedy, if at all.

Late last month, in the midst of

February sweeps, the stiffs

reportedly started preparing Ellen's

pink slip. DeGeneres predictably

claims the network can't take

the heat of her open sexuality

on or off the set. Of course, it

may have a little something to

do with the fact that her show

isn't very funny - something

that tends to reflect badly in

the Nielsens for an alleged sit

com. On the other hand, we can

certainly see Ellen's point. ABC

may as well just say it: If

we're going to devote a whole

season to a humorless recital of

tedious identity politics, let's

leave it to an angry straight

white male. Someone like Matt

Drudge. Or Fred Goldman.



You laugh? Like we said, who could

make this shit up? Matt Drudge,

the flagbearer if not originator

of what we like to call

"glory-hole journalism," has

penned a deal with Fox for his

own weekly TV program. While the

irony of this development

constitutes an enigma wrapped in

a paradox bound up in a

colostomy bag, we just can't

work up a lather about it the

way others can. It's not very

remarkable that Drudge, who by

now is accustomed to being

portrayed as both the Jesus and

the Judas of new media, is the

only one laughing. It remains to

be seen whether Zippergate will

actually materialize into a bona

fide crisis in the eyes of

anyone who doesn't write

headlines for a living. In any

case, Drudge was quick to

capitalize on the exposure such

a hot scoop would inevitably

bring. Always one to hype

himself as an important part of

every news story, Drudge is a

natural for TV. One sanguine

appearance on Meet the Press

launched a thousand hairbrained

editorials, and his place in

broadcast journalism was

assured. We're not sure what

Drudge TV will look like, but if

you said "the bastard offspring

of Hank Hill and Dana Sculley,"

you'd probably get odds.

Not to be outdone in the high stakes of

real annoying TV, UPN announced

it's struck a deal with Fred

Goldman, a man who gives an

entirely new meaning to the

phrase "dead-beat dad."

Goldman's obsession with his

murdered son and O. J. Simpson

used to seem mythical. Now it's

gone well beyond that, to become

pathological. UPN assures

potential viewers that Search

for Justice with Fred Goldman

will profile other people who

have been screwed by the legal

and judicial systems. But for

our sake - and for the sake of

UPN advertisers - we can only

hope Goldman will keep a watchful

eye on O. J.'s golfing handicap.



It may be silly to blame TV for

killing Fred Friendly. But

honestly it was a matter of kill

or be killed. If he'd had his

way, reruns would be a thing of

the past, broadcasters would be

trained professionals, and ad

rates would never exceed the GNP

of Botswana. And what kind of

world would that be?

courtesy of E. L. Skinner