Thursday, June 10, 2004


I gave up on cable news when CNN dumbed down its Headline News channel. Or maybe it was the fact that Lynne Russell left the network. But this past week’s extensive coverage of President Reagan’s funeral has been particularly egregious. The week-long attempt to put his legacy in historical context smacks of spin, especially with the White House in the balance this November. Jim Jordan, John Kerry’s former campaign manager, told the New York Times that he has “been dreading (Reagan’s death) every election year for three cycles.”

Which is why C-SPAN’s coverage of the funeral has been an oasis amidst the partisan jockeying. Their focus is squarely on marking the passing of a man who devoted much of his life to public service. No matter how you feel about his politics, respect must be paid.

I tuned in at 3:30 AM Eastern time and saw a live shot from the Capitol dome. A surprising number of people were there at that late hour, and it was moving to watch each of them honor the President in their own way. Some bowed their heads or blessed themselves, soldiers saluted. I also saw the changing of the honor guard, which occurs every half hour. Another stirring display of pageantry, presented without commentary, with no sound at all other than the ambient noise in the chamber. Skip the talking heads on Fox News and turn on C-SPAN instead.

I want to keep politics to a minimum around here, but let me say this: If Alexander Hamilton is taken off the ten dollar bill in favor of Reagan, I’m moving to Canada. Along with a Baldwin to be named later.

TV: Late Night Recap

Steve Coogan does a pretty good Arnold Schwarzenegger, who should have been on yesterday’s list of imitable actors. But on Conan O’Brien’s show he also did a pitch-perfect Michael Caine. He can even do Caine when he’s shouting, which is key. Because nobody shouts like Michael Caine.

My favorite exchange from Letterman’s interview with Christopher Walken:

Walken: I wear a girdle in THE STEPFORD WIVES.
Dave: Why?
Walken: I don’t know. I think it’s a kind of Victor Mature thing.

TV: Flops!

Trio devotes the month of June to great showbiz failures. It’s a perverse programming strategy. Who would want to watch shows that don’t work? Well, me. SHOWGIRLS was one of my first DVD purchases, and I am proud to say that I saw every episode of ‘The Chevy Chase Show.’ I knew the night it premiered that I was looking at one of the great train wrecks, and I didn’t want to miss a minute of it.

The centerpiece of Trio’s coverage is the documentary ‘Flops 101: Lessons from the Biz.’ Which turns out to be something of a flop in its own right. It’s structured around a lame classroom conceit and some obvious examples; is there more that needs to be said about ISHTAR and WATERWORLD? The lessons drawn from said examples aren’t particularly enlightening: don’t let buzz get out of hand, and the end products often aren’t as bad as they’re made out to be. Which is true. I maintain that the first 20 minutes of ISHTAR are as funny as any comedy made in the 1980s.

The overall tone of the show is snide, and there’s not much context. The most interesting idea, that failure is necessary for an artist to grow, is dealt with haphazardly in a segment on Darren Star’s CENTRAL PARK WEST, which may or may not have influenced SEX AND THE CITY.

The network is also showing episodes of the stupefying variety series PINK LADY AND JEFF and the Jerry Van Dyke sitcom MY MOTHER THE CAR, both of which they’ve aired before. The big addition this month is Steven Bochco’s musical crime drama COP ROCK. That the show is a complete misfire is apparent from the opening credits. Randy Newman sings the catchy theme song in a studio, surrounded by an appreciative cast. The musical is an inherently artificial format; to acknowledge that upfront only makes it harder to buy into. The songs in the episode that I watched weren’t very good, although I liked the idea of a governor turning his fundraising pitch into a literal song and dance. Mainly the numbers seemed shoehorned in, getting in the way of Bochco’s typically brisk and involving storytelling. The show would have worked just as well without the songs, which is the working definition of a bad musical.