You can’t keep a great gal down. You can’t erase history, either, no matter how hard some might try.
As a result, the annual Dumonts are making a comeback. Thanks to a new features editor – here, that is – and a new YouTube world.
I began giving them out to those of Dubious Television Achievement (thank you, Esquire magazine, for THAT concept) in the mid-’70s. Back then, it wasn’t so antediluvian to name awards for TV ignominy after 1) the great Margaret Dumont, the wonderful old battle-ax who, in her eternally soignée befuddlement, was the personal patsy of the Marx Brothers and 2) the Dumont Network, the network from TV’s Jurassic Age that once brought such hilarious Borscht Belt apparitions as Morey Amsterdam into the middle American living room.
As three decades passed, it became so hard to explain why they were called the Dumonts that I switched briefly in 2004 (and without joy) to calling them the Tommies, in honor of a famous movie star who thought the proper way to register glee for Oprah Winfrey was to jump on her couch. (Ahhhh, Oprah. Wherefore art thou? And I don’t mean the OWN version of you, either.)
But in a YouTube world, old Maggie, bless her, and Dumont network TV (yes, Morey himself) are only three mouse clicks away. In an Internet world, all electronic history is happening at the same time. (In the onetime battle of the historical prophets, Karl Marx and Marshall McLuhan both won. Imagine that.)
So here are the revived Dumonts for that wonderful television year 2013:
Not Since Charlton Heston Had a Chat With Jehovah on Mount Sinai: … have absurdly patriarchal beards been more prominent. One of the top-rated cable TV shows is about a bunch of guys who manufacture duck calls and have beards like ZZ Top. Their oldest member was suspended from, and then brought back onto, “The Duck Dynasty” by the A&E Network because – surprise, surprise – he had uncharitable things to say about America’s now-commonplace tolerance of gays. And then, during the World Series, the Red Sox and the Cards played each other, and it sometimes seemed as if a team from “Duck Dynasty” was playing a team from the local Yeshiva.
Are You Kidding Me? Let Me Go Home Already: Every time heroically clumsy contestant Bill Engvall was reprieved for one more week on “Dancing With the Stars,” the camera zoomed in for a close-up of the most miserable man in the building, Engvall himself. One more week of displaying his gracelessness to an appallingly sympathetic audience was more than poor old Moose could handle.
Immortal TV Line of the Year: “I think my work is done here,” said comedian Russell Brand after making satiric mincemeat of the chatterers on CNN’s “Morning Show.” When, on another glaring occasion, Brand received an award at a dinner co-sponsored by both GQ magazine and Hugo Boss, he cheerfully pointed out to the chi-chi crowd that the real Hugo Boss designed uniforms for the Nazis who, said Brand, were always smashingly well-dressed, no matter what. Russell Brand for Man of the Year 2013? Maybe.
OK, Her Heart Wasn’t In It. Would YOURS Have Been?: ABC wasn’t exactly overjoyed with Katie Couric’s afternoon show. It had an audience, but they wanted Oprah-size – or at least sub-Oprah-sized – numbers. She’s now going to Yahoo to do whatever she jolly well pleases online. In other words, she’s going to be in the 21st century. ABC? Maybe not.
It’s Not True That She Ever Went Out on a Date with Suspended Patriarch Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty”: Paula Deen of the Food Network was suspended for yearning for, among other things, the good old days of Southern plantation dinners when black servants served guests in crisp livery (which was, let’s remember, NOT designed by Hugo Boss).
It’s Not True That Paula Deen Ever Went Out on a Date with Alec Baldwin, Either: Paparazzi-bedeviled Baldwin became so inflamed at their presence that he burned the ears of one with anti-gay epithets that struck the MSNBC Network – whose biggest star is Rachel Maddow – as not exactly consistent with their network brand. It made a nice excuse to get rid of Baldwin, whose Friday night talk show was an interesting idea that didn’t work.
Liberace Never Went Out with Paula Deen, Either: He made for a great HBO movie, though, starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon and directed by Steven Soderbergh. Emmys and other recognition proceeded apace, thereby making fools of every studio executive who wouldn’t greenlight it because the project was “too gay.”
TV Book of the Year, High-Class Division: Brent Martin’s “Difficult Men,” the book to read to understand why people think this is TV’s third Golden Age.
TV Book of the Year, Bottom-Feeding Division: Henry “Bombastic” Bushkin’s tell-all about Johnny Carson, for whom he worked as lawyer, fixer, cleaner and companion for 18 years until their inevitable falling out.
Least Mysterious Prime-Time Failure of 2013: The cast of CBS’ “Hostages” was splendid, but the very idea of the show – a surgeon whose family is taken hostage by people who want her to kill the president during an operation – was, at best, a two- or three-part show, not a whole series of baroque variations, week after week.
Things Do Find Their Level, Don’t They?: Howard Kurtz began as the media critic of the Washington Post. Then he went to CNN to invent the show “Reliable Sources.” Then he went to work with Tina Brown and “The Beast.” He’s now doing “Media Buzz” for Roger Ailes and the Fox News Network. As a case study in morality and media ambition, Kurtz will do quite nicely. (See Budd Schulberg’s book “What Makes Sammy Run?”)
You’d Bounce His Butt Off Your Network, Too: The week after Michelle Obama went on Jimmy Fallon’s “Late Night” show to present the recondite art of Mom Dancing, her segment doomed Jay Leno in Fallon’s favor. What NBC executive could possibly look at that sequence on Fallon and not want stuff like that on the hour Leno has long commandeered for TV’s late-night numbers supremacy? (An eternal exhibition of how little numbers mean about TV quality.)
Not the Same “View,” Is It?”: Joy Behar is gone. So is Elizabeth Hasselbeck. Founder Barbara Walters has announced her retirement. And Jenny McCarthy is the new talker on the show. I’ve had my shots. Have you?
When TV Outrage Turned Real: Former Denver Bronco tight end Shannon Sharpe, discussing the racial and hazing climate of the Miami Dolphins locker room, took CBS’ “NFL Today” to a place most TV is scared to death to go. Here was a man genuinely angry and disgusted. It was nice to remember what such things sound like, amid all the wall-to-wall bloviating “outrage” that provides the natural gas for current TV “talk.”
Yeah, but the Dialogue Is Still Great: Aaron Sorkin can still write the stuff, as “The Newsroom” proved. Now if he can only convince Jane Fonda to appear on the show more often to deliver it.
Disappointments of TV’s “Third Golden Age”: The 2013 seasons of “Mad Men” and “Homeland.” And the series finale of “Dexter.”
How It’s Supposed to Be Done: The series finale of “Breaking Bad” was an exhibit under glass of how to do it with near-perfection.
Best of the Newbies, by Far: NBC’s “Blacklist” and “Hannibal.” Showtime’s extraordinary “Masters of Sex” (one of the wildest ideas for a TV series ever). And, in its third year, the continuing astonishing creativity of CBS’ “Elementary,” the most brilliant, post-modern update of Sherlock Holmes anyone could have imagined.
When in Doubt, Act Like It’s Your Last Show and You’ll Never Return: It’s the philosophy that’s made “Scandal” the outrageous success that it is. And it plucked CBS’ “The Good Wife” out of some all-too-somnolent doldrums into its current status as the most revitalized triumph on network mainstream TV.
TV Artifact of the Year: Miley Cyrus, at the MTV Video Music Awards, waggled her fuzz-covered tongue, demonstrated “twerking” with the clumsiest dance moves this side of the Moose on “Dancing With the Stars” and did what some of us thought was the funniest parody of rock video smut we’ve seen in years. Unfortunately, people took the poor wiseacre kid seriously. So when she fired up a blunt during another pop music award number, she became Middle America’s Public Enemy No. 1, just for bringing the satiric values of the Onion, “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” to her generation’s bastions of manipulated teens and tweens. Her enemies are exploitation and hypocrisy, not decency and righteousness. Who better to do that than the girl Disney once sold as Hannah Montana?