A little Buffalo News history for you on a Sunday morning: None of us at this newspaper who ever took a turn writing for TV Topics ever liked its name. No matter what we ever wrote – columns, news stories, mailbags – we always found the name more than a little, um, dull.
What you have to understand is that it was named a very long time ago by an editor-in-chief in a world that could never have imagined that TV’s topics would become America’s Topics. It was just a generic description for a catch-all listing tabloid that would pull all manner of dimly related other things together around the subject of TV (and its older broadcasting brother, radio).
Over the years, the astounding lack of pizzazz in the magazine’s name has come to seem to me well beyond quaint to the point of charming.
Here then, in another place, is a decidedly non-charming column about, well, some TV Topics, a whole bunch of them picked up and laid down at top speed to catch up from vacations, trips to film festivals etc.
• Arsenio Hall: You’ll never find more understandable good will for any returning talk show host than what greeted Arsenio during the hype run-up to his 11 p.m. show. He’s said that one of the places that he got the idea for his return is when he was on George Lopez’s canceled late-night gabfest. He understood that there is, as TV’s pernicious geniuses put it, a minority “demographic” that Lopez was serving and no one else was. It was close to the one that made his show a ’90’s powerhouse among the pretenders who looked up enviously at the impregnable fortress of Mount Johnny Carson.
That unserved minority demographic is still there for Hall to gather in.
With all that, you’ll never find a first show that annihilated more decisively all possible good will than Arsenio’s debut show. It was, in a word, terrible. He may yet get where he wants to go, but it’s now going to be uphill all the way.
• The Million-Second Quiz: If it weren’t for the absurdly complicated rules, it would be just “Jeopardy” on speed. Ryan Seacrest is perfect for it. The “game” part of the show seems silly but the trivia questions at warp speed are fun.
• Sharon Osbourne and Jay Leno: As part of its “Look at Us!” hype campaign reawakening interested viewers in its daytime return, CBS’ “The Talk” – or “The View” lite – had a gimmick where all of its female panel would reveal a personal secret one a day for the first week. Sharon Osbourne’s was that she once slept with Jay Leno before she married Ozzy. Someone asked how he “was.” She claimed to remember everything else but not the sex.
It got me to thinking: All celebrities should have a form publicity letter which states that “(Fill in the blank) has recently revealed to the world that in the most intimate matters I am a disappointment. It is certainly (his or her) right. I will not be following suit. Other than to confirm the story, I reserve the right to say absolutely nothing about past relationships except to thank every intimate partner I’ve ever had as gratefully as possible for (his or her) time.”
• Jenny McCarthy on “The View”: They needed someone to replace comedian/provocateur Joy Behar. If it weren’t for her dangerous anti-innoculation crusade, McCarthy would be more than apt – smart (but not too smart), funky (but not too funky), ex-Playmate gorgeous, so fond of making others uncomfortable that Jim Carrey is one of her old boyfriends. As it is, though, you’ve got to hope that she’s never able to further her major cause.
• Miley Cyrus: The young provocateur-in-chief, of course, of American television at this exact moment is Miley Cyrus, whose twerking performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards I watched on YouTube and found hilarious, heaven help me. Why? Because in so obviously flipping the bird to the Disney network’s image-makers and perhaps even her “Hannah Montana” audience and their parents, she did a glorious parody of American musical vulgarity ca. 2013. She’s naked these days on a wrecking ball in her new video. It’s my guess that for the VMAs she knew exactly how clumsy a dancer she is and how far her body type is from what’s generally considered “sexy.” Her tongue and fanny waggling bit with the more decorously lewd Robin Thicke was a way of blowing the whole concept of “sexy” performance to smithereens. I think she’s secretly a freelance subversive who’s been let loose on unsuspecting pop charts, red carpets and the like – Joy Behar and Jenny McCarthy times 10 for those who were recently kiddies. Her twerking is a 21st century version of Mae West’s vamping.
• ”Breaking Bad”: A month ago on Facebook, a somewhat unlikely “Breaking Bad” fan wondered aloud if the series finale would give us a Peckinpah-style bulletfest and bloodbath or a sudden lurch into redeeming social value. The bullet-riddled finale of last week’s episode answered that question. The answer was “Hello, Peckinpah. All redeeming social value from here on will be ironic to the max.”
• Jon Stewart: The return of Jon Stewart to “The Daily Show” after directing a film all summer was, oddly, almost as anticlimactic as the sudden return of Arsenio Hall from a 19-year deep freeze. John Oliver was a more than capable substitute – the show is that strong – which means people now understand precisely how generic the show’s host is, despite the virtuosic energy Stewart has always brought to the task. It’s a writer’s show, not a performer’s.
• ”Hostages”: For all the saturation promotion, it seems, thus far, the worst idea for a new TV series no matter how it turns out. It’s like this: Toni Collette plays a doctor who is going to operate on the president of the United States. She’s told by Dylan McDermott as a rogue FBI SOB to botch the operation and kill the president or her family will be killed. Lovely. That’s a one-shot made-for-TV suspense movie, not a series.
The artificial swelling of one-shots into series can, I suppose, be traced back to “24” which should never have had more than four episodes but turned into a weekly gavotte with oncoming apocalypse. Unless “Hostages” gets as nutty as “Scandal,” I approach it with nothing but doubt.
• “The Bridge”: Are you watching “The Bridge” on FX on Wednesday nights? If you ask me, you should be, even if it’s little late to start now.
• Buffalo radio sinks even lower: The state of Buffalo radio just became even more dispiriting with last week’s decision by Entercom to change WWKB from a progressive talk radio station to an ESPN affiliate, thereby giving us three, count ’em, sports stations and no progressive talk station.
Add it to WBFO’s utterly disgraceful long-term mistreatment of jazz until wiping it off the FM dial entirely and you have one Buffalo medium – radio – that has now become in this city a loathsome and unholy parody of itself. Even if you love Buffalo sports, you have to give pause to the idea that every Buffalo medium can now be bullied with impunity in the name of Buffalo’s supposedly all-conquering love of sports.
In general, the idea that numbers and money are all that matter is among the many things that have given all media the gruesome reputation they now enjoy. Grabbing sports to achieve all that metric and economic juice is why Buffalo radio’s “business as usual” increasingly enjoys so much contempt.
A general unwillingness to stick with anything at all for the community’s sake – and not for almighty ratings and dollars – is the mark of a medium that has long forsaken credible defenders and survives now with apologists.