Studio 60, SNL, Gerald Ford, Cheney's Melodrama, And Other Odds And Ends

This is going to be another "three dot journalism" column (in homage, as always, to the late great Herb Caen), full of all the recent odds and ends that have been in the back of my mind, but were never prominent enough to warrant a full column.

 

. . . Firstly, Chris Kelley wrote a column here on Huffington Post about "Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip" that set off a fracas in the comments section. Although I'm no TV critic, I have to jump in with my two cents. The main argument is whether the show is any good or not, or funny or not. I won't weigh in on that aspect (full disclosure: I watch it, sometimes it's good, sometimes not so good).

But I think there's a point being missed here. I have always seen the show (from the opening "I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore" rant onwards) as Aaron Sorkin's personal revenge on the television industry (and the state of Nevada, as a side story). He seems to be on a crusade to expose all the evils he perceives in the entire industry, from his unique perspective. From the red-baiting blacklists of the 50s to today's frustrations, Sorkin is letting us know what he thinks of the foibles of the medium.

The problem with this is that it breaks a cardinal rule of fiction: don't write about things you know too much about. I can't remember where I heard this first (probably in a Heinlein story, shows you what I read in my misspent youth), but it does ring true. If you know your subject matter too well, then you are going to obsess over getting all the details right and (in the process) you will lose your focus on the story itself. I think "Studio 60" is a prime example of this. Sorkin's got something he feels it's important to say (in almost every episode) and it can get in the way of the storyline at times.

Personally, though, that's why I watch the show. For the underlying message, not because of the storyline or the characters. I guess I'm in the minority, judging from others' arguments. Oh, well, I can live with that.

 

. . . I got two interesting Christmas presents this year: the first season of "Saturday Night Live" (SNL) on DVD, and Geoffrey Nunberg's book Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism Into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show. The book is an interesting look at the language of politics, and expands and goes beyond George Lakoff's books about "issue framing." Well worth a read.

While reading this fine book [full disclosure: nobody paid me for this opinion, I don't even know the author], and also watching SNL shows from 1975 and 1976, I became aware of how many catchphrases SNL has inserted into our daily lives [full disclosure: nobody paid me for this opinion either, but if Lorne Michaels sends me a copy of the second season when it comes out, I'm not going to turn it down]. If you think about it, you can almost tell someone's age by which SNL catchphrases (from which decade) they know. If you recognize these (all from the first season), then you're probably a baby boomer, or someone just post-baby boom.

"Live from New York... It's Saturday Night!" (well, OK, everybody knows that one)

"Candygram." ...or... "Land Shark."

"I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not."

"...never mind." (Emily Litella)

"This just in... Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead."

"It's a floor wax! It's a dessert topping!"

"Ooooh, noooooooo!" (Mr. Bill, which debuted as a home movie in the first season)

"I'm Baba Wawa..."

 

. . . More SNL . . . The other thing worth mentioning about the first season is something almost everyone in the mainstream media completely missed during President Gerald Ford's funeral coverage: on 4/27/76 the host of the show was Ron Nessen (then Ford's press secretary). Ford himself makes three (taped) appearances on the show: giving the opening line, "Live from New York... It's Saturday Night;" introducing Nessen's opening monologue; and (hilariously) on Weekend Update, which opens with the standard "I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not," and then immediately cuts to Ford saying, "I'm Gerald Ford, and you're not." Now, during every single television commentary on Ford in the past week, cursory mention is made of Chevy Chase's portrayal of Ford as a genial clumsy guy -- but nobody has aired this clip. Maybe they just all forgot about it? That's the only explanation I can think of, since it would be a perfect way to show how Ford was big enough to even join in on the jokes himself (long before George H.W. Bush appeared with Dana Carvey). A missed opportunity for the mainstream media.

 

. . . In politics, President Bush's delay in announcing his secret plan for victory in Iraq means the announcement itself will be preceded by Saddam's hanging and the 3,000th dead American soldier in Iraq. How much this overshadows whatever he has to say is up to how the media spins the whole story.

 

. . . Bet all those Republican Senators who were calling loudly to implement the "nuclear option" in the Senate of bypassing the filibuster are now secretly glad they weren't successful. Looks a bit different from the "minority party" side of the aisle, doesn't it now?

 

. . . It looks like the equation "Democrats = blue, Republicans = red" is pretty much set in stone for the foreseeable future. Does anyone else see the irony in the Republicans being the "red" party? Does nobody else remember Joe McCarthy and the "red = communism" equation that predated this?

 

. . . And finally, I leave you with this quote from Dick Cheney's eulogy for Gerald Ford (he's speaking about Watergate and Ford's pardon of Nixon):

"We will never know what further unravellings, what greater malevolence might have come in that time of furies turned loose and hearts turned cold. But we do know this -- America was spared the worst. And this was the doing of an American President."

It seems Cheney sees the whole Nixon fiasco in heavy Wagnerian overtones. I mean, this is straight out of Greek theater, raging at the (imagined) furies of impeaching Nixon for his crimes. Somebody needs to compare and contrast this statement with anything Cheney said about Clinton's impeachment.

 

[Happy New Year to all. See you in 2007!]