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HOWARD ROSENBERG / TELEVISION

Look Quick! Reality Won't Stay That Way for Long

August 10, 1994|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Shane, come back! Come back! Shane!

--Brandon de Wilde calling to heroic Alan Ladd in "Shane"

*

Can it, already. I'm back.

And plenty steamed. Give me a break here. I'm away only three weeks and look what happens. The surreal season erupts. Can this really be happening? Only a short while ago, a boy was accusing Michael Jackson of molestation. And now Jackson is just another married guy nearing middle age while hugging little kiddies and distributing goodies at children's hospitals in Budapest? And he's there shooting a macho music video of himself heroically liberating a communist state from the Reds? Is some crazed person in a garret writing this script? Or just another press agent?

And while my back is turned, the O.J. Simpson serial all but dries up, its coverage shrinking to a piffle compared with the mushroom cloud of hooey that I left behind? The big news is that a professional thief and reputed liar reports spotting two bearded white guys fleeing Nicole Brown Simpson's townhouse the night she and Ronald Lyle Goldman were fatally slashed? C'mon. Now, if he'd seen two bearded women. . . .

And a Ben & Jerry's employee says Nicole Simpson stopped by with her kids and a guy not resembling Goldman on the night of the murders, and everyone's now mentioning a supposedly incriminating cup of partially unmelted ice cream reportedly found outside or inside her place? I mean, please! The stuff I buy is runny goo by the time it's handed to me. And anyway, how can we judge the importance of this bombshell without knowing the flavor of the ice cream, or whether police computers contain profiles of known hit men who prefer pistachio? And if this is such a big deal, why aren't the news choppers over Ben & Jerry's right now? Must I supply all the ideas?

What a disappointment! I'd already lost faith in print reporting. But, by now, I'd expected my heroes, television's shining orbs of enlightenment, to have shown some ingenuity and come up with something a bit more exotic in my absence. Perhaps the midnight unearthing of a bloodied samurai sword. Or the cops finding a Scud missile, with O.J.'s prints, buried in his back yard, according to anonymous spokesmen for unnamed sources. And, by the way, where were the psychics? And where of late, at least before Tuesday's Simpson-Goldman pretrial hearing, were my favorite members of the legal gentry, those entrepreneurial lawyers who've become hot TV properties by consistently stating the obvious? If O.J. confesses, it will cause problems for the defense.

And what about the hand-wringers who've been predicting that live TV coverage of the scheduled Simpson trial will stop people from going to the ballot box on Nov. 8? As if most eligible Americans would bother to vote even if there weren't a Simpson trial. . . .

Can't I take even a little vacation without everything going to pot? And speaking of violence, what about this cockamamie study from the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington? The one covered by the Los Angeles Times and reported in detail in TV Guide claiming that TV violence has zoomed 41% during the last two years, based on a comparison between a single day of programming in April, 1994, and one in April, 1992? A day four months ago compared with a day 28 months ago, and this means something?

The center says it monitored 18 continuous hours of programs on 10 broadcast and cable channels. "The results are as clear as they are startling," Robert Lichter, the center's co-director, told TV Guide. In fact, he's absolutely right. Not clear, not startling.

Sweeping conclusions should have firmer foundations. What if one of the two days wasn't typical? What if neither was? We're told that the biggest rise in violence--more than 200%--came in network and local (Washington) newscasts. But as TV Guide's Neil Hickey notes, what a newscast covers on a given day is "partly the luck of the draw."

Of course, narrow sampling is deeply woven into the fabric of television--witness the various awards, such as the Emmys, that the industry annually grants itself based on single episodes of ongoing series.

And, speaking of that, what about this season's Emmy nominations, which the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences obviously delayed announcing until after I'd left on vacation? The Emmy voters knew how outraged I'd be about some of my favorites being ignored.

Granted, it's subjective. If you savored "Saved by the Bell: The College Years" or "Moon Over Miami" or "Daddy Dearest" or "Full House" or whatever, you probably believe your show of choice deserves an Emmy. Back on planet Earth, however, several omissions jumped out at me.

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