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Too Preposterous for Prime Time

November 17, 2000|HOWARD ROSENBERG

A call came in from a Hollywood writer who said he had a great concept for a TV miniseries that he wanted me to hear. Although I didn't tape his words, I did record my end of the conversation, which I believe will convey the extent to which people who write for television are out of touch with reality.

"Hi, Jim. Sure, let's hear it.

"It's a dark comedy that begins on the night of a presidential election, and the title is 'Too Close Not to Call.' Very catchy.

"The Democrat's name is Al Gore and the Republican is George W. Bush? All right, easy names to remember. And what else?

"The election is being covered live on TV, and early in the evening ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC project Gore the winner of Florida. Why is that important, Jim?

"It's a key state, you say, and may indicate how the entire national election will go. So far, so good.

"But later in the evening, they take Florida back from Gore. Why is that, Jim? Because it's too close to call? Then why did they call it in the first place?

"It wasn't too close to call when they called it, you say, but it became too close to call later. Jim, I take it your drug rehab didn't work?

"But there's more? Later in the evening, they give Florida to Bush and say he won the election. And CBS News anchorman Dan Rather says what, Jim? He says: 'Before the trail goes completely cold, let's give a tip of the Stetson to the loser, Al Gore, and at the same time a big tip and a hip-hip-hooray and a big Texas howdy to the new president of the United States.' And he says, what else, Jim? He says: 'Sip it, savor it, cup it, photostat it, underline it in red, press it in a book, put it in an album, hang it on the wall. George W. Bush is the next president of the United States.'

"Why would he say all that, Jim? Because . . . he's . . . Dan Rather.

"Jim, have you thought of going back to writing sitcoms? Oh, there is more.

"Gore calls Bush and concedes the election and is about to go on television and make a concession speech when he's stopped by an aide in the nick of time. Isn't that just a little bit corny, Jim? Almost laughable?

"But there's more? Gore calls Bush back and withdraws his concession. And why would Gore do that, Jim? Oh, I see. Because later, Dan Rather notwithstanding, the networks take Florida back from Bush and declare it and the election too close to call. Although they weren't too close to call earlier? Jim, get a grip.

"And why is Florida such a key state, anyway, Jim? Because it will give Gore or Bush the election minimum of 270 votes in the electoral college? Is this a college with a football and basketball team? I see. It's not really a college. Then why is it called a college? Uh huh, uh huh. Because the Founding Fathers called it a college. And who are they, Jim? Uh huh, uh huh. Some guys who lived in the 18th century.

"Well, this miniseries is really shaping up. And there's another surprise, you say? It turns out that Fox was the first to prematurely give the election to Bush, and one of its election night consultants--someone who may have been instrumental in making that erroneous call--is a cousin of Bush? Do you hear what you're saying, Jim? Isn't that a bit of a coincidence? I mean, why not go all the way and make him Bush's brother?

"Oh, you can't do that because you have Bush's brother being the governor of Florida. Does the word 'fantasy' have any meaning for you, Jim?

"I should withhold judgment till I hear what happens in Part 2, you say. Are you sure there should be a Part 2, Jim?

"Without a Part 2, viewers wouldn't learn about Jews in Palm Beach County, Fla. Which ones would those be, Jim? Of course. The ones saying they voted for Pat Buchanan, a candidate they accuse of being anti-Semitic. Then why would they vote for him, Jim?

"I should have guessed. Because of the holes. Uh, what holes would those be, Jim? The ones in the ballots.

"But ballots nearly always have holes, don't they? I see. These holes weren't properly aligned with the names, you say, because it's what kind of ballot? A butterfly ballot. Why not a tsetse fly ballot, Jim? Right. It's a good idea, and you'll consider it.

"And they're doing what in Palm Beach County and other Florida counties, Jim? They're counting the votes by hand.

"Counting the votes by hand, Jim? This is the year 2000.

"And the Florida secretary of state is opposed to the hand counts, and she's a real looker? As are all secretaries of state, Jim.

"But a judge upheld her decision to cut off the voter recount at 5 p.m. Tuesday, but said she must use 'proper exercise of discretion' in rejecting totals coming in after the deadline? And which judge would that be, Jim. Judge Judy? Right. It's a good idea, and you'll consider it.

"Oh, you do have lots of judges, including one who issues a ruling on what kind of ballots, Jim? On 'dimpled' ballots.

"What's that? To punch up the story, you have the secretary of state, this woman who may shape the outcome of the election, being a Bush supporter who made campaign appearances for him?

"You say you have all this possibly ending in the Florida Supreme Court. Is it in Bush's camp, too? Oh, I see. That would be over the top.

"And finally, at week's end, days after the election, the U.S. still does not know if the winner is Bush or Gore? Get outta here!

"What else, you say? You have some subplots, too? The current first lady is elected to the Senate in a state where she never lived previously? Plus in another Senate race, Missouri elects a dead man?

"Jim, some advice from a friend: Keep your day job."


Howard Rosenberg's column appears Mondays and Fridays. He can be contacted by e-mail at

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