Jewish World Review Oct. 3, 2003 / 7 Tishrei, 5764

Media Person

Media Person
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Cops & docs in love | So much television, so little enthusiasm. Media Person gingerly dipped his big toe into the network waters last week, sloshing about lazily in the old-show shallows, with hardly any forays into that sea of mediocrity, the new and unknown shows. No point in rushing in. Many cold, dark, boring months lie ahead.

Law and Order, now in its 103rd season, is so dependable, so comforting. Always starts the same. Two hapless schlubs find the body, then depart, never to be seen again. It's a thankless job, body finding, and not for the squeamish. Your modern TV cadaver comes with loads of gore. OK, in plods the detective duo and we're off. These cops are under pressure. They know they've got 15 minutes to produce a suspect because Sam Waterston is in his office pacing, impatient to start prosecuting somebody.

The plot of L&O is always "ripped from the headlines." Why they can't clip it out neatly with a nice pair of scissors Media Person has no idea. Anyway, what they ripped this time was Jayson Blair. The New York Times' most notorious former employee was called Kellogg in the show but he looked like Jayson, he fabricated like Jayson and he rationalized it all away like Jayson. (I'm a black guy. I was promoted too fast, I was put under unbearable pressure! What else

could I do but cheat and lie?) As far as Media Person knows, however, the real Jayson never murdered anybody, except for Howell Raines, which was only figurative homicide. This is why writing for television is better than writing for newspapers. You can make things up and nobody gets fired.

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Kellogg bludgeons to death a sleazeball who sniffs out his fakery and tries to blackmail him. Highly implausible but still a satisfying bit of ersatz justice. At the end, Kellogg is being led away to do a long stretch of hard time instead of getting assignments from magazines to write puff pieces about himself. Wonder if Jayson was watching.

The West Wing totally copped out. Media Person hadn't been watching for a while but now he came back after reading about how the show had been hijacked by the Republicans. President Martin Sheen's daughter got kidnapped by terrorists so he nobly stepped down and Speaker of the House John Goodman, a big fat tough right winger who is the illegitimate son of Newt Gingrich, marched right into the Oval Office and camped there, driving Sheen's loyal liberal staffers up the walls and giving them an opportunity to pace up and down looking more stressed out than ever. Indeed, the bald guy with the beard appeared one commercial away from suicide. But come to think of it, he always does.

Well, you know, when you have the President's daughter kidnapped by terrorists from Qumar (which, by the way, lies east of Zaudi Assyria, just south of Iranq) you're setting yourself up for a stern test by Media Person's standards. Basically, you've got to kill her. Otherwise, you're a wimp, a wuss, a spineless poltroon, a happy-ending sap.

She lives. Sheen's back. Goodman's gone. So's Media Person.

ER has suddenly turned into Bush Doctor with Noah Wyle and that sad guy from Yugoslavia racing around Africa trying to do open-heart surgery with Swiss Army knives while 11-year-old rebels fire rockets at them. This kind of Third-World cheap-thrill stuff seems like slumming to Media Person. OK, you get points for portraying the surreal horror of African poverty/disease/warfare. But you're using it to pump up a commercial TV drama that's exhausted every malady and madness native to Illinois. Next week: Dr. Noah finds love in Iraq!

At least NYPD Blue is reliable. Grumpy old Sipowicz is still on the lower East Side glaring at transvestites and thankfully showing no signs of demanding a transfer to Liberia. His boss, the no-nonsense Lt. Rodriguez, took six slugs to the heart last season but being a mentsh, got right up and walked it off, not even a limp. But new danger lurks for him in the person of the pouty brunette detective babe, former girl friend of Sipowicz' young partner. She's now furiously batting her long, silken, pulsating eyelashes at Rodriguez. Nothing but trouble there, believe MP.

Joe Pantoliano was more entertaining on Letterman than in his so-so new CBS series, The Handler, telling Dave that the only reason he got this star shot was because they put his head in a bowling bag on The Sopranos. The talented Joey Pants is suffering from what Media Person thinks of as Oz Syndrome. That gloriously violent HBO series kept spewing up terrific new actors but whenever one of them graduated to network, he seemed bland. Why? Because the writing wasn't as good. So Pantoliano's on CBS but his personality stayed on HBO. The Handler is just another cop show.

JWR contributor Media Person -- a.k.a Lewis Grossberger -- is a columnist for Media Week. Comment by clicking here.


09/05/03: How'd You Doodad?
08/13/03: Go West, Old Viewer
07/01/03: Nuts and Nutserer: Sometimes there's a fine line between heroism and lunacy
06/17/03: Buy, yes, but read?
06/11/03: Queasy Rider
05/28/03: How Hip Is Hop?
05/14/03: Will endorse for food
05/06/03: Kick this sick shtick
04/16/03: Important developments you may have missed because of all the war stuff clogging up the media
03/25/03: To go or not to go
03/12/03: How to talk war talk
03/04/03: Two master debaters
02/26/03: The Miracle Continues: Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies
02/19/03: Yanking the Franks
02/05/03: LET MY LETTERS GO!
01/28/03: Into the Pity Pit
01/15/03: Not My Cup of Joe
01/09/03: It was back in '03
12/17/02: Did you get taken?
12/05/02: Mathers of importance

© 2002, Lewis Grossberger