TV Egos Unbound

by Meta Wagner

13 January 2009

The small screen is no longer for small personalities or those without ambition or washed up has-beens.
 

Watch any episode of Entourage, HBO’s show about a young movie star and his buddies from Queens living la vida loca in Hollywood, and you’ll learn something you already knew—or thought you knew—about show business:  the worst thing an agent can offer a movie actor is a role in a television series.  The small screen, after all, is for small personalities or those without ambition or washed up has-beens.  Oh, really?

I can’t think of a medium where ego is so brazenly on display.  Maybe it’s a delayed, over-the-top reaction to years of suffering an inferiority complex.  Or an attention-getting device to keep viewers from flipping to the other 300 channels available to them.  Or maybe we have Simon Cowell to blame.  But, whatever the root cause, unfettered egomania rules the day.

Here are just a few of the most egregious examples of TV egos unbound:

When Broadcasters Become Flaks
I watched wa-a-a-a-a-y too much political coverage in the months leading up to the US presidential election.  Music, which once filled the house, was silenced.  Conversation, which once punctuated the air, was stifled.  Sitcoms and dramas and reality television—ha!—what need had I for such trifling entertainments when there was plenty of political punditry to be found? 

I was on the same schedule as MSNBC political consultant Chuck Todd:  up at dawn (okay, 7am) for the morning shows, back again 12 hours later for the evening programs.  Whenever I could, I’d watch Hardball with Chris Matthews at 5pm, and then watch the repeat of the very same show at 7 pm … just in case.  Arch conservative Pat Buchanan started making sense to me.  Could a 12-step program be far off?

As it turns out, the addiction came with its own cure.  All I’d need to hear was Wolf Blitzer intone the CNN mantra, “the best political team on television,” and I’d flip to The Food Network faster than Rachel Ray can crack an egg.  When did it become acceptable for a political news program—or any show—to toot its own horn … repeatedly … during the show itself? 

But, then again, why stop there?  Maybe Wolf should encourage his panel of political analysts to high-five each other every time someone makes a good point.  Or, better yet, why doesn’t he pass a football to the pundit with the best zinger so he or she can do a touchdown victory dance?

When Late Night Hosts Abuse Their Power
When the financial crisis first struck in September, presidential candidate John McCain notoriously vowed to suspend his campaign and fly down to Washington, pronto, to get all those losers in Congress to do something mavericky on behalf of the American people.  He even canceled his scheduled appearance on David Letterman but then snuck off to another CBS studio to be interviewed by Katie Couric—as if Letterman wouldn’t find out

Sure, McCain acted foolishly.  But, Letterman was the real loser.  He was like the jilted lover who couldn’t believe he’d been ditched at the altar (for someone with straighter teeth and a full head of hair).  He spent a full nine minutes bashing McCain that night, with repeated verbal thrashings on future shows—even the night when McCain returned to apologize. 

Shouldn’t this fall under the indecent behavior that the FCC is so fond of punishing television stations for?  I mean, what’s worse:  Joe Scarborough accidentally dropping the F-bomb on “Morning Joe”, or Letterman having an extended narcissistic hissy fit on network TV?

When Celebrities’ Reach Exceeds Their Grasp
The vicious zeal with which people (mostly men) from Donald Trump to anonymous bloggers attack Rosie O’Donnell is so disturbingly misogynistic that it pains me to criticize her efforts at reviving the variety show format, as she attempted to do Thanksgiving night.  But it doesn’t pain me as much as watching the first 15-minutes did.  I think the epithets aimed at Rosie have actually emboldened her in ways that ultimately defeat her.

The source of Rosie’s charm when she hosted her daytime talk show from 1996 – 2002 was that she was still, at heart, the kid from Long Island who was every bit as starstruck as her audience by the likes of Tom Cruise (her ultimate cutie patootie) and Barbra Streisand (who moved her to tears).  She was the star of her own show, but she allowed the spotlight to shine on her guests. 

That’s also what the best variety show hosts from the past, like Ed Sullivan, did.  But, Rosie didn’t stick to this successful formula and instead delivered jokes that fell flat and then inserted herself into song-and-dance numbers with singers like Liza Minelli.  Why would the audience want to watch someone merely passable when the point of such a show is to highlight amazing, up-and-coming or comeback talent?

Ed Sullivan never tried to be the fifth Beatle.  That’s called keeping one’s ego in check.

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