By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 6, 2010; 11:32 PM
Sunday night's Kennedy Center Honors was so bejeweled with political jabs and breathtaking moments that the ceremony had some in the audience speculating as to which of the juicier bits would survive when the producers once again whittle down the more than 21/2 hours of event to just 90 minutes of programming for CBS.
This "What Does CBS Dare to Air?" game is, however, best left to professionals. Reporters Who Cover TV understand how industry suits think. And how they think is that if the jab or moment is delivered by someone of interest to the population at large - like Bristol Palin telling America she wants to win "Dancing With the Stars" so she can give the "big middle finger" to those Americans who "hate" her mother and herself - you are probably not going to wind up on the cutting-room floor.
But if you are, say, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee, best known as That Guy Who Wrote "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," and you live in a country that's just bursting with people who do not know who the heck Virginia Woolf is, most of your gags are probably going to become Kennedy Center Honors flotsam and jetsam.
Because it's not for nuthin' that CBS has, for years now, maintained its status as the country's No. 1 TV network. CBS knows the difference between how to play to the masses vs. how to play to the politicos sitting in the first 10 rows of the KenCen's Opera House.
Which means, alas, you're probably going to have to take our word for it that Albee, while paying tribute to dancer/choreographer Bill T. Jones, congealed all 2,300 people in their seats when he observed that all brilliant artistic types are Democrats, except one playwright he knew once who was a Republican.
And then, just as they were starting to un-congeal, Albee noted that, physically, Jones was of average height and "dark-skinned - very dark-skinned," causing audience members to once again stiffen in their chairs like children in some fairy tale who have just had a spell cast on them by some witch up to no good.
And it's probably 50-50 at best whether you'll see Jones - who is not exactly a household name, unlike like fellow honorees Oprah Winfrey and Paul McCartney - raise his straightened arm and clenched fist in a salute to the performers onstage at the end of his tribute, then turn and give the same salute to President Obama, and hang on to that pose for dear life until Obama responded. Like so much of Jones's choreography, the gesture was open to many interpretations, and audience members interpreted like gangbusters for what seemed like an hour, but actually lasted less than a second, until Obama responded with a brief let-me-meet-you-halfway-in-the-spirit-of-compromise semi-salute.
On the bright side, it's a virtual certainty that you'll get to see Chris Rock joke that "Oprah Winfrey is so powerful, she almost made Sarah Palin read a book," as some audience members cheered quietly, while others booed quietly.
Likewise, you're probably going to hear the night's Securities and Exchange Commission joke - which sounds like a long shot, except it, too, was delivered by Rock, who explained that Oprah was so rich, "if Oprah and Paul McCartney had sex, the SEC would have to approve it." Even better, Rock did not appear to be happy with the response he got from that gag and decided it had gone over the heads of those in the hall, which was choked with senators and members of Congress. So he began to explain the SEC to them. We think you'll enjoy that moment.
And of course, it is always entertaining to play the Kennedy Center Honors game we call "See How They Make It All About Them." This game is played by watching as various celebrities who have volunteered their time - ostensibly to pay tribute to one of this year's Kennedy Center honorees - get up onstage and make it All About Them.
Gwen Stefani and Claire Danes put up a good fight this year. Danes blathered on at great length about her own early dance career in Manhattan, which, in an incredible coincidence, bore some slight similarity to that of Jones. And Stefani dressed up like a yellow canary who'd been stuffed into a tiny Fab Four-ish pantsuit to chirp her trademark sassy way through the tunes "Hello, Goodbye," "All My Loving" and "Penny Lane," by way of paying "homage" to McCartney.
But they were no match for Babs Walters. Walters has mastered the art of mocking herself - but not really. On Sunday night, she "joked" that she should get credit for Oprah's career, because Oprah once said that when she was very young, she imitated Walters's interview style when competing in a Miss Fire Prevention competition - which she won.
"Simply put, she is the best interviewer ever," Walters simpered. "No one comes close - not even me. And those of you who know me know how painful it was for me to say that," she added.
Walters is, quite simply, the best.ABC's comedy swap
ABC will take the Courteney Cox comedy "Cougar Town" off the air Feb. 9 to give its new Matthew Perry series, "Mr. Sunshine," its best comedy time slot: 9:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. "Mr. Sunshine," about a self-involved sports arena manager, will be hammocked between "Modern Family" and Shonda Rhimes's new medical drama, "Off the Map."
This schedule sticks through April 6; "Cougar Town" will return to its time slot the next week. But instead of being followed by "Off the Map" at 10, ABC will debut another new comedy, "Happy Endings," and pair it with "Modern Family" reruns.
"Happy Endings" is about a "perfect couple" - played by Elisha Cuthbert and Zach Knighton - who break up on their wedding day, causing friends and family members to re-evaluate their lives.