Paul Farhi on pop culture: The great American quest for fame

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Paul Farhi
Washington Post staff writer
Tuesday, December 1, 2009; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Paul Farhi was online Tuesday, Dec. 1, at 1 p.m. ET to talk about the latest news and topical issues in the pop culture world of TV, radio, movies and trends.

Today: Who's to blame for White House gate-crashers, 'Balloon Boy' hoaxes and other twisted commentaries on the great American quest for fame? If fame is a drug, the short list of pushers might include TV producers, the networks, advertisers and viewers like you. Has the pursuit of those famous 15 minutes gone way too far?

Column: Reality TV attracts, um, larger-than-life characters

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Paul Farhi: Greetings, all. Thanks for coming 'round...So, a few years back, my overlords in the Style section dreamed up a feature called Gone Too Far, which (as the name implies) was about people, trends, things that had been taken to their absurd extreme. The feature died after a short and unpromising life, but I am reminded of it by the inescapable White House don't-call-us-gate-crashers story ("Gatecrasher-gate?"). Is there any doubt that reality TV has gone too far and is the unindicted co-conspirator is this whole caper? To wit: Would the party-loving Salahis have angled for a State Dinner invite, and talked their way inside, had a film crew from "The Real Housewives of D.C." not been egging them on?

But of course, "egging them on" describes the entire reality TV genre. All of its can-you-top-this excesses exist because of the ecosystem TV has created. The incentives to misbehave, and cash in on the misbehavior, are enormous for everyone involved--the participants, producers, networks, advertisers and viewers. We like craziness; it makes good TV.

Should we take any of this seriously? I think we can all probably agree that breaking into the White House (if that's really what happened) is probably consequential and decidedly not harmless. And as I tried to say in today's story, reality TV shows do exploit some rather vulnerable people for our entertainment pleasure. But I was talking yesterday with Paul Levinson, a media studies professor at Fordham University, about this yesterday, and he had an interesting perspective. His answer: Reality shows aren't all just soulless, craven entertainment. For all the lurid behavior on display, they often teach negative lessons by holding up bad behavior as socially unacceptable (reality TV loves a good "villain"). Are the greedy harpies on "Real Housewives" or the backstabbing conspirators on "Survivor" any worse than the characters in a Shakespearean drama? Maybe not quite as poetic, but not really, Prof. Levinson would argue.

At least that's what he says. As always, I'd like to know what you think.

Let's go to the phones.

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washingtonpost.com: Reality TV attracts, um, larger-than-life characters (Post, Dec. 1)

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Arlington, Va.: Paul, I don't care who these people are. I don't want to hear anything about them. The only relevant news is who gets fired for letting them into the state dinner. Other than that, everyone (and by "everyone" I mean "the media") needs to stop playing their game, stop talking about them and send them back to oblivion.

Paul Farhi: Really? I'm fascinated with 'em, and I suspect a few million other people are, too. And while we're on the subject: I'm very curious about Tiger Woods' (possible/alleged) domestic problems, too. I'm not saying I approve of any of this; I'm just saying it's interesting. Sue me.

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"Dozens of people who have appeared on reality shows found their TV experiences so emotionally disfiguring that they sought counseling afterward. A handful have committed suicide. ": I'd be willing to bet that the same reactions have resulted from anyone who actually watches this drivel.

Paul Farhi: I had this same debate with the lovely Mrs. Station Break last night. Not all reality shows are trash (faint praise, eh?). Sure, they're contrived and artificial, but so is everything else on TV. So, that hardly disqualifies "reality TV" outright. So of it IS junk, but I can't dismiss all of it. "Amazing Race"? Lots o' fun...

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Charlotte, N.C.: A comment. The past few weeks there have been remarks about TV show music themes. Thanksgiving Day came with a surprise when I discovered that the person who has a low power radio station in one of the surrounding neighborhoods decided to play TV show themes all day. It was a lot of fun hearing stuff that we had not heard in years. And frightening too; there were only a few we could not figure out (mostly 5's stuff). What made it more fun was that it included game shows and cartoon themes. Not saying these are best or great, but it was fun hearing the likes of The Dating Game, Road Runner and Pinky and the Brain. Less so hearing the Barney song. I could go on and on of the variety, but alas, their Bonanza theme had no words.

Paul Farhi: Don't tell Sirius XM about this--all TV-theme music could be a new channel for 'em. Me, I wonder the following about TV themes: How much of our enjoyment of them is their association with the show itself? In other words, did we like, say, "The Mission: Impossible" theme, because the TV show was cool? Not saying, the "MI" theme wasn't a good tune (it's wonderful), but how many great themes died because the shows they were on were cancelled early?

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The Airless Cubicle: Who is to blame, Paul?

We are all to blame. We watch this stuff, even if we revel in how bad it is.

None of us is to blame. Most people who appear on reality television aren't tax cheats, felons, or extraordinarily loopy.

Reality TV ain't. It's an artificial environment designed to produce extremes of silliness, hysteria, and other cathartic emotions.

Every society has cultural norms, as Emil Durkheim, the sociologist pointed out; and every society has people who do not fit those norms. The artificial environment attracts people who otherwise have no chance of fitting cultural norms.

Reality television is much better for these people than witch hunts, being placed in the stocks, going before Un-American Activity Committees or "People's Courts", or the public "Self-criticisms" of the Cultural Revolution. At least the subjects feel validated by television, and the chance of physical harm is lessened.

We all are to blame. None of us is to blame. The people who appear are to blame. All of these statements are true. None of them are comfortable.

Paul Farhi: Thank you for classing up the joint, Airless. We don't get many references to Emil Durkheim on this channel (and by "don't get," I mean: Don't understand). And I generally agree with you and Emil. However: don't the producers bear just a small extra amount of responsibility for using semi-stable folks for our amusement?

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White House crashers media coverage: Stop the insanity

-- S. Powter

Paul Farhi: It's possible that we've passed our limit, yes. But I didn't notice that it was preventing anyone from talking about Afghanistan or the health-care bill....

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Tiger Woods leaving his house: I have seen pictures of his monster house. If he had an argument with his wife, why didn't he just sleep in one of the bazillion guest rooms? The accident never would have happened.

Paul Farhi: What I don't get is how that how house is part of his "$2.5 million estate." Apparently, 2.5 mill buys A LOT in Florida.

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Outside the Beltway: Paul, let's face it -- and I dare you to answer this -- You are a reporter, and you get paid to report stories, no matter how ridiculous. NO Story - NO Work - No Pay. That's the only reason you're interested in Tiger Woods and this couple. The public is getting tired of a media that is so mercenary.

Paul Farhi: Entirely true. But we're reporting lots and lots of stories, about all kinds of things. These stories might be dessert, but there's still a very large main course out there.

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Why I Rarely Watch TV Anymore: Everything I know, or want to know, about these repulsive people is summed up very nicely on "The Soup" every week.

Too many hours of crap, and too little interest. We're now at about 90 minutes per evening, often less, and it's all DVR material.

Paul Farhi: "The Soup" IS a public service, isn't it? And, yes, there's tons of junk out there. The great thing is, you're under no obligation to look at it.

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Silver Spring, Md.: "Not all reality shows are trash (faint praise, eh?)."

Right -- watching one episode of Hoarders will make you think before you toss those leftover straws into the junk drawer again rather than the trash.

Paul Farhi: Haven't seen "Hoarders," but the concept strikes me ultra icky. People with OCD, on a reality show? I dunno--is anything redeeming going to come of that?

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Alexandria, Va.: If criminal charges are in fact leveled against the Salahis, could the Bravo network be named as co-conspirators? Someone needs to get to the root of this menace, before some yahoo decides it would be a good idea actually to do it and put his kid into a homemade balloon in order to get on TV.

Paul Farhi: Haha! Well, of course, Bravo will claim that it is only LICENSING the show, not creating it (this could be known as "the VH-1 defense," after VH-1's very fast sellout of its production company in the Ryan Jenkins murder case).

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The gate crashers: are an important story. They could have kicked the Indian Prime Minister in the stomach, shouted "Kashmir belongs to Pakistan!" and completely undermined the relations between the two counties that the visit and state dinner were meant to forge. To say nothing of maybe triggering a shooting conflict between two nuclear powers...

Paul Farhi: I agree. It's not a lark. Anytime unauthorized people get close to the president, let alone shake his hand, it's a major security breach. The Secret Service is VERY concerned about this....Personal anecdote: Once, while covering the 2004 campaign, I replaced a Post reporter who had been scheduled to ride in the president's motorcade. I grabbed my bag and took his place. When we got the airport and Air Force One, the Secret Service guys practically flipped out. They had no idea what I was doing there, and why I was lugging this big suitcase around (the bag hadn't been "cleared"). I kind saw their point, but it was sorta scary the way they descended on me. And frankly, I'm glad they did...

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"...teach negative lessons by holding up bad behavior as socially unacceptable...": You're right, but judging by the diva-like behavior exhibited by several 20-to-30-year-old women of my acquaintance, they're learning the opposite lesson: that "reality show" behavior can bring you riches, even while it annoys everyone you know.

Paul Farhi: Actual reality will cure them of that, I hope.

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TV Themes: Merv Griffin wrote the "countdown" music that plays on Jeopardy when the contestants are writing down their responses to the big answer at the end of the show. Is there anyone in America who doesn't break out into a sweat when they hear it? Where are the shows nowadays with that kind of musical drama?

Paul Farhi: Classic time filler stuff. But rather than "anxiety," that music says "anticipation" to me. Do I have the right answer? Tell me, tell me...!

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Herndon, Va.: TV Show Themes: Sometimes, it's the context. Whenever I see a police car coming out of a building with its overhead lights flashing, the "Hill Street Blues" theme immediately starts running through my brain. Another one by Mike Post, I believe.

Paul Farhi: And when you walk into a bar, do you hear the "Cheers" theme?

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Syracuse, N.Y.: Paul, if the Tiger Woods story is dessert, what kind of human beings are we turning into. I think the Tiger Woods story is a tragedy, if it's true that he had been committing adultery.

Paul Farhi: Well, I don't know about "tragedy," but the judges will accept "sad." And, see, this is why its fascinating: We all want to guess at, and/or judge, another person's behavior. We're curious animals. And because it's hidden from us, personal, private behavior is that much more fascinating to us.

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Inside the Beltway: Well, my well-outside-the-Beltway mother called to ask my opinion, to settle an argument between her and my stepfather, as to whether the Salahis should do time. Then my also-well-outside-the-Beltway father wanted to talk about Tiger Woods. (I told him that famous people should learn not to do anything interesting on slooooooow news weekends.)

Paul Farhi: You ought to be a media or PR consultant, ITB! But Tiger's situation would be big news anytime. He's too gosh-darn famous, and this is too gosh-darn juicy.

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Florida: How about we cut through the garbage and just call a reality show "People who have lives even more screwed up than yours."

The public will eat that up. And get to feel better about themselves without actually having to do anything to improve their lives!

Paul Farhi: Funny, but Dennis Miller had a rant some years ago about TV news in which that was exactly his thesis--that people watched the news to see lives that are sadder or more tragic than their own. We can dress this up to say stories like that inspire us to be better, more compassionate people, but I will not dispute that schadenfruede (SpellCheck, please!) is part of the equation.

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Kansas City, Mo.: This reality show phenomenon is just 21st century version of a carnival side show (remember 100 years' ago Plains Indians and aborigines used to be on display at the circus). The difference is now people exploit themselves in a much more overt way to gain celebrity and some measure of wealth.

Some (increasingly not very much) of this is great entertainment. Why not sit back and enjoy? When it gets to be too much change the channel and watch something else.

Paul Farhi: Yes, but again, some measure of care and responsibility might be in order here. Is it "right" to put emotionally vulnerable people through a TV wringer and then abandon them? I think the producers/networks/sponsors should take on some measure of responsibility for what happens to these people.

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Hoarders: It follows Intervention on A and E on Monday night. Last night the woman's house was piled 3 feet deep with garbage. Another episode had a body count of 20 or so dead cats in the house. Must see TV? Many times they clean up the house (at least partly) then return to their hoarding ways. Sadly interesting.

Paul Farhi: Hoarding is, of course, an obsessive-compulsive disorder. That is, a mental illness. I imagine you could say this kind of show sheds some light on the illness, and perhaps inspire people to help. I imagine I could say that, but it sounds more exploitive than that.

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Sorority Life: The first episode of Sorority Life -- an MTV reality garbage show -- was filmed at UC Davis where I went to college. The producer approached me and said I should try out as it was the last night of "rushing." I got excited thinking about being on TV and went. The camera crews, fakeness of the sorority sisters and everything else made me feel unsettled so I crept out through the bushes by the side of the house and ran home. Yuck. I think people can have aversions to these shows but still get excited about the idea of being on TV...until they see what they will be going through. It's understandable though. Many people like fame and reality TV may be the only way they can get their 15 minutes.

Paul Farhi: It's exciting, no question. And TV "validates" people in weird ways. True story: I once had a neighbor who rarely spoke to me. Then one day, I got invited to be on a TV show, if only briefly, which my neighbor happened to see. All of a sudden, my neighbor was delighted to talk with me. I assume he thought he "knew" me, as I had been in his living room for a few seconds. Well, from my perspective, I guess it was a nice icebreaker. But it was strange...

P.S.: The lovely Mrs. Station Break went to UC Davis, too. Go, Aggies!

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Falls Church, Va.: I went to elementary school with Tareq Salahi. His parents ran the Montessori school in Alexandria. They were nice people who genuinely seemed to care about children. It baffles me that Tareq has turned out this way and that he's burned his bridges with his parents, but I guess one never knows what goes on in someone else's family. It's all just a little bit sad.

Paul Farhi: I'm gonna withhold judgment. I don't know these people; I only know what I've read and seen about them. Unfortunately (considering that I'm in the media), I know that's not always a reliable way to understand someone.

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Alexandria, Va.: Can Tiger Woods be an endorser for all those products and still claim that he has a right to privacy? If he (and his sponsors) want us to know what he eats for breakfast, what kind of car he drives (into a tree), what kind of insurance he buys (one that covers damage to city property, I hope), what kind of underwear he wears, etc., and most importantly actually CARE about those mundane aspects of his life enough to have our own buying decisions influenced by Tiger's, can he then turn around and say we should care whether his wife scratched up his face and smashed his windshield as he was frantically trying to escape from his own home?

Paul Farhi: You know what my first thought was when I read that he'd driven his Escalade into a tree? Escalade?! Doesn't he endorse Buick???...As to your point: Sponsors all have "morals" clauses in their endorser contracts spelling out grounds for cancellation. Tiger probably hasn't violated any of those agreements. What's more, this incident is going to blow over at some point. And Tiger is still going to be a great athlete and uber-famous human. The sponsors will stick around.

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Chantilly, Va.: Paul -- I haven't heard the Dennis Miller rant, but I think Don Henley nailed it in his song "Dirty Laundry," which is now, gulp, 27 years old.

Paul Farhi: Yes! Love the song. And, yes--gulp!

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Washington, D.C.: Why not just produce the invitation and the envelope it came in with their name on it to settle this whole mess? The reason is.... because it doesn't exist. No amount of e-mail traffic will clear them of the responsibility of crashing the dinner. What are they 20- something? Sneaking into the bar? They really need to get a life and fix the one they have.

Paul Farhi: Had the same reaction to the very bad Matt Lauer interview on "Today" this morning. Stop futzing around and just EXPLAIN it. Did you or did you not have an invitation? Who sent it to you? Let's see it. Name names. Please. It's pretty simple. The fact that they're making it not so simple suggests there's something shady here.

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Poughkeepsie, N.Y.: Professor Levinson has a point -- reality shows often have a hateful character or two or ten and the conversation around the water cooler the next day is all about the one we hate the most -- think Danielle in Housewives of NJ -- not about the good ones. I never hear anyone speaking with any admiration of the harpies any more than you might hear kids wanting to emulate Voldemort. But they do talk about him. So what's the harm? I think Levinson is onto something,

Paul Farhi: Yes. The producers of these shows constantly manipulate the editing of the footage, and coach the participants, in order to create "good" and "bad" characters. It's all artificial. But again, so what? Literature is artificial, too. So are paintings, operas, plays, all art. That doesn't mean it isn't instructive, or that it doesn't reflect something truthful about human relationships and behavior.

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"Unscripted" Reality Show: Is there any reality show that is truly unscripted? Very rarely does anything seem spontaneous.

Paul Farhi: "Unscripted reality" is sometimes called "real life." Everything else is on a sliding scale of fakery, or at least mediated somehow. Documentaries are edited, too.

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Gate Crashing insanity in the media in India: Everyone keeps talking about how we keeping talking about these crazy folks in the U.S., but is there any media coverage or outrage in the media in India? I mean, is anyone over there claiming that the U.S. really dropped the ball and put their prime minister in danger?

Paul Farhi: I don't know, but I would have to imagine this story is HUGE over there. It was a very big deal for India that Obama's first state dinner involved the Indian prime minister.

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washingtonpost.com: Here is an exchange from a chat we did this morning with Ronald Kessler, chief Washington correspondent for Newsmax.com and author of "'In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect."

Washington, D.C. : How is India reacting to this breach? It seems to me that the PM of India has at least as many enemies as the President. And what would it have done to U.S./India relations if something had happened to him or his entourage?

Ronald Kessler: That's a very good point. It's embarrassing to our country that we exposed the prime minister of India to possible risk and it will make others who may be heads of state wonder if they should accept an invitation to a White House event.

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washingtonpost.com: Chat: Secret Service under scrutiny for Salahi slipup

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Paul Farhi: And we interrupt this chat for a relevant exchange about White House security from an earlier chat today. Maestro?

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2.5 Mil in Orlando: It's about the equivalent of $6 Mil in Potomac, plus of course we have the sunshine and no state income tax and the ocean and What the H-&% is Tiger doing in a (very nice, but not exceptional) golf course tract house in Orlando when he could be anywhere?

FYI, you could buy that same house for about $800K over here in Fort Myers.

Paul Farhi: Ah. Thank you. I feel like an episode of "House Hunters."

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Alexandria, Va.: Should we expect any changes to NBC programming after the network is sold? (And what about its subsidiary Bravo network, the presumed beneficiary of the Salahis' ambition -- might it now actually drop this sort of garbage?)

Paul Farhi: Very interesting question. I was making a similar point to my bosses yesterday. I can't imagine Bravo/NBC/Comcast wants to be dragging around the Salahis at the same time it wants the FCC and other government agencies to approve its merger (the merger being the proposed Comcast-NBC hookup). But maybe a hit TV show trumps embarrassing yourself before the FCC...As for NBC, this merger can't really make things any worse than they already are. Can it?

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Jefferson City, Mo.: Regarding Woods and Buick: That endorsement partnership ended a year ago when GM was barreling into the financial toilet. Buick/GM had to cut costs and that one was obvious.

Paul Farhi: Ah, yes. Correct. My bad. But he still endorsed Buick and drove a Caddy!

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Knowing "famous" people: My now ex-boyfriend was one of the lead characters in a movie with Russell Crowe and is still very good friends with him. He's even filming a movie with him right now in Pittsburgh. I still have that starry-eyed feeling sometimes when I think about him (we are friendly despite our split) because I can rent Mystery Alaska and see him as his hot- self and know he was mine for a while. Of course, once we were together for a while his popcorn kernel-chewing really got annoying and he was just like every other human being. Still...it kinda makes you feel special in a weird way.

Paul Farhi: I've never had any celebrity friends, but I have been around celeb types as a reporter, and I can attest that there's a certain electricity around 'em. People act nutty. They stare. They kowtow. They think they "know" the individual in question. It's just freaky. I don't know how it doesn't twist a person, and warp their perspective in not very pleasant ways (but I'm willing to try it out for a year or two)....

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Washington, D.C.: The other puzzling fact is that in order to get past the gate, even for a White House tour, you need to supply name, date of birth and Social Security number. Did they provide that information and if so to Who? I agree, name names and move on.

Matt's interview this morning was really worthless. Had he asked the question, I'm sure the interview would have been over.

Paul Farhi: Yes, the interview was worthless, but it did seem to advance the Salahis cause. They kept up the mystery and thus extended the media's interest in them. Which may be their entire game...

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D.C.: And don't talk show hosts (like Matt Lauer -- to whom I will not ascribe word journalist) get a big ratings kickback when these vapid interviews attract viewers? Lauer wasn't interested in answers. He just wanted more air-time with the circus.

Paul Farhi: Yes. That was a huge "get" for the Today Show. Though I'm not sure how much real effort was involved. Since NBC owns Bravo, and the Salahis seem to want to be on TV more than anything, the only way they could keep Bravo/NBC happy with them was to cancel their scheduled Larry King appearance on CNN and go on the Today show.

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Gate Crashing insanity in the media in India: Everyone keeps talking about how we keeping talking about these crazy folks in the U.S., but is there any media coverage or outrage in the media in India? I mean, is anyone over there claiming that the U.S. really dropped the ball and put their prime minister in danger?

Paul Farhi: I don't know, but I would have to imagine this story is HUGE over there. It was a very big deal for India that Obama's first state dinner involved the Indian prime minister.

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Fairfax, Va.: The Salahis and Tiger have monopolized all the celebrity news. Bring back Levi Johnston, he's a hunk.

Paul Farhi: Except for Levi's various utterances about his ex-fiance's mother, I find him boring. But I think he's pretty much out of bullets on the Palin front. 14:57....14:58....14:59....

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Greater Green Bay, Wisc.: I don't know about bars (HA!) but whenever I'm in downtown Chicago, the music from the first Bob Newhart Show is running in my mind...

Paul Farhi: And when I was in Minneapolis a couple of years ago, I wanted to toss a beret on a street corner!

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Alexandria, Va.: Will NBC take the sale to Comcast as a good opportunity to reboot itself and dump the Leno show? Or have they simply got nothing else to air in those 5 hours per week?

Paul Farhi: I don't think so. Jeff Zucker, the guy who so proudly made the disastrous Leno move, is going to be running the newly merged company, at least for a year or so (or until they get it approved in Washington). So, Jay's safe for the time being.

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Falls Church, Va.: Stars of scripted TV shows get into trouble just as often as reality TV stars do, but no one indicts scripted TV in general. Stars of the Sopranos, just to pick one example, have been arrested for various charges including DUI, cocaine possession, domestic assault, and -- really -- murder. No one tries to draw any larger lesson.

Paul Farhi: But that's not consistently true of scripted shows. And here's the difference: People on scripted shows are pros (I think they call them actors), who are trained to play a role. The people on reality shows are amateurs, playing themselves. They--and reality producers--have no idea what they're doing, how they'll be portrayed, and how it will affect them.

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Bethesda, Md.: "And when I was in Minneapolis a couple of years ago, I wanted to toss a beret on a street corner!"

Well, sure, but Minneapolis actually has a statue of Mary Richards on the sidewalk, doing just that (if memory serves)!

Paul Farhi: A true thing, yes.

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re: Hoarders: Woody Allen had a bit in, I think, Manhattan where he quit his job as a TV writer when they brought on a woman who was catatonic and sweetened the audience reaction with a laugh track machine.

Satire is no longer possible in America.

Paul Farhi: Aye. And funny you should mention it. I was thinking of another Wood-man movie this morning in regard to the Salahis. They remind me a bit of "Zelig."

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Silver Spring, Md.: How do you think Gillette feels? They are endorsed by Theirry Henry who everyone thinks is a cheater because of his flagrant handball in the Ireland-France soccer match. And they are endorsed by Tiger Woods who may be cheating in a different way.

You're next Roger Federer!

Paul Farhi: Excellent! "The best a man can get"? Oh, really...?

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Harrisburg, Pa.: TV Themes: Don't forget, scoring a theme or an entire TV show was sometimes a stepping stone/pay-the-rent method for many current and future Grammy and Oscar winning composers. Quincy Jones ("Ironside" and "Sanford and Son"), Dave Grusin ("It Takes a Thief"), Dave Brubeck ("Mr Broadway"), Elmer Bernstein ("The Rookies", a personal favorite), and the multi-talented Earle Hagen, who varied from the jazzy "Harlem Nocturne" in the 50s (for "Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer"), to countrified "The Andy Griffith Show", to the thrilling "I Spy", and then the frenetic masterpiece of "The Mod Squad".

Paul Farhi: Wow--great list, Harrisburg. Thanks. I bet even more big timers wrote TV themes, too...

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McLean, Va.: Now a WaPo question. Since the Post is shutting down its L.A. bureau, staffed by Lisa de Moraes, has the paper decided that its not even worth trying to attract television viewers to its readership? It would seem that this move goes exactly counter to the popular trend of providing more, not less, show business news.

Paul Farhi: Lisa's not going anywhere, so the premise of your question is incorrect.

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Baltimore, Md.: TV show themes: Was traveling last week and so the discussion. Wanted to nominate the slew of Westerns from Warner Bros. for their theme songs and lyrics. Maverick, which made James Garner a star, began:

Smooth as a handle on a gun, Maverick is the name.

Wild as the wind in Oregon, blowin' up a canyon, easier to tame.

(Bret Maverick would do anything to avoid a fight, which made him a different kind of Western hero.)

There was also Cheyenne (starring the enormous Clint Walker), Sugarfoot (Will Hutchins) Bronco Lane (Ty Hardin, who went on to lead a right-wing militia group). All had great themes.

Paul Farhi: Thanks. I wonder if certain studios had superior theme writers. I mean, I don't know who produced "Have Gun, Will Travel," "The Virginian," "Gunsmoke" or "The Big Valley" but none had really memorable themes.

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washingtonpost.com: Have Gun, Will Travel Theme (YouTube)

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Washington, D.C.: Don't the Salahis have a history of this type of behavior? I saw something on Fox Morning News early this morning about them being tossed out of a Congressional Black Caucus event after they were busted sitting in the seats of other guests. Apparently, they snuck in through another entrance after being denied admittance.

Paul Farhi: Yes, that was on WTTG, channel 5 (kudos for the scoop, fellas). Hence: "Zelig."

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Paul Farhi: Folks, I've got to blow the final whistle and declare quittin' time. Thanks for all the questions and the give and take (particularly the give). Let's reassemble next week, same time. By then, we should have fresh scandals to pick over. Until then, as always, regards to all! --Paul.

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