The Role TV Knows Too Well: Inane Asylum

(Frank Micelotta - AP)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 30, 2007; Page M14

Let's face it -- the television industry will never again rise to the heights of ridiculousness achieved in 2004 with just one breast, a breakaway bustier and the prying fingers of Justin Timberlake.

Still, by all accounts, 2007 was one of the industry's more spectacular efforts. Here's a look at the best:

Sanjaya Malakar's Hair. Millions of little girls and middle-aged women are irresistibly drawn to the "American Idol" contestant's gorgeous, faux-hawked tresses, a reaction that threatens to bring down the country's most-watched television program, the backbone of the No. 1 network's ratings. Major papers weigh in with op-ed pieces on the cultural crisis. "Idol" producers search frantically for things that the competition judges can say on air about Sanjaya's awful performances that will not mobilize those millions of preteens and 24-to-54-year-old chicks to vote for their pet.

Alec Baldwin's Parental Alienation. Caught on voice mail calling his 11-year-old daughter a "rude, thoughtless little pig," Baldwin becomes the latest disgraced Hollywood star ordered by his reps to do the Stations of the Apology. That includes a stop on "The View" to announce he will quit NBC's "30 Rock" to devote himself over the next five years to the fight against Parental Alienation, from which he is suffering thanks to his evil ex, Kim Basinger. Sadly, Parental Alienation is not one of NBC's designated "The More You Know" causes, and when the network realizes it cannot monetize Baldwin's announcement, it responds by issuing a strongly worded statement in which it says Baldwin remains an important part of "30 Rock" and the network looks forward to having him continue his work on the show. Baldwin continues to work on the sitcom. Parental Alienation continues, unchecked.

Paris. See Paris head to jail. See Paris leave jail. See news choppers hover over Paris Hilton's Hollywood Hills home as she is removed by authorities and sent back to jail, virtually naked -- no makeup, no purse dog, no cellphone, no hair extensions. See media critics sneer at the press for embracing tabloid instincts when, in truth, they're just sticking their own greedy snouts into the trough holding the juiciest pop-culture gruel served up in ages.

See "someone" leak pitches to Paris from both ABC and NBC to do her first post-slammer interview, with dollar amounts, embarrassing both networks and scuttling those talks -- and clearing the way for Larry King to accidentally land the season's biggest "get."

See Paris, dressed in Junior League frock, tell Larry that her 23-day ordeal in jail, with only bologna sandwiches and her Bible to comfort her, has transformed her into Paris the Good Witch -- dedicated to raising money to fight breast cancer and multiple sclerosis, and to making sure her voice does not get really high when she gets nervous.

See Paris announce her first post-jail philanthropic effort -- a trip to Rwanda. See no one surprised when the trip is "postponed." See Paris, undaunted, moving on to her next cause, stripping naked and donning gold body paint to promote consumption of champagne from a can.

The "Sopranos" Finale. HBO's 11-second simulation of a nationwide TiVo recording error induces a fusillade of furiousness in the blatherosphere, the likes of which this country had not seen since . . . a few days earlier, when Paris was dragged, weeping and hair-extensionless, back to jail. Angry "Sopranos" fans force HBO to shut down its Web site that night; Yahoo reports more searches for "Sopranos sucks" than even "Paris Hilton" -- a fact it proclaims "very significant." TV critics immediately divide into two equally annoying camps -- the "I Totally Get It and You Don't"-ians and the "Worst Finale in the History of American TV"-ites -- while theologians hotly debate onion rings as Eucharist.

Isaiah Washington. The story that just keeps on giving actually started in October '06 but did not grow So Big It Ate the Entire Television Industry until this year.

CliffsNotes: Last year, Washington used gay slur on set of "Grey's Anatomy" while fighting with McDreamy. Word gets out the reference was to T.R. Knight, who announces he's gay but hopes it's not the most interesting thing about him. Washington apologizes publicly.

Early this year, backstage at the Golden Globes, in front of the "Grey's" cast -- and a roomful of reporters -- Washington uses the slur again, by way of denying he ever used it in the first place. ABC publicly condemns his behavior. Washington apologizes -- again. Washington cuts an anti-slur PSA for GLAAD. In June, ABC says it will not renew Washington's contract on the show. Washington says he's "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore."

In July, NBC's new co-chairman/rock star Ben Silverman tells TV critics he's hired Washington to guest-star on his troubled new drama "Bionic Woman," insisting it's not a publicity stunt, because he had been talking to Washington about joining NBC before he became "available." ABC programming chief Steve McPherson tells same TV critics that if Silverman was talking to Washington while he was still under contract to ABC, that's inducement to breach -- which means Silverman is either "clueless or stupid." Silverman retaliates, calling McPherson a "moron" and a "D-girl" in Esquire magazine -- that's biz slang for TV development-exec babes who lack any actual, um, job authority or talent. When the TV industry raises its eyebrows over the story, Silverman cries that the comments were "totally off the record" and he "got bum-rushed by a journalist operating unfairly."

(Now: ABC responds to "D-girl" crack by slapping last original "Grey's Anatomy" in the same time slot as NBC's season debut of revamped "The Apprentice." NBC moves "The Apprentice" to new time slot to get it out of "Grey's" path; ABC moves "Grey's Anatomy" to "Apprentice's" new time slot. NBC moves "Apprentice" debut back to original time slot; ABC moves "Grey's Anatomy" back to original time slot.)

And finally, this year's crowning achievement in ridiculousness:

The Cartoon Character That Paralyzed Boston. In January, a bus passenger in Boston noticed a light board featuring a geeky Lite-Brite character giving the world the finger, attached to a highway-ramp support beam. Soon other electronic boards were spotted and, because Boston officials do not watch Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" programming block, no one in a position of authority realized that the scary gadgets were actually depictions of a Mooninite from the show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," about an order of French fries named Frylock, his milkshake buddy Master Shake and a meatball named Meatwad.

Traffic was halted, buildings evacuated. The Department of Homeland Security sprang into action, assuring America that afternoon that it had found "no credible reports of other devices being found elsewhere in the country." This was ironic, because Cartoon Network parent company Turner Broadcasting had plastered the little viral marketing devices in 10 major cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Austin, San Francisco and Philadelphia. The Department of Homeland Security doing its usual great work.

Two performance artists hired to set up the devices in Boston pleaded not guilty to criminal charges, after which they held a news conference at which they said they would only take questions about '60s hairstyles. Eventually, Turner and the local marketing company agreed to pay $2 million in atonement money -- about $1 million of which was earmarked to reimburse various state and local agencies for expenses incurred as a result of the planting of the little blinking, bird-flipping cartoon characters. The second million would be used to fund the Boston area's new Homeland Security Cartoon Character Identification and Containment Initiative.

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