No doubt the networks would like to know how much advance excitement viewers are feeling about the new fall television season. Well, that's too bad. There is no way to measure anything that small. You would need a micro-macro-mini measurer.
Not even the Smurfs can think this small. Nor the Keebler elves. The ants in Pee-wee Herman's ant farm are towering monsters in comparison with the amount of excitement over the new TV season.
Besides, TV this summer has been pretty engrossing, and it's going to be a little sad to see it end. Not the network reruns, no; no one will mourn their timely passing. We're talking about first-run fare: The Hearings.
Never mind about the important matters at stake in the Iran-contra hearings (which resume today with Attorney General Edwin Meese III on the spot) -- constitutional questions, alleged improprieties, instances of untruthfulness, and whether Ollie North bought panty hose or leotards at the hosiery shop. What's relevant here is the fascinating spectacle of a hearing, where a person who is accused or suspected of something has to sit and answer interrogation by an investigating body.
What are hearings, really, but elevated, rarefied talk shows? They're talk shows where the guests have to swear to tell the truth. Talking heads in conflict, sparks flying where they may -- this is what TV transmits well. TV doesn't need a lot of action and detail crowding the screen. Just a big argument can be enough.
A spate of motley courtroom shows on daytime and late-night TV proves how much the public loves testimony. "People's Court," "Superior Court" and "Divorce Court," some featuring terrible actors and some featuring hapless real citizens, all traffic in cases where virtually nothing of importance is at stake, and some people can't get enough of these shows. Perry Mason has made a comeback; NBC's crummy "Matlock" series, about a slick hick lawyer, is a hit; and there's a new series about a dumpy district attorney, "Jake and the Fat Man," coming to CBS this fall.
Anything that happens in a courtroom or a courtroomlike setting can be turned into TV. Of course, in many states cameras are allowed into courtrooms and you get to see the real thing. Few TV shows of the summer, winter, spring or fall will be able to match the exquisite blend of high pathos and low comedy that went into the Joan Collins divorce proceeding out in L.A., with her discarded husband Peter Holm attempting to win a tidy settlement and Joan not budging an inch, except to wriggle into court each day.
CNN was unfortunately preoccupied with the Iran-contra hearings and couldn't air as much of the Collins-Holm hearing as it surely wanted to. A sleazy, groveling syndicated Fox TV show, "A Current Affair," gave the trial much attention, but did so in a sneering, smug way.
Host Maury Povich, famous for being Connie Chung's husband, had Holm on live from the scene and was able to ask him questions, most of them stupid. Povich advised Holm to "get a job" and when Holm said he needed $20,000 a month to shop on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Povich said, "Some of us shop at Sears."
Some of us? Did that include Povich, whose tailored suits don't look particularly Searsian?
Jim and Tammy Bakker have been out of the headlines now for, oh, 5 1/2 minutes or so, but they'll be back at any moment, and at some point this whole PTL controversy has got to wind up in court. Boy, do we want to be there when it does. Jim and Tammy will not want to cheat their fans. They will put on one humdinger of a TV show. Mascara will flow like lava from a volcano. One hopes CNN cameras will be at the scene.
America is the most litigious country in the world. Every day someone is suing somebody else, and many of these cases would make good, combative, suitably trifling television shows. David Letterman has been whining on the air lately about an altercation with a surly gas station attendant; what fun viewing if this contretemps could be adjudicated over the airwaves.
On a far more serious level, the confirmation hearings for Robert H. Bork, President Reagan's new nominee to the Supreme Court, will be coming up this fall and these are certain to be lively, acrimonious and combustible. But hearings like these are legitimately newsworthy; there are lots of other courtroom encounters out there that could work as pure entertainment.
The obvious solution: Plea-Span, an all-hearings network, 24 hours a day of courtroom clashes. Howard Cosell could come out of retirement to be the commentator. Or someone could just sue Howard Cosell and he'd be on the show anyway. While the possibilities are not endless, they could keep a cable network going for five or 10 years or so, and that's an eternity these days.
Justice is mine, saith the Lord, or words to that effect. But that was so long ago! Justice is really television's now.