Friday, April 17, 1998

TV Turnoff Week

You've got to feel a little sorry for Stephanie Miller. She's a very talented lady; quick-witted, funny, smart. Sure, her attempt at late night TV had its problems, but none of them were her fault. Besides, she's done dynamite radio for years, and now has stepped up as the latest co-host of CNBC's "Equal Time."

So, why feel sorry for her? Partly because Steph has to suffer the indignity of sitting opposite Bay Buchanan and fight the urge to just plain slap her. Partly because when Bay's not there, they bring in CNBC's designated co-host, Marcia Clark (is there anyone among us who even cares?). But mostly because Steph's gonna get hurt by National TV Turnoff Week, April 22-28.

Face it, nobody's turning off Jerry Springer just because some group wants Americans to boycott TV for a week. I don't care how proud, brilliant, or sophisticated you think you are, or how you claim you only expose yourself to TV when Jim Lehrer is talking to you from behind his desk. If you're down at the Circuit City and the wall of Trinitrons is showing a Springer show with some quadriplegic woman hopping down from her chair, doing a Jackie Chan flip-kick to stump-swat her trailer-park husband for cheating on her with the local manicurist-in-training, you are gonna stop and watch. At least until you hear the crowd chanting, "Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!" and you realize it's your fellow citizens of Circuit City who are leading the cheer.

But give up "Equal Time?" Easy. Not watch Chris Matthews? That's a softball "Hardball" question. Skip another all-star panel of newspaper editors listening to Larry King pining for the old days in Brooklyn? No problem. Believe me, the topic -- and the banter -- will be exactly the same when you come back seven days later.

What's that old question? If William Ginsburg talks to Tim Russert but nobody's watching, can he still limo over to 2020 M Street in time for a one-on-one with Bob Schieffer?

Okay, so you may miss Deepak Chopra explaining the complexities of the federal subpoena process to Bill Maher. Or Bob Novak accidentally agree with Bill Press. But skip a round of the completely interchangeable "McLaughlin Gang" and "Capitol Group?" Sure! It's easier than figuring out which one's Hannity and which one's Colmes.

So, I'm sorry, Stephanie. I hope America sticks with you. I hate seeing those words "Coast To Coast" in the title of your show, because I remember NBC doing that to Tom Snyder when they added Rona Barrett and a studio audience to "Tomorrow," right before it came crashing down harder than a steel beam in Yankee Stadium. I'm rooting for you, Steph. In the same way I'm hoping to be able to turn on a WB sitcom and not hear the word "booty" in the first thirty seconds.

During TV Turnoff Week, if America does hit the off button on its national remote, it won't be Jerry Springer's steel cage match that will suffer, but "Equal Time" and the rest of these shows that will see their ratings fall to minuscule levels. Of course, then they'll just know what it's like to be Tony Snow.