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On this TV events list: dumb and dumber

Saturday, October 23, 2004


Although I have no idea what I was doing the evening of Nov. 17, 1978, I'm pretty sure I didn't spend it watching "The Star Wars Holiday Special."
A pity, that. How can I call myself a TV critic when I've never been exposed to what one expert calls "the worst two hours of television ever"?
The authority is David Hofstede, and I know he's an expert because I've just read his new book, "What Were They Thinking?: The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History" (Back Stage Books, $14.95).
As I said, I've never seen Hofstede's No. 1 pick, a musical extravaganza wherein Bea Arthur and Harvey Korman mix it up with Chewbacca -- whose father, Itchy, "in what can only be described as Wookiee porn," is entertained by Diahann Carroll "writhing in a slinky silver number and singing such lyrics as 'I am your pleasure. Enjoy me.'"
But I've seen the Bobby's-death-was-a-dream episode of "Dallas" (No. 2), the Marlena-is-possessed episodes of "Day of Our Lives" (No. 67), several episodes apiece of "My Mother the Car" (No. 12), "Cop Rock" (No. 29), "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer" (No. 54) and many more of his choices. And I can tell you that the man knows -- well, "junk" is not the first word that comes to mind, but it'll do.
An eccentric system
Because Hofstede mixes single episodes and mere moments with whole series that ran for months or years, his ranking system may seem eccentric.
After all, who's to say that Janet Jackson's nipple flash (No. 78) was more off-putting than four whole months of "Me and the Chimp" (No. 83)?
But he redeems himself with many of his arguments.
Hofstede notes, for instance that "The Flying Nun" (No. 80) confounds with its "oddly random mix of ability and occupation -- why a flying nun and not a swimming tax attorney, or a psychic landscaper?"
Putting "The Jerry Springer Show's" 13-years-and-counting run at No. 3, he concedes that a number of other daytime series approach its vileness.
Persuasively, however, he reminds us that Springer -- a graduate of Northwestern Law School, former mayor of Cincinnati and the holder of seven local Emmy awards for his work as a news anchor and commentator in the '80s -- is distinguished by the depth of his hypocrisy.
"'Be good to each other,' he says at the close of each show, but if people took that advice there wouldn't be a 'Jerry Springer Show,"' Hofstede writes. "As long as the fans scream 'Jer-ry! Jer-ry!' one suspects he really wants people to be as bad to each other as humanly possible."
'Lost classics'
Not every sin is intentional, of course. At No. 67, Hofstede puts "lost television classics, 1949-'67," a reference to the thousands of tapes that were discarded or reused in TV's early decades -- or, more specifically, to the small percentage that is sorely missed today. Among the mourned is Super Bowl I, the '67 contest between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs that was "recorded by two networks and subsequently lost by both of them."
Though it's impossible to argue with such choices as the Harlem Globetrotters episode of "Gilligan's Island" (No. 75) or the nightmare of Rob Lowe serenading Snow White at the '89 Oscars (No. 52), I can't get behind each and every Hofstede pick.
If QVC moved 30,000 units of the handcrafted wooden moose that pooped M & amp;Ms (No. 89) in 10 minutes, how dumb an idea could it have been?
And what's with Hofstede ranking the past 56 years of the Emmys at No. 15?
So "the nominating process is flawed," he writes. Do the Democrats or Republicans do it better?
So "the dominance of 'The Sopranos,' 'Sex and the City' and 'Six Feet Under' requires an explanation beyond their quality," does it? As Hofstede himself says -- unjustly, I might add -- of John Lithgow's three Emmys for "3rd Rock From the Sun," sheesh.
About that special ...
But I'll forgive Hofstede his trespasses for his extended description of that "Star Wars" holiday horror alone.
Picture it, if you can: Not just Korman, Arthur, Carroll and Chewbacca, but Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and, for reasons still not understood by scholars, the Jefferson Starship's Paul Kantner.
Imagine Han Solo rushing his buddy Chewie home to celebrate "Life Day, an important day in the Wookiee calendar." Or Luke Skywalker, "for some reason, wear[ing] more eye makeup than Elizabeth Taylor in 'Cleopatra.'" Or Princess Leia warbling a Life Day carol, even though Fisher "couldn't find the melody with a star chart."
It was, by Hofstede's reckoning, "the worst atrocity ever committed in [the 'Star Wars'] universe."
Yes, "worse than Jar Jar."
XWeintraub writes for Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.