Tuesday, Nov. 20
Remember when it seemed like a really innovative idea to put a bunch of regular, semi-attractive people on a foodless island with no sunscreen and no bug repellent, and then watch them starve and backstab each other for less money than an underwear model makes in six months? Remember how we watched, mesmerized, as the most uninteresting herd of humans ever to occupy a couch were placed in captivity in order to bore us to death in real time three nights a week for three months? Remember how fresh it felt to root for the happy IRS agent (and how nice to realize that, surely, there would be one less audit that year) when he won the first million dollars on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"?
Those were the days, no? Looking back, didn't the first "Big Brother" seem like a Beckett dream come true? Was not the first "Survivor" redolent of "Richard III"? Of course, that was before the next generation of reality and prime-time game-show contestants modeled themselves on the first generation of contestants, and discovered that participating in these shows was a good way to "further" their nonexistent acting careers. The "Survivor" tribes got leaner and cuter, the couples on "Temptation Island" and "Love Cruise" hatched their own little Hatches in front of our eyes and, after that, everything seemed like a re-Hatch.
This time last fall, three of "Millionaire's" four editions ranked in the top 10 rated shows. This fall, however, neither "The Weakest Link" nor "Millionaire" made it into that slot. So, what do you do if you're a network, it's sweeps month, your reality-show ratings are tanking and real people have become every bit as boring as the celebrities they aspire to become?
Put a bunch of celebrities on the reality shows, of course.
This November, aside from the very special specials (Jennifer Lopez in concert; "Being Mick," Mick Jagger's sentimental look at himself; Carol Burnett's "Show Stoppers"); the very special guest appearances (Brad Pitt on "Friends"; Blythe Danner, Debbie Reynolds and Beau Bridges on "Will & Grace"; Elton John and Jacqueline Bisset on "Ally McBeal"); and the mandatory "Where are they now?" nostalgic reunions ("The Facts of Life Reunion Movie," that was enough); we were treated to a monthful of very "special editions" of "The Weakest Link" and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" Or, at least, somebody was. Probably.
You realize, of course, that when they say "special," they mean stupid -- only politely. This November, "The Weakest Link" featured members of the World Wrestling Federation (Triple H, Kurt Angle, the Big Show, Trish Stratus and Stephanie McMahon), a smattering of bottom-drawer comedians (Louie Anderson and Kim Coles) and "Classic" -- they mean has-beens, only politely -- "Child Stars" (Jerry Mathers, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Emmanuel Lewis and Tina Yothers). On "Millionaire" -- which has become the quiz show for people who were relieved to score the first 400 points on their SATs -- they trotted out the supermodels right on the Manolos of the "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show." On Thanksgiving Eve and Thanksgiving Day, Regis hosted the country's favorite lollipops over two nights, on what surely must have been the most challenging (as in challenged, but polite) "Millionaire" ever.
I caught the second night. Regis looked tired. He had to talk especially loud over the basso woo-hooing of an audience hell-bent on proving its heterosexuality. Tonight's brain trust included the lovely Bridget Hall, the lovely Carol Alt (and both of her lovely semi-exposed breasts), Molly Sims, Heidi Klum, Veronica Webb, Kim Alexis, Eva Herzigova and the lovely, lazy-eyed Frederique van der Wal, "from The Hague in Holland."
Anyone who has watched any of these extra special celebrity editions of both shows knows that the contestants are not in this for themselves. After all, if the girls wouldn't get out of bed for under $10,000 a decade ago, who knows what their going price is today. Instead, they play for karma brownie points -- that is, charity donations.
So, tonight's questions are model-themed and I.Q.-appropriate, which ensures that the worthy organizations walk away with more than just pocket change. Frederique sweats it through questions like, "A person known for their fashion sense is known as a fashion A) bowl, B) fork, C) saucer, D) plate" and "Combination skin refers to which two skin types?" (Somewhere, members of Doctors Without Borders are chewing their nails to the quick. Will they get that penicillin after all? Oh, I hope so!)
She finally bites it on a brainy question about Vladimir Nabokov's lepidoptery collection. "What's the book about?" she demands of her lifeline/boyfriend, whose only response is "Wow." (Models, remember: Your boyfriend is not the guy to call when the going gets tough. He dates models.)
And so it's on to the next round. The remaining two models compete by putting the following words in order, in under a minute. Want to play along? Go!
There is much lip-chewing, but Bridget prevails. As Regis announces her nemesis as the victor, Heidi pouts and screeches, "I wasn't even done yet!" (Which of course is the point of the race, "Darling.")
You can tell "Millionaire's" writers had a great time writing the questions. Bridget's first stumper: "A bathroom scale is designed to measure what A) weight, B) height, C) time, D) angst."
"E! Final!" Bridget blurts. "B! A! I'm not nervous." (On second thought, it is rather a tricky question, and perhaps unfairly difficult. She has a right to look smug when she gets the ones about Krispy Kreme and lip gloss right.) But the audience does Bridget in when they fail her on a fibers question. Finally, it's Heidi's turn.
"I must have been dyslexic or something," she says, "because I was pushing the buttons in the wrong order the whole time. But, anyway, I made it."
Regis looks at her, dewy-eyed with exhaustion. Heidi is a big talker.
"You made it," he bleats.
"Because those are the rules, that everybody gets to play. Or else I probably wouldn't have."
Over the next quarter of an hour, we will learn that Heidi's logic is a Yogi Berra-esque thing of wonder. Trying to figure what timepiece is commonly used to describe a woman's figure, she arrives (with a lot of help from her friends) at "hourglass."
"Oh, because it is up here and it is down there," she says, making curvy motions with her hands. "But I guess that is bending down."
"Which is a common finger food?" asks Regis.
"Carrot stick! I think Crisco is a gas station."
Asked about the $12.5 million bra she wore in the Victoria's Secret show, she concludes:
"It's the best jewelry piece I've ever seen ... for a bra."
Maybe it's not fair to pick on the models. After all, on "Weakest Link's" child star edition, "Saved by the Bell's" Dustin Diamond identifies China as the world's most populous city and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's" Alfonso Ribeiro figures "Y" is the 24th letter of the alphabet.
But the $250,000 question and the resulting exertions are just too good to pass up.
Asks Regis: "A famous World War II poster by J. Howard Miller features Rosie the Riveter saying, A) V is for victory, B) United we win C) We can do it! D) Man the guns."
"Did you ever hear of Rosie the Riveter?" Regis queries. (Heidi is German, after all.)
She doesn't answer. Heidi never answers Regis. Not when she's thinking.
"Tell you what," Regis says, "you still --"
"I mean, 'We can do it!' is already out!" Heidi's inner Goebbels cries out. "That sounds not very good." Then, "'Man the guns' doesn't sound very good either. 'V is for victory.' 'V is for Victoria.'"
That sounds good.
"Heidi," Regis says patiently, "We can narrow it down by two."
"'United we win' -- it's 'United we stand!' Right?"
Yes, in World War II against the Taliban, it is "United We Stand!"
Finally, Heidi agrees to have two of the answers eliminated, in order to cut down on some of the stress. This leaves the two World War II slogans she thought sounded not very good.
"I'm gonna go with C. 'We can do it.' Just because, you know, you want to get them, like, going, you know"?"
"Yeah?" Regis asks.
"And that's what I'm feeling right now. And that's what everyone is feeling, with what's going on."
"In other words, that's what she would say in World War II --"
"I'm gonna go for it and I'm gonna say 'We can do it,' because I'm optimistic!"
Well, I'm optimistic, too. I even have a suggestion for next year's sweeps. Frankly, this sort of celebrity-swapping, stage-hopping cross-pollination is not an altogether bad idea, if it's done right. Next November, why not replace the casts of "Friends," "Will & Grace" and other popular sitcoms with real people (my vote is the cast of the first "Big Brother") and have them act out some very special episodes as though they were Ross, Rachel, etc. Just pretend nothing is different. Then, we take the sitcom stars and their very special guests and put them on a "Love Cruise" to "Temptation Island" for some sexual hijinks and intrigue that nobody will want to miss, guaranteed. Finally, we send the models somewhere really rugged, like Afghanistan, to outwit, outplay and outblast! Now that would be some good TV -- for a bra.
Tuesday, Nov. 20
Hey, kids! Who wants to be Mick Jagger?
To promote his new solo album, "Goddess in the Doorway," which will most assuredly tank commercially the way all of his solo albums do, Mick Jagger performed at a tiny Los Angeles club recently, capping off his recent documentary, "Being Mick," with the strangely fake-looking concert footage.
The show was performed to an audience of celebrities and hired models, each of whom was paid $100 to paw at his legs and look as if they were having a great time. "This is the world tour for this album, 'Goddess in the Doorway,'" Jagger, who is 58 now, told the rent-a-crowd. "You can say you were at every gig, OK?"
OK. You might think it's funny, in a sad way, that he had to pay people to fill the 770-capacity El Rey Theatre, but don't feel bad for Mick. With models in the audience, you don't have to hire Hells Angels to beat people down with sticks. And you don't get hairy young men with cigarettes dangling from their mouths rushing the stage, either. The point is that "Being Mick" is no "Gimme Shelter." By now, Mick has all the shelter he needs. He has several shelters, in fact. Being Mick is actually really, really great.
Here's what it's like:
First, you arrive somewhere with a red carpet and a velvet rope. You have a Mick's-eye view of the proceedings. People shout your name and shove cameras in your face. You say, "Hi, how are you," because you are Mick. Then you go straight out the back door and right back home.
Next, maybe you head off to your summer house in France (more of a chateau d'ete, it's very grand), oversee your music catalog ("It's like having a library, only you've written everything in it") start work on your new solo album, "Goddess in the Doorway," and treat your cute 9-year-old daughter to a concert. She'll be relieved to find out it's not Britney, but Madonna, because, although 9, she is that smart, cool and adorable.
"OK! OK Daddy! But is it late? Because I have to go to school tomorrow."
If you were Mick, your kids would not only be loving and adorable and call you "Daddy" in the cutest British accents, they would sing backup on your new solo album, "Goddess in the Doorway." Maybe you would give Elton John a call to see if it was OK to video your arrival at his summer ball with your daughter Elizabeth. It would be fine, and you would get there and talk rock-star shop talk with Elton. (The Madonna show was "a bit stodgy," you would say. "She was trying to be all artsy-fartsy," Elton would agree. "We've all done that.")
A wasted Kate Winslet would then run up and hug you and try to get some dirt on Keith. Then, later, you might travel to another castle in Cologne (all your friends live and stay in castles at all times!) where Bono would be recording lyrics for your new album, "Goddess in the Doorway," dressed like Fidel ze Dong. You would listen attentively as Bono, in his red star jacket and camo cap, wailed, "the loooove youuu briiiing/ The loooove youuuu briiiing," and you would say:
"Very good. Bono. Excellent. I think you've done it."
You would mess with a cute German customs official when she asked for your passport. Later, on the plane, you would have a good laugh about it, imitating her accent. "You must, I sink! I sink you must!"
On any given day, you might extemporize about the creative process, join in the hoops race at your daughter's school sports competition, muse that you might have been a schoolteacher, like your dad and your grandpa -- but, instead, you're Mick.
You might take an opportunity to promote the film you are producing, and plug your new album "Goddess in the Doorway" (which has just reached No. 82 in the album charts), one more time. (You might do this just after a promo for a new episode of "Alias" (featuring the new single from "Goddess in the Doorway," and a commercial for "Goddess in the Doorway").
Then maybe you'd have yourself a workout while on vacation in the Caribbean with your family. You might think a little about getting old. You could possibly reach the conclusion that "[You] don't think enjoying life is an exclusive prerogative of young people. [You] think that's a very narrow view."
Cool things happen if you're Mick. A little girl might approach you in Miami and say, "Did you know that Britney Spears copied your 'Satisfaction'?" Then you could record some more of the new album, "Goddess in the Doorway," at Lenny Kravitz's '60s psychedelic nightmare of a house, still blissfully unaware that Britain's bestselling tabloid would later launch "Mick Aid" just after its release. Reuters would then report this gag to the whole world, saying, "The Sun promised anyone buying a copy of 'Goddess in the Doorway' a 'Mick Aid: I did my bit for the old git' badge by columnist Dominic Mohan, who said he was 'trying to save a prehistoric animal from dying out.'"
But there is so much more to "Being Mick" than selling albums. If you're Mick, you still vote for the Socialist Workers Party even if you're worth half a billion dollars. You live next door to Jerry Hall in a beautiful London townhouse filled with antique oil paintings, even though you have a "bohemian, artistic attitude toward love and marriage." Tabloids speculate about you and young models like Sophie Dahl, and your daughter Jade becomes slightly confused and laughs, "I introduced you to her" and "I don't understand this." Later, she laughs even harder about who your date to an upcoming event might be. "Just don't bring anybody younger than me!"
It's quite surreal being Mick. Prince Charles inquires after your mother. Your Texan wife acquires a Madonna-like British accent, the audience in the club in L.A. where you launch your new album, "Goddess in the Doorway," is full of models and celebrities. Most of them are younger than Jade. And they only charge $100 to grab at your legs and simulate arousal.
Tuesday, Nov. 27
Tonight on "Fear Factor," worms crawl all over Donnie Osmond's face, scaring the hell out of Coolio.
"Forty-two years of being in show business and it's come to this."
Yes, and this is more like it.