"When television is bad, nothing is worse," FCC chairman Newton
Minow told the nation's broadcasters in 1961, but he was
mistaken: When television is truly bad, nothing is better. ABC
has built an entire ad campaign celebrating the medium's
vapidity ("Without TV, how would you know where to put the
sofa?"), and Minow's statement now could be the title of a
highly rated Fox prime-time special (When Television Goes Bad IV).
Super Bowl XXXIII on Fox promises to be television so bad, it's
sublime. The pregame programming alone will be longer than, and
make about as much sense as, Citizen Kane and Godfather II put
together. It will last seven hours. So we can now accept a new
correct response to this question posed by the Goodyear Tire and
Rubber Company: What contains 202,700 cubic feet of gas and
covers the Super Bowl?
Answer: Jerry Glanville.
The seven-hour prehash is presumably what Americans want. Fox
has sold an estimated $150 million worth of commercials for
Super Sunday--at as much as $1.6 million per 30-second
spot--giving the network the richest one-day advertising
windfall in television history. Thus the most lucrative
programming in the 60-year existence of TV, the greatest
communication tool man has yet devised, will consist largely of
Howie Long's making fun of Ronnie Lott's hat.
February 1, 1999
And why not? Minow, now a professor of communications law at
Northwestern, is still taking television to task for squandering
its potential, but the rest of us have long ago given up, given
in, succumbed to TV's lobotomizing pleasures. As another ABC ad
puts it: "Don't just sit there. O.K., just sit there."
Sunday will provide ample opportunity to do so. If the game
itself proves too mentally challenging, check out the weekend's
counterprogramming. E! puts the triple-X back in XXXIII with its
Supermodel Sunday! schlock block. (It includes Miami Dolphins
Cheerleaders, a film not by Ken Burns.) The Food Network's Super
Food Fest will deliver football-related recipes. (Do try the
Quiche-awn Johnson.) ESPN Classic--which joins ESPN2, ESPN News,
ESPN Lite, ESPN Dry and ESPN Wicked Winter Ale in the network's
growing line of microchannels--will look back at the 1968 New
York Jets "20 years after their Super Sunday victory."
Evidently, Classic is commemorating the 10th anniversary of the
20th anniversary of Super Bowl III by repeating a retrospective
from 1989. Whatever. Just sit there.
At halftime MTV unleashes the Claymation mayhem of Celebrity
Deathmatch Deathbowl '99. (Dolly Parton battles Jennifer Lopez,
and Mike Tyson takes on Evander Holyfield.) But by no means
should you miss the actual Super Bowl halftime show, the
exhumation of Gloria Estefan, who will probably sing a song you
will vaguely recall as having been kind of popular in 1987. By
then the Super Bowl telecast will be in its 10th hour. Two
quarters of football will remain.
Five years before the first Super Sunday, Minow challenged
broadcasters to watch their stations for one full day, from
sign-on until sign-off. "I can assure you," he said, "that you
will observe a vast wasteland."
Wrong again. Composing these sentences while prone on my couch,
the remote control rising and falling on my gut with each labored
breath, I don't see a vast wasteland at all. I see only a vast
waistline. The TV, somewhere beyond, hasn't been visible for