The unexpected lessons that television has taught us during the last few weeks have been dizzying in number and impact. Let's review:
1) Television to Internet: Good
The hottest viral videos of the last two weeks were I'm F*ck*ng Matt Damon and I'm F*ck*ng” Ben Affleck. Not since the Clinton administration has a sex act become the subject of so much household conversation! The F*ck*ng videos didn't simply generate millions of hits. They broke through into the zeitgeist in a way few Web videos do and were wholly embraced by the mainstream media. Significantly, they both began life as content on a television show: ABC's increasingly popular Jimmy Kimmel Live. The Damon video had been around a couple of weeks (and had already scored approximately 8 million hits on YouTube and abc.com) even before Kimmel debuted the Affleck video on a special edition of his show that followed the Oscars. (By the way, does anyone remember that Damon and Affleck tried unsuccessfully to connect TV with the Net in a big way back in 2002 with their ABC dud Push, Nevada?)
2) Internet to Television: Bad
Right smack in the middle of all the excitement about ABC television content transferring spectacularly to the Net came NBC's ultimately disastrous experiment in transferring Net content to television. The TV version of Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick's Web sensation quarterlife tanked on arrival, generating ratings so low they were historic. NBC canceled quarterlife the television series after one telecast, sending it over to cable cousin Bravo for its death shudders. In fairness, this wasn't NBC's first shot at showcasing Internet programming on its air: New videos from JibJab often debut on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Tonight has proven to be the perfect television platform for them.
3) The Power of Television Can Be a Good Thing
Just ask Jimmy Kimmel, who emerged as the unlikely star of Oscar night while the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was busy honoring a number of performers and movies that few people cared enough to see.
4) The Power of Television Can Be a Bad Thing
The ugliest moment of the 2007-08 season to date occurred a week ago Monday during a “special” presentation of Fox' revolting midseason hit The Moment of Truth, when New York salon worker Lauren Cleri thoroughly humiliated her husband, NYPD police officer Frank Cleri, in front of millions of viewers, all for a long shot chance at winning some serious money, which ultimately did not happen. First Lauren admitted that she had cheated on Cleri. Then, at the urging of her ex-boyfriend, aspiring actor Frank Nardi Jr., she declared that she wished she had married him (Nardi) rather than her startled spouse. Shame on these people for behaving this way on national television, and shame especially on Fox for bobbing in Jerry Springer's toilet. We thought Fox had put this kind of crap behind it years ago.
5) Some Things are Better Left Unseen
There have been memorable dust-ups and melt-downs in the past, but the Big Brother house guests are out of control in Season 9. Their bad behavior has been routinely chronicled by our own TV Maven, and damn, have they been keeping her busy! Here's a sample of the good times, many of them from last week: One of the women repeatedly squirt milk from her breast to the delight of her in-house gal pals. One of the guys told graphic stories about his experiences at sex parties and bragged about his uncircumcised penis. Another swung his member around – no surprise there, given his past as a gay porn star. There have been stripteases, lap dances, bikini brawls, naked hot tub romps and very noisy under-the-sheets sex. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on one's interests), little of this has been seen on CBS, even though it runs the show three times a week. Instead, one must rely on the late-night uncensored telecasts on Showtime Too or on live Internet feeds for the good stuff. Actually, the best place to watch this hot mess play out is YouTube, where clips reliably appear the morning after any R or X-rated action takes place, at least until CBS (or somebody) pulls them off. Meanwhile, we're left to wonder: Isn't it time for classy CBS News star Julie Chen to remove herself from this franchise and leave the hosting chores to a bimbo or himbo du jour? (There are candidates aplenty on E! and G4.) Seriously, there is no shower hot enough to wash the film off anyone who spends too much time in close proximity to this group.
6) People Care About Politics – and Each Other!
It seems there is no end to the public's growing interest in the competition between presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, which has made this campaign season the most exciting since '92 (Ross Perot!), particularly as it has played out on television. The cable news networks are having an especially good time with it. Why, just last week MSNBC enjoyed its highest ratings ever with its telecast of the umpteenth Clinton-Obama debate. Meanwhile, the American television viewing public demonstrated that it does not require a telethon to donate money to a deserving cause. Immediately after the 60 Minutes segment last Sunday about Remote Area Medical, an organization that supplies medical care to people who cannot afford insurance, which was founded to help people in the Third World but now – of necessity -- does most of its work here in the United States, money began pouring in via the Web from viewers who wanted to help those less fortunate.
7) TV is More Reliable Than the 'Net
Oprah Winfrey's much ballyhooed live Webinar on Monday night crashed just a few minutes into the show! Apparently there was more interest in Ms. Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle, author of her new favorite self-help book A New Earth, than oprah.com could handle. To put this another way, the Web met its match with Winfrey. She offered an explanation during her TV show on Wednesday and revealed that the Webinar was now available for downloading. It was the first installment of a ten-part weekly Web program. Here's hoping Winfrey's techies work out the bugs by Monday.