On the inevitable occasion of the Huffington Post's entrée into television, it behooves me to say a few words about the business, and occasional art, of television. Because if HuffPost's getting into TV, really, how much longer before Arianna takes that over and I'm working for her full-time? Five years? Ten years? I feel like France in 1936.
I've seen a lot of change in the time I've been doing television -- when Politically Incorrect went on in 1993, we were still in a much more innocent time technologically -- not many of us had cellphones yet, and we still rented moves at Blockbuster, found out what movies were playing by looking in the newspaper, which we used to get and read; we were still taking disc players to listen to music on the airplane, with individual CDs. Skype was in science fiction movies. iPod wasn't even in science fiction movies.
And yet, TV endures. People are watching more TV than ever -- you just never know what people want to cling to. Movies, too. No matter what comes out, we are still humans who need reasons to get out of the house and do something. All the syrupy drama about sitting in the dark -- yeah, once in a while, but mostly it's about doing something on a date where you don't have to talk. And TV? Obviously, people want to get something from this thing that isn't on a computer at all. TV is better for when you're doing something else, like ironing or packing or cooking -- mostly when I watch TV, I'm doing something else. Or I watch it in bed, and I don't like electronic devices in bed. I like one electronic device in bed, a nice big phat TV at the end of it.
I've seen TV get dirtier, and I've also helped. I was the first person to say "sucks" on TV -- in 1983 I did a joke during my fourth or fifth appearance on Carson during my little six-minute -- that meant six minutes, not seven and not five -- monologue spot (I had yet to be invited on the couch), and I said, as a punch line to a joke I no longer remember, "the airport sucks." And they were all upset about it after the show, but for some reason they didn't bleep it, and then three nights later I saw Carson say "sucks" in a joke about the premier of the Soviet Union! Ah, Cold War memories.
A guy who really helped me get into television was Steve Allen. When I was making my first appearances on TV in 1982 he talked me up and used me in anything he could. I loved him -- exact same guy on and off the air. There was no getting to know him deeply, but who cares, he was funny, nice, helpful, humble, welcoming, genuine -- don't be greedy. And he was a bit of a square and a prude; or maybe he was just from a different era, when men wore hats and ties to baseball games, and people didn't say "ballsweat" on broadcast television. I remember -- and still have -- a letter he wrote me when I was doing Politically Incorrect -- complaining about what a potty mouth I am. I am, Steve, and I'm sorry. It makes me giggle.
I love talking television trends with my friend Jim Vallely, half the genius behind Arrested Development -- he's unbelievably savvy about seeing what's ahead. I, not so much. For example, I would have bet money that Leno at 10 would work. And when I'm wrong like that, it's a great teaching moment for me. When America went, "No, we want a high production value 10 o'clock drama. We are adults, we work hard all day, now the kids are in bed, we deserve something with kissing and explosions filmed in Panavision." Just like in politics: people complain about the product, but they get the product they deserve. People say there's not enough innovation, but when NBC tried it, they got their head handed to them. It'll be 50 years before these guys put on anything but procedural cop shows and vampires. (Idea: vampires who are procedural detectives -- let's see who runs with it...)
TV helps my mood: I think it does for many people. That's why people leave it on all day. It's a box full of good memories.
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