I hope you didn't miss the big network TV event of the last 24 hours: that earnest, sober interview with a truly noteworthy person, conducted by one of the biggest anchors in the business.
Did you guess which one? Because there were two -- octuplet mom Nadya Suleman (with Ann Curry on NBC) and heroic Hudson airplane pilot Captain Chelsey Sullenberger (with Katie Couric on CBS.)
Here were bookend cultural events that had viewers alternately outraged and moved, inspired and incredulous. And where are we on the high civilization pendulum at the moment? While "Sully" only got a segment on 60 Minutes, Ms. Suleman is being spread out over two days, this morning on Today and tomorrow on Dateline. When you've got it, baby(ies), flaunt it!
Both newly-created icons knew they were in uncharted territory. As the new mom said, she "took risks (and) things turned out perfectly." Capt. Sullenberger, who also took a risk that turned out pretty darn good, told Ms. Couric that his "initial reaction was one of disbelief. This doesn't happen to me." But Nadya Suleman felt so much certitude it almost made me nostalgic for that last guy who was president. "All I ever wanted was to be a mom," she said. Well, I wanted to be an astronaut but I didn't build a home-made rocket and launch myself into orbit.
She said she would be "present" for all of her 14 kids. Of course she meant that in the deep, quasi-Buddhist, Actor's Studio kind of way. But with only two kids and another on the way, even I know they require more than a parental roll call. The dad of her whole brood, she told Ms. Curry, "is overwhelmed." Now there's one emotion in the midst of both of these prime time sagas that I can understand.
Both the steely-nerved captain and the multiple mom, for whatever reasons, chose to tell their stories in exclusive national interviews. Initially, they each avoided the media scrum (though mom sent out there a PR agent and her own mom, who was not thrilled with the prospect of gang babysitting.) But then they saddled up for the circus, and the possibilities of books and movies before them. Finally, each person's story involved lots of humans walking (or crawling) on the earth, thanks to them.
Maybe it's not a fair comparison. While both situations are being officially investigated, the Captain deservedly got the keys to New York City from Mayor Bloomberg -- who himself got bitten by a groundhog, probably in animal solidarity with the dead birds -- while Ms. Suleman was lured by Ann Curry into a piece where a shrink warned about those kids being potentially messed up enough to need "future therapies". And while "Sully" got a noble, lion-hearted portrait photo on the cover of New York magazine, complete with halo, NBC's Dr. Nancy Snyderman told Matt Lauer that at least some of the Suleman brood "will be physically or mentally challenged" as they grow up.
But how long before someone at Fox or Tru TV pitches a show where Capt. Sullenberger flies all 15 Sulemans through a game bird reserve?
Who came out ahead in all this whoop? My bet is that Capt. Sullenberger would like to file his experience away in the unforgettable drawer and get back to his Bay Area/bird migration-less flight path life. Maybe there is a film in there (too bad Van Johnson isn't around) that includes the intersecting lives of the passengers, etc., and a few more parades.
Nadya Suleman, on the other hand, has a potential $3 million hospital bill to settle and one hell of a college fund requirement, so watch for her agent to be working as hard as the diaper-changer in that household.
For more, read Bronstein at Large.