Of Irrelevancy and Idiocy
by Kirsten Andersen


 The Nadir Nader of Irrelevancy

On behalf of disgruntled Sacramento Kings fans (and all the people who just plain hate the L.A. Lakers) everywhere, "consumer advocate" and former Green Party Presidential aspirant Ralph Nader blasted the National Basketball Association (NBA) yesterday for what he deemed "decisive incompetence."

Like hundreds of thousands of other armchair referees, Nader directed his ire toward the officials for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, which apparently took place sometime last week. (NBA fan, I am not.)

Nader demanded that NBA commissioner David Stern--and the United States Congress (just kidding)--launch an investigation into the officiating of the game, which the Lakers won 106-102. He declared that, if any bias in the officiating is discovered, the NBA should apologize to the Kings.

Comparing the referees in Game 6 to dishonest Enron executives (unfortunately, I'm NOT kidding about that), Nader said: "At a time when the public's confidence is shaken by headlines reporting the breach of trust of corporate executives, it is important, during the public's relaxation time, for there to be maintained a sense of impartiality and professionalism in commercial sports performance."

Which begs the question: Exactly how much did this guy lose on his playoffs bet? And when did "the public" start getting collective relaxation time?

And the biggest question of all (in time-honored multiple choice form):

What's the weirdest part of this story?

    1. It's true.
    2. Ralph Nader is an NBA buff.
    3. Major news agencies care what Ralph Nader has to say about professional basketball.
    4. Even after the 2002 Olympics, people still actually believe in the integrity and fairness of televised sports.

Whatever the answer, it's a pretty good day for America. First Al Gore, then Bill Clinton, and now the ever-present Ralph Nader have all faded into comfortable irrelevancy. Can we hope for the same from little Tommy Daschle and the rest of the top Democrats after the 2002 elections?

Well, it's a nice thought, anyway.

'Bye, 'Bye, Bill

A lot of people have been asking lately what I think of the cancellation of ABC's Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. Well, frankly, I don't even think Bill Maher is terribly chagrined over the passage of ABC's Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. Don't get me wrong--Mr. Maher probably isn't thrilled to have lost his job . . . but the truth is, he lost the show long ago.

I remember when Politically Incorrect was a truly funny and original product of Bill Maher's strange imagination. That was a long time ago--long before ABC. The show originally aired on Comedy Central, a cable network known for not caring much about focus groups, finicky advertisers or the FCC (Exhibit A: South Park, a badly-drawn cartoon about potty-mouthed third-graders that just happens to be one of the cleverest social satires on television).

During Politically Incorrect's time on Comedy Central, it--and Maher--truly lived up to the name. While many of Maher's political opinions sounded (and still sound) as if they were formed while under the influence of one of the many drugs he wishes to legalize, he certainly could never have been called 'Politically Correct.' Back then, Maher wasn't afraid to call things as he saw them (even if he saw them through a haze). He was enthusiastic and passionate about the issues he cared about. It was hard to question his sincerity, even if you questioned his sanity once in a while.

Sure, he's liberal (not a libertarian, as he often claims). Sure, he's abrasive, cranky, and even (gasp!) mean-spirited. That's okay. There's room for that in our society. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be room for that on ABC.

The several times I appeared on Maher's ABC show were all during the last year-and-a-half of its run. Though the producers, writers and support staff who worked on the show were always incredibly professional and friendly, there was an almost tangible aura of discontent running through the studio. It sort of felt like the show was being smothered . . . like everyone, including Bill Maher, was sort of going through the motions. The infectious enthusiasm of the Comedy Central days was somehow missing.

This is not to say that Maher and his staff didn't do their best with what they were given . . . but I saw a quote from an unnamed P.I. staffer in a news item just after the show was canceled that seemed to identify the problem quite succinctly: "ABC has no idea how to nurture a late-night franchise."

And how could they? The late-night formula dominated by CBS and NBC works, and works well. But can anyone really picture another Dave Letterman or Jay Leno? Those two are the Yin and Yang, the North and South of late-night variety TV. Most everyone in America hates one passionately and loves the other with equal force. A third contender would be ripped apart by the sheer gravitational pull of these two heavyweights.

ABC definitely needed something different, and they got that with Maher's P.I.. But they smoothed out and sanitized all the rough edges and dirty debate that made the show so eminently watchable on Comedy Central. It is to the credit of the host, producers and writers that the show often succeeded despite itself, making people laugh (and think), and landing several Emmy nominations.

Unfortunately for the intelligent insomniac, ABC has decided to replace Politically Incorrect with a new variety show starring Jimmy Kimmel of Comedy Central's The Man Show. If early reports are any indication, it will be a cheesy, lowbrow, often vulgar alternative to Leno and Letterman. Contrasting the content of this new show with that of P.I., host Kimmel told Newsweek: "Bill Maher's controversial stuff is serious, important stuff. My controversial stuff is nonsense. It's showing a monkey's penis on TV."

Honey, toss me the remote...I think Leno's on.

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