Shatner goes For Laughs -- This Time on Purpose
ABC finally released an early video of William Shatner's latest attempt at reinvention -- this time as a black-clad game show host in a hastily-developed quiz program called Show Me the Money (sneak preview at 9:30 tonight).
As you might expect, it's a clone of the modern game show form pioneered first by ABC and most recently by NBC in hits such as Deal or No Deal and 1 vs 100. The flashing, glitzy light show and postmodern set motif comes courtesy of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire; the sexy models helping show off the money at stake, the overcaffinated contestants and the goofy host with a tangled pop culture history -- that's all Deal-inspired upgrades.
I'm not sure when it happened. When he told a group of Trekkers to get a life in a Saturday Night Live skit; when his Priceline.com commercials took off; when every Trek castmember except the guy who played Yeoman Johnson wrote tell-all memoirs commemorating what an egotistical jackass he could be.
But at some point, Shatner realized there was a fortune in lampooning his own image as a self-important actor, even when he clearly wasn't past the behavior he was ridiculing. (To see when he took himself much more seriously -- to hilarious result -- watch this)
In Show Me the Money, contestants are presented with three potential questions keyed around a particular word or phrase. Contestants can pass on the first two questions but must eventually answer the last one. Before each question, the contestant chooses a model who opens a scroll revealing the dollar amount at stake. And, oh yeah, one of them has a "killer card" which can stop play immediately.
Yeah, it has the virtue of being both a baldfaced Deal ripoff and a pointlessly complicated game. Add in the fact that Shatner apparently can't be bothered to explain the rules up front -- at least, in the early version I have -- so he is constantly coaching the contestant through the process of picking models, choosing questions, delivering answers and sweating out the outcome. At least the dollar amounts -- which range from $20,000 to $250,000 in the episode I watched -- make the pressure intense from the start.
Shatner plays the action like Denny Crane on the Game Show Network, dancing around the set with a detached air that seems as if he's not quite sure whether he should act ironically superior or totally invested.
Up against The Unit and Law & Order, he may not have much time to decide.
Here's some stuff leftover from my story today about Dan Rather. I'll admit, I have buddies here in the building who are tired of stories about the deconstruction of the network TV anchor. But Rather's fall is something else -- the story of the perpetual outsider finally shown the door.
I read a portion of a book on TV anchors where Rather was dubbed Mr. Outside, a perfect example of his quandary in the TV news industry. Never as accepted as Tom Brokaw, Peter Jenings or his predecessor Walter Cronkite, Rather was perpetualy reaching for the bass ring in his work -- as if total acceptance by the news industry was just one scoop away. Now, he's searching for that scoop on HDNet, of all places.
On the Memogate mess that cost him his job:
"“I learned a lot. That’s getting to be a long time ago. I don’t think much about it anymore. I don’t run across regular people who think much about it anymore. It was what it was and it is what it is. There are lot of aspects to the way it worked out. Including the fact that the story was and is true. It didn’t have to have the memos to prove it. However, we left ourselves vulnerable on the memos themselves, because those who didn’t want the story to get out, looked for where we were vulnerable. We’d left ourselves vulnerable on the memos. The commission – the independent commission that cbs put into being to look into all this. Their conclusions were number one: that no political bias was the motivation for doing the sotry. Number two: that what mistakes I made were primarily post the broadcast, the way we defended the broadcast. the commission said if we had handled the blowback better they neverwould have been put into being. Number three: given unlimited tome and monmetary resources, they did not conclude that the memos were other than they’ve purported to be. A lot of that got lost in the coverage of the blowback of it."
On why he insisted on traveling to the big stories instead of sitting in a studio and reading news like Cronkite:
"How can you, over the long pull – consistently stay in a windowless room on the west side of Manhattan, how can you stay there, never go anywhere, never walk the ground, particularly on the tough stories, and have the audience believe you know what you’re talking about. I want to say this gently and respectfully but also directly. Anhoring a network newscast – if you aren’t careful, it is such an ego-centric existence. You’re constantly breathing NASA grade rocket fuel for the ego. You can believe your own bullshit. That can be injurious to your own personal health and career.”
On how to judge whether Katie Couric is a success: "When the new anchor and the new CBS News has to come on the air handling a 9/11 or a tsunami – where they have to stay on for hours on end – sometimes for days on end – without a script. That will be a decisive time. Then we’ll be able to draw a breath and say, OK we have an idea of what the new direction is.”
Alan Weisman, who said he avoided writing about Rather's "extracurricular activities" to keep his unauthorized biography Lone Star from turning into a Kitty Kelley-style gossip repository, noted this about the anchor.
"The problem with dan was that he never thought just being himself was good enough – so he kept creating these personas. I think that stems from his youth – he wanted to be a marine and couldn’t pass the physical. He was always told he went to this little college nobody heard of, and you’ll never make it. Once he did, he still felt the insecurity."
Battle of the Media Bands Saturday
If you have time Saturday, check out this charity event i'm involved with, where bands covened among employees of ABC Action News, Tampa Bay's 10, the St. Petersburg Times and Clear Channel Radio perform hourlong sets of music for the title of Tampa Bay's Best Media Band.
For those who have wondered what Brendan McLaughlin might look like playing lead guitar or how I navigate singing Public Enemy and Peter Gabriel in the same set -- come out to Jackson's Bistro at 8 p.m. Saturday to find out first hand. Proceeds from $5 cover go to a scholarship fund maintained by the Bay Area Media Network, a local chapter of American Women in Radio and Television.