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Heart — not hoopla — key to success on TV during Super Bowl

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After watching Madonna seem to lip-synch her way through a cast-of-thousands Super Bowl halftime show Sunday featuring Cee Lo Green in a drum major's outfit, Nicki Minaj dressed like an Egyptian princess-turned-cheerleader and an afroed tightrope walker, I have one modest proposal for the next performer at the Big Game.

People who don't actually sing have to give back half of their pay (or half of the royalties from all of the extra albums they sell, if there's no pay).

Forgive me for expecting a live performer at the Super Bowl to do more than re-enact a cool-looking music video onstage.

And I'm sure that some stone Material Girl fans really enjoyed her stroll through Vogue, Music, new single Give Me all Your Luvin' and Like a Prayer.

Frankly, I was disappointed she didn't dedicate Like a Virgin to a certain Mr. Tebow and puzzled that a song about looking cool in an urban club was backed by an ancient Egyptian look straight from The Ten Commandments.

Still, it was a performance filled with flash and sass — Madonna's two biggest trademarks — culminating with a huge choir and gospelized vocal runs by Cee Lo (and, according to TMZ, a quick flip of the bird by M.I.A., for which NBC has already apologized).

As it turns out, Madonna's overly hyped aerobic workout was a perfect metaphor for what worked and what didn't in the daylong extravaganza that has become the non-sports programming surrounding the Super Bowl game.

My favorite musical moment, for example, wasn't Madonna's star-studded avalanche of dance moves, but American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson's emotional rendition of the national anthem.

Delivered with the backing of a chorus and just enough vocal muscle to remind us why she was America's original Idol in the first place, Clarkson wiped away the bitter memories of Christina Aguilera's stumbles last year with a single, glorious moment.

Simplicity. Talent. And lots of heart. That was the key to success on Sunday — both on the field and on the tube.

Likewise, when it came to dissecting the ads, what worked best for this critic wasn't the spots we'd heard so much about for days and sometimes weeks leading up to the big game.

Thanks to the magic of YouTube, I'd already seen Matthew Broderick recreate his Ferris Bueller hijinks for Honda and watched Jerry Seinfeld lose the first Acura NSX to Jay Leno in a rocket backpack.

So what stood out on Sunday was the unexpected: Clint Eastwood walking down a dark street for Chrysler, reminding America "this country can't be knocked out by one punch; we get right back up again, and when we do, the world's going to hear the roar of our engines." (Yeah, it was a mixed metaphor, but it was Dirty Harry delivering it!)

Just like Eminem's stark commercial from 2011, Eastwood's ad was a shot of showbiz nostalgia, fierce patriotism and blind celebrity worship, wrapped in a single, hopeful message.

No computer-generated weight loss (Toyota) or pop stars falling through trap doors (Elton John for Pepsi). Just an American icon telling us our best days are still ahead. I ate it up with a Detroit-sized spoon.

Aside from Chrysler's commercial, I loved the Doritos ads that appeared throughout the game, especially the spot starring the guy who gets bribed with a bag of the chips by a dog to stay mum on what happened to the family cat.

And even though the commercial itself was fairly lame, Echo and the Bunnymen's Killing Moon proved an amazing sound track for an Audi ad featuring LED headlights that accidentally wipe out a campfire party filled with vampires. (Why that would make someone buy the car, I still haven't figured out.)

Indeed, too many ads Sunday were too hard to figure.

Why would try to sell software helping you prepare your tax returns with a commercial featuring a little boy who seems to relieve himself in a pool?

Why did Chevy assume that watching people bungee jump and skydive with its new Sonic subcompact car would make me want to buy it?

NBC made the most of what will probably be a record TV audience, shoving the network's name, logo and new shows in front of viewers as much as they could afford to.

Even so, NBC's pregame music video set to Brotherhood of Man was a hilarious, unexpected touch, kicking off with the 30 Rock cast and ending with news anchor Brian Williams center stage within a constellation of the network's stars, lip-synching his heart out in a way Walter Cronkite could never have imagined.

That was equaled only by a later commercial for The Voice filmed as a tribute to Quentin Tarantino's fight scenes from the Kill Bill movies, featuring the show's superstar judges busting into a hotel room only to find a showering, singing Betty White. (Is there any commercial White can't make funnier just by showing up?)

Today show anchor Matt Lauer even found time to quiz the president on world events and the big game during the pre-show.

And while President Barack Obama was careful not to predict a winner — it is an election year, after all — he did insist "I deserve a second term," despite once saying continued economic troubles could make his administration a "one-term proposition."

My only hope is that the next halftime performer makes the lip synching a vanished proposition, giving us real musicianship.

America's biggest entertainment showcase deserves nothing less.

Heart — not hoopla — key to success on TV during Super Bowl 02/05/12 [Last modified: Monday, February 6, 2012 10:29am]
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