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Sarasota's Nik Wallenda and what Roseanne Barr calls 'watching people who are crazier than you are'

Last year at the circus in Sarasota.
Last year at the circus in Sarasota.
Published Apr. 7, 2014

Did you see this in today's New York Times?

Nik Wallenda, the star of a live special last June on Discovery Channel, during which 13 million viewers watched him walk a high wire across a gorge near the Grand Canyon, promoted his next live feat for the network, scheduled for the fall, centered on his walking across the Chicago skyline untethered. He appeared with Willie Geist, a host of last year's special who is to return for the Chicago stunt. "There's nothing like live," Mr. Geist said, "and there's nothing like live events on Discovery."

Indeed, live events, which advertisers like because viewers are more likely to watch them in real time and see the commercials, seem to be a trend on Discovery Channel.

It made me think about these three paragraphs in the story about Nik I wrote last year:

In the '70s, the '80s, even into the '90s, his parents struggled to pay their bills. In between wire walk gigs, his father worked as a carpenter, and his mother was a hostess at a country club. Television, they believed, was killing the circus. His mother was so convinced theirs was a dying trade that she wrote an autobiography and titled it The Last of the Wallendas.

And yet here's her son. He rolls around the gulf coast in a fancy black pickup with plates that say WALNDA.

And TV is what's paying his bills. TV might have killed the circus, but now other things are killing TV, because it has never been easier to look at whatever you want, whenever you want. This has TV producers increasingly desperate to find something that makes you sit still, and watch, and not turn away — even if it means presenting the 30-minute spectacle of a man with a wife and children 15, 12 and 10 years old walking on a wire more than a quarter-mile over the Little Colorado River.