You Are Looking Live at This HeadlineThis article is being brought to you live! That means every word, every sentence, every turn of phrase I type is going to directly from my fingers to your eyes, without the benefit of an editor to expunge those misspellings or clunky sentence structures or clauses that just seem to meander on and on until they mercifully come to an end, long after the reader has lost any understanding or interest in what I'm saying. Gone are the precautions of spell-checking or proofreading! This is working without a safety net, ladies and gentlemen, and I hope it's as exciting and ground-breaking for you as it is for me. Risky? Sure, but that's the sort of thing artistes like myself are always doing, pushing ourselves to new challenges. That, and my spell-checker function isn't working and I'm too lazy to look up words in the dictionary.
I confess that the idea of this live column did not spring from my own little noggin. Rather, I'm hoping to capitalize off the success of ER, which last Thursday broadcast an episode live on both the East and West coasts. (Sadly, the Mountain Time Zone had to make do with a taped episode of the live broadcast, which is something of a ripoff. But then again, no one is forcing these people to live in Utah.)
You may have heard something somewhere about the live ER show. NBC estimates that some 60 million people watched at least part of it, which would make the program the most watched season premiere ever. The ratings boom continued that evening for NBC, as lantern-jawed talk show host Jay Leno recorded his highest Tonight Show rating since deviant sex fiend Hugh Grant decided to issue a public mea culpa. And if going live can do that for ER, I figure this live column will buck up the TeeVee readership from its normal five or six readers to... well, at least by a dozen or so.
Of course, this live column can in no way even match a fraction of the hype and attention that ER Live! received, which surely played no small role in its record audience. Much like the segment of auto racing spectators who tune in to the Michelin 500 and the Long Beach Grand Prix every weekend just to see if there's some sort of horrible auto wreck, a number of ER viewers tuned in last week, specifically to see if some sort of unscripted tragedy would unfold. Would someone flub a line? Would someone else miss an important cue? Would George Clooney's pants fall down at an inopportune moment? Would a flustered Laura Innes inadvertently say "fuck" on the air? Live TV brings out the voyeuristic ghoul in us all.
I can't vouch for the East Coast, but here in Los Angeles, if there were any major catastrophes, they escaped my watchful eye. I'm told that at one point, you could hear the floor director yell action as the show came out of a break, but if this did occur, I was off getting a soda somewhere. So the next time Dick Clark has one of them blooper specials on NBC, he's just going to have to run that footage of local sports anchors mispronouncing the words "herniated disk" because the ER blooper cupboard is bare.
As for the episode itself, this live version of ER was a gripping, entertaining hour of television. The show boasted the same enthralling, life-or-death theatrics we've come to expect on the show, including but not limited to, a paralyzed man saying his last goodbyes to his wife before he was put on a ventilator, a poignant speech from a janitor mopping up a messy trauma room, a heart attack by Academy Award nominee William Macy, and of course, projectile vomit. Noah Wyle, in particular, gave a yeoman's effort, and the aforementioned Laura Innes showed a different shade of feistiness to her Dr. Weaver than had ere been seen before. All in all, an enjoyable hour of television.
But ER is normally an enjoyable hour of television. Noah Wyle always gives a yeoman's effort. Dr. Weaver is always feisty. I never tire of seeing projectile vomit.
Or to put it another way, this was a fine episode of ER, but was it any better than your average week on the show? Not really. Did it rank up there with some of the simply jaw-droppingly good episodes the ER cast and crew have put together, the Love's Labor Lost episode, in particular? Nope. The Live ER episode was what it always is -- a solid and compelling hour of entertainment from one of the better programs on the air nowadays.
So what did airing a live show prove? That it could be done, certainly, but that's about it. It wasn't ground-breaking TV or particularly innovative in the way that some of the more creative TV series have been. Take M*A*S*H, for example, which aired two episodes with particularly distinctive and unique formats that still impress nearly two decades later. The one episode was shot like a black- and-white '50s newsreel, interspersed with interviews from each M*A*S*H character. The other episode was filmed from the perspective of one of the patients, with a clock stuck in the corner to show the audience just how long the doctors had until the character croaked. It was a different way of telling the same story, while giving new insights into the characters of Hawkeye and Col. Potter and Radar... in a way that last Thursday's ER episode did not. And that's why 20 years from, I won't be reflecting nostalgically back on the Live ER show any more than I'm willing to get all teary-eyed over the live episodes of Roc that aired a few years ago.
Still, the live show was something different, and in an era of bland sitcoms, predictable premises and trite plots (are you listening, Chicago Hope?), "something different" is always a welcome substitute for "more of the same old crap." At the beginning of its fourth season, when most shows start to just go through the motions, ER is trying to keep the creative juices flowing. And that's admirable.
What is not admirable, however, is the hype that NBC and its affiliated news lackeys generated for the broadcast, as if airing a TV show live is akin to inventing the wheel and discovering how to split the atom all rolled into one. Evil programming genius Warren Littlefield even had the audacity to hold a post-show press conference, no doubt to lobby for that Nobel Prize for Television the folks over in Switzerland have been saving for just the right moment.
I don't know how it was in other parts of the country, but here in Los Angeles, the local NBC news anchors treated the "ER Goes Live" story with the same fervor one normally sees only when a divorced princess and her playboy boyfriend are smashed to bits in a tunnel by a drunken Frenchman.
"You just watched the live ER episode," village idiot and anchorman Paul Moyer informed any viewers who might have thought they were watching a rerun of World's Strongest Man on ESPN2. "We'll take you live to where they just finished the live episode and get the comments of your favorite ER stars live."
(Note to self: Send Paul a copy of Roget's Thesaurus for Christmas. That and a bulk shipment of hair care products.)
KNBC would go on to air a 6-minute retrospective, chronicling the intricacies of the live ER episode in painstaking detail.
"We'll even show you how they choreographed elaborate scenes like this brawl," a hyperventilating Moyers said, as footage of the episode's emergency room brawl was shown yet again.
I hate to break this to a seasoned journalist like the Paulster, but each night, actors and actresses put on finely choreographed fight scenes and dance numbers and such smack dab in front of live audiences. The intelligentsia like myself call it "the theater."
Indeed, when I was a junior in high school, our class production of "Guys & Dolls" featured a very elaborate brawl which we adolescent thespians managed to pull off each night with considerable aplomb. And did Paul Moyers see fit to dispatch a news crew to cover that? Hell, no.
All the hype aside though, I enjoyed the live version of ER and look forward to see whether they try similar stunts in the future. And I've enjoyed this extra special live article as well. In fact, I'm sort of proud, as I've been typing steadily for 10 minutes without making one significant air.
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