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The Rivers Run Through It

We are living in a Golden Age. The economy is booming. Peace is running rampant. Technology has put the entire globe at our fingertips. But most importantly, we now have more opportunities than ever to gawk at our favorite stars in their natural habitat.

After all, who among us doesn't like seeing celebrities gussied up and heading out for an evening of self-congratulatory posturing and backslapping? Whether it's James Cameron whoo-whooing about how he's the king of the world; or Cher -- fresh from her star turn as Sonny's tearful eulogist -- donning yet another futuristically frightening ensemble complete with one of Jane Jetson's old headdresses; or Susan Sarandon and her breasts... we love to see the famous frolic.

And lucky, lucky us, award shows are now frequent and plentiful. No longer must we bide our time between the Academy Awards, Emmys, and Grammys, wondering where our next surprise glimpse of an ingenue's privates or a hirsute songstress' armpits will come from. We can sate our ever-increasing award show appetites with hours upon hours of such fare as the Golden Globes, the Tonys, the American Music Awards, the People's Choice Awards, the American Comedy Awards, and -- I think -- one or two others that Dick Clark might not even have anything to do with.

Is the entertainment community spreading itself too thin? Considering that, this year, the Independent Spirit Awards were broadcast tape-delayed on Bravo directly opposite the Oscars on ABC, one might prematurely jump to that conclusion.

But, it is imperative to remember, without this glut, we wouldn't be able to joyously and continuously witness the only sure-fire guarantee on these evenings of uncertainties and surprises -- that Joan and Melissa Rivers will make unqualified asses of themselves on E!'s pre-shows.

The key word here is "unqualified." Ever since the elder Rivers unwisely crossed then-King of the World Johnny Carson and earned herself a lifetime ban from the kingdom, she has been struggling to find her way, metamorphosing from New Hollywood Squares denizen, to failed Fox talk-show hostess, to QVC huckster, to -- finally -- E!'s yenta-in-residence.

As for Joan's daughter, Melissa, her grandest achievement seems to have been honoring her father by forsaking his last name and adopting the moniker of her more-famous mother. That's after her father killed himself. Oh yeah, she also teamed with Mom to play themselves in a TV movie that shamelessly exploited Dad's suicide.

Of course, to a network that regularly showcases shamelessly exploitative true-to-life movies based on celebrities, the Rivers duo probably seemed like a logical addition alongside the likes of buff, perpetually tan anchordude Steve Kmetko. Throughout the years, Joan had been steadily establishing herself as a pundit on celebrity fashions, and, well, Missy was her daughter -- why shouldn't she come along for the ride?

At first, Joan's oh-so-subtle barbs on weight, clothes, and hair coupled with the vacant stares from her talentless spawn were mercifully confined to a studio, where the duo enjoyed the luxuries of scripts, rehearsals, and editing. Then, mysteriously, E! decided to take away the safety net, unleashing the Rivers gals onto an unsuspecting celebrity populace, and stationing them outside various award-show halls to frighten and annoy those unlucky enough to be caught all dressed up and with suddenly no place else to go.

Say what you will about the journalistic merits of the celebrity interview, but there's something fascinating about seeing it practiced by a bitter crone who doesn't know who she's talking to or why. Throw in a younger, tongue-tripping doppelganger who'd be hard-pressed to ad lib snot if she had a head cold, and what have you got?

Entertainment, folks.

In past years, Joan -- who's looking more and more like Wayland Flowers' Madame with each surgical tightening of her visage -- has asked one humiliated full-figured starlet if she was expecting; the starlet was not. Joan has asked Jim Carrey who his date was; it was Lauren Holly, who had been on Picket Fences for several seasons, appeared in "Dumb and Dumber" with... Jim Carrey, and was equally famous -- if not more -- as the girlfriend of... Jim Carrey. She has asked people flat out, "Who are you?"

For E! to perpetually assign Joan Rivers to these events is like ESPN sending Richard Simmons to cover drag races.

Insert your own joke here.

And in all her years of riding shotgun, Melissa has asked exactly one question, which she disguises in a cunning flourish of stutters and synonyms that enables her to repeat that question several times to the same person -- "So how does it feel to be nominated?"

Pretty good, the actor or actress might answer.

"Uh-huh, so, uh, like, you must be pretty honored to be recognized for your performance, right?"

Um, yes, the actor or actress will politely reply.

"Riiiight. So, like, uh, is this the highlight of your career?"

Sure, the actor or actress will say, backing away from Melissa slowly before she can strike again.

This year's Academy Awards was no different. Imagine, for a moment, that you're Djimon Hounsou from the movie "Amistad." You're coming off a year that saw you rise from being a complete unknown to being a complete unknown who starred in a pretty good Steven Spielberg movie that no one saw. And you got to go to the Oscars, to boot.

Now, here's Joan Rivers jutting her bony microphone-wielding arm in your face, asking you if you're nervous about being nominated. You, of course, aren't nervous, since -- you point out to Joan -- you weren't nominated. Joan fumbles in an oft-seen moment of stammers and flop sweat, and, after answering the obligatory haberdashery question, you're thankfully given your walking papers.

Meanwhile, Melissa and an effeminate fashion-savvy cohort have somehow segued from a discussion of frocks into a tangent on who may have been the youngest nominated and winning performers in Oscar history. The name Anna Paquin comes up, and Melissa indicates that the young actress was nine at the time of her win for "The Piano" a few years back. Her partner corrects her -- Paquin was 11.

Proving that her Wharton education did not go to waste, the younger Rivers, after several torturous seconds of dead air, tosses off the face-saving retort, "Well, they're both odd numbers."

Indeed they are, Missy, just like you and your mom.

I'm sorry to say, though, that after several years, it's foreseeable that the fun of the Duo Rivers could soon come to an end. The backlash has begun, and celebrities are not jumping headfirst into the Rivers' shtick anymore. In fact, they're avoiding the pair in droves.

Gillian Anderson, for one, routinely greets Joan at these events with the steely gaze of the homicidal. (Then again, this is Gillian Anderson we're talking about.) Even E! alum Greg Kinnear snubbed her at this year's Oscars, sidling past while ignoring her gravelly pleas for an interview.

But the greatest indication that the tide is turning -- that celebrities are mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore -- came courtesy of Marlee Matlin. Upon encountering Joan, the actress imparted a message that Joan, not knowing sign language, did not understand. After Ms. Matlin walked away, it was explained to Joan that the Academy Award winning actress had just called her a bitch.

When even a deaf woman can't stand the sound of your voice, it might be time to turn it back over to Steve Kmetko in the studio.


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