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Tales of Punditry, Part One

Philip Michaels on MTV. (QuickTime 4 format)

Certain things you are not prepared to hear first thing in the morning. You haven't yet shaken off five hours of deep hibernation. The coffee hasn't kick-started your heart. Your brain is in no shape to process the rapid-fire assault of words pelting your eardrums.

Who drank all the Scotch?

That's not my hand.

What are you doing in that bathtub?


But the other day, I heard something that makes those razor-sharp phrases seem as threatening as Nerf balls. There I was, at my desk, slowly emerging from my early-morning stupor when a co-worker strode up to me and said the most horrifying thing I've heard this side of a John Rocker interview.

"Hey," she said. "You were on MTV last night."

Thoughts flood the brain stem when you hear something like that, clogging up the ol' gray matter thicker than the expressway at 5:03. Oh Christ, you think, I don't even remember filming something for MTV. Don't tell me that someone found that tape of me singing "Paper Moon" at last year's Christmas party, and it's now airing continuously on "Total Request Live" to the delighted squeals of Carson Daly's prepubescent army.

Then you remember: I didn't sing "Paper Moon" at the Christmas party; I sang "At Long Last Love." And nobody videotaped it; in fact, folks were quite adamant that I get down from the table and start behaving. And even if there was a videotape of me singing drunken renditions of standards, MTV would never air it. MTV doesn't show any music videos anymore, not when there's reruns of Road Rules to burn off.

And so logic dictates that your co-worker was just putting you on. You were not on MTV last night. Your neurons can shift down from overdrive and resume firing at their normal, turgid speed. And you can toss off a wry rejoinder at your mischievous co-worker, showing off your erudite wit.

"You're full of hot gas," I said. "Screw you."

Only thing is, it turns out I was on MTV. And, given the channel's penchant for rerunning shows until the tape disintegrates, it looks like I'll be on there in perpetuity.

Maybe you've seen the show MTV Sports: Time Out airing on the erstwhile music channel. In it, producers corner a star athlete and spend the next half-hour peppering him with questions about his hopes, his dreams and -- seriously -- his favorite color. In its opening week, Time Out has probed the minds of basketball icon Michael Jordan, skateboarding star Tony Hawk and, naturally, Dan Cortese.

Cortese, you may recall, once hosted MTV Sports, a show where he bungee-jumped off bridges, ran with the bulls at Pamplona, and otherwise risked life and limb to entertain an audience of 15-year-olds who just tuned in to see if MTV was playing a Whitesnake video. That kind of death-defying moxie has no doubt served Cortese well throughout his career, considering his current stint on Veronica's Closet forces him to share a craft services table with Kirstie Alley.

And, of course, flinging yourself off bridges also helps toughen you up for those times when certain ill-mannered but well-meaning Web sites have a cruel laugh at your expense. Not that I'm aware of such times.

Or, as the off-camera interviewer put it:

A TV critic, a guy named Philip Michaels, placed Dan Cortese in sort of a history of MTV VJs.

Cortese: Right.

And this is what the guy said.

Cortese: Uh-oh.

He said Dan is "The dean of ex-VJs, the pinnacle to which other poor, oppressed on-air talent should aspire."

Cortese: Was he at my house drinking before he wrote that?

Oh, the many emotions you feel upon hearing your name mentioned on a basic cable channel. And, for a change, not because of some indictment or a couple of missed child support payments.

First, of course, there's relief -- relief that MTV left out the rest of my quote where I showered Dan Cortese with scorn and ridicule for his unfortunate career choices, his whoring for Burger King and his hairstyle when he played Grant Show's long-lost brother Jess on Melrose Place. These critiques were offered in the spirit of constructive criticism and meant all in good fun. But try explaining that to a justly perturbed celebrity as he's shoving you head-first into a pizza oven. The comedy and incisive commentary don't flow so easily after Dan Cortese has popped your head like a zit, let me tell you.

Second, there's bemusement. I'm a TV critic? That comes as quite a shock to my employers, who pay me to write clever things about computers, not MTV personalities. This TeeVee nonsense -- this is just a hobby until my day-trading pays off. I don't see a dime from this Web site, although several thoughtful readers have offered me handsome sums to stop writing about TV.

The point is, I claim no particular authority when it comes to television, certainly not enough to merit a quote on a basic cable infotainment special. You may as well go looking for insight from the neighbor kid or the guy sitting next to you on the subway or -- if you're really desperate -- Salon.

Then, there's confusion. I consider myself reasonably educated, but Dan Cortese's cutting riposte has me puzzled. "At my house drinking when he wrote that" -- am I supposed to be cowed by that? Shamed into silence? Grateful that Cortese didn't threaten to hunt me down like a dog and punch me in the nose? Really, I'm not trying to be dense here. I simply don't understand.

And, in the interest of full disclosure, I was not at Dan Cortese's house drinking when I wrote the referenced article. Instead, I was over at Adam Curry's, finishing off a slice of his famous key lime pie.

(Kidding, MTV! That's the sort of inspired kookiness you folks can expect from us faux TV critics. Please don't dredge up that quote for the upcoming "Where Are They Now?" special on Adam Curry.)

Relief, bemusement, confusion -- all of these are powerful feelings summoned up by a mere mention on MTV. But they pale in comparison to the most prevalent emotion I felt as I heard my name coming through my Magnavox: an insatiable bloodlust for glory.

There are many reasons to work for a Web site such as this one. It's a great creative outlet. It's fun to write things that amuse other people. And I rarely pass on the opportunity to dole out free T-shirts. But for me, the biggest draw of TeeVee has to be the opportunity to see my name in print over and over again. Even now, I'm fighting the urge to just type "Philip Michaels" repeatedly, in increasingly larger fonts.

Philip Michaels
Philip Michaels


Seeing your name on your own Web site is all well and good. But I got to hear it on television. I got my name onto MTV, and I didn't even have to live in a house with six other assholes to do it.

I used to wonder why Eleanor Clift would go on The McLaughlin Group to prattle on about health-care reform and gun control when it's clear she has trouble just putting a subject and predicate together. Now I know. Eleanor lusts for glory. Those pundits that make the rounds on Larry King Live and Crossfire and whatever airtime-filling fluff the Fox News Channel has thrown together? They long to see their name in lights, too.

And movie critics -- do you think David Sheehan of CBS-TV really believes that "Bicentennial Man" is "the most beautiful movie of the millennium" and that it "will make you laugh and cry at the same time?" While "Bicentennial Man" will certainly reduce you to weeping, I suspect that David Sheehan said what he said just to get quoted in the ad. And the fact that he's quoted in another ad for "The Green Mile" calling it "unquestionably, the best picture of the year" merely confirms my suspicion. The only thing unquestionable about "The Green Mile" is that pressure sores will unquestionably break out on your ass after you're forced to sit in one place for its three-hour-plus running time.

Which is when it hit me: MTV's passing mention of an off-handed remark of mine made more than a year ago has helped me realize what my life's calling is. I want to be a pundit. I want to be like David Sheehan or American Urban Radio Networks' Ron Brewington or Good Morning America's Joel Siegel -- those ubiquitous critics whose see-no-evil blurbs adorn movie advertisements across the nation.

The only problem is, I have a hard time dishing out unfettered praise like "A Classic!" or "A Triumph!" or "A Sure-Fire People's Choice Award Contender." So instead, I've decided to pioneer a new field for ubiquitous criticism. I will make a name for myself by offering left-handed compliments that could easily be construed as withering rebukes. That way, I can keep my editorial integrity while satisfying my overwhelming need for self-aggrandizement.

"Judging Amy is not nearly so stultifying and dull as you might imagine."

"Sure, the kids on The Real World come across as total sociopaths, devoid of any worth as human beings and deserving of one righteous beating after another. But, with them locked down in their own apartment... at least they're kept away from decent society."

"I can recommend no show over Shasta McNasty."

"Say what you will about Adam Curry, but the man makes a kick-ass key lime pie."

Feel free to use these quotes in your next ad campaign, newspaper article or social get-together. And don't worry about authenticity: I'm an official TV critic. MTV told me so.


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