We watch... so you don't have to.

Who Wants to be a Sanctimonious Prick?

Youth and idealism mix as naturally as gin and vermouth. But take too much of the stuff and next thing you know you're driving into telephone poles, or writing The Last Tycoon, or trying to make the world safe for democracy. Pretty soon you get a reputation as an obnoxious jerk, and people stop inviting you to their tony parties and aren't they just a bunch of goddamned phonies, so who needs 'em...?

Twist that metaphor to its logical conclusion and you have a fairly good likeness of Adam Werbach. Who the hell is Adam Werbach? A Gen-X do-gooder, fresh from his stint as the youngest president of the Sierra Club, author of a down-with-greed, up-with-people tract called "Act Now, Apologize Later," Werbach is taking his annoying brand of activism to the Internet. His latest crusade is to "Smash Regis."

The venerable Reuters recently called Werbach's effort a "Regis Backlash." Well, if a platoon of yelping San Francisco pinks with a Web site is what it takes to be considered a "backlash" these days, then I'm an Important Political Pundit.

Hmm... yes, well... anyway...

What did Regis ever do to provoke the wrath of Werbach? "Regis represents everything that is wrong with media right now: money, greed and lack of content," he told Reuters.

That's a bad thing? You'd think Regis personally supervised Kathie Lee's Guatamalan sweatshop laborers. Besides, everything that is "wrong" with television -- because that's really what Werbach is talking about -- is everything that makes it what it is, what it always has been, and what it always will be. Regis is the quintessence of TV. Millionaire is the most popular show on television today because it delivers on all of its promises, which are simple and few. Millionaire is just the latest, grandest, gaudiest example of Giving the People What They Want (and keeping 'em coming back for more). If Regis is wrong, then I don't want to be right.

Werbach's real problem is with the Moronic American Viewing Public. I can sympathize. Nine-tenths of the programming on the air today is stale, twice-warmed over bilge. But, alas, Werbach and his wheatgrass-quaffing comrades go too far for me to join their crusade. They want to "reclaim" television and the Internet with programming that delivers more than the bucketfuls of dollars that shower Millionaire. Just imagine what would happen if the likes of Adam Werbach got his hands on a network, or even got his own show.

As it happens, we don't need to imagine. Werbach does have his own little environmental show called The Thin Green Line, that airs on a little cable channel called Outdoor Life Network. (Not to be mistaken for The Outdoor Channel, touted as "the TV Network the NRA members have waited their whole lives for.") What's more, it turns out Werbach's pitch to ABC was coldly rebuffed by the suits. Couldn't they see that here was something grand, and important, and beautiful, and authentic, and uplifting and right?

And so there you have it. Behind all of Werbach's righteous fulmination against the corporate greedheads who control our minds and arbitrate our tastes is something equally sinful -- envy.

"It's like they've built the biggest megaphone in the world and nothing comes out of it," Werbach says. "Here's the most powerful medium in our lifetime... shouldn't we be using it for something important?"

Like what? The Fight the Power Variety Hour? Or -- please God, no -- more of PBS's Frontline?

Millions of viewers tune into Regis three nights a week. How many people watch Werbach? Half a dozen burnouts, maybe, not counting his parents.

I'd wager you couldn't find enough masochists in all of San Francisco, Alameda, and Marin counties to fill the men's room at the old Fillmore who could stomach more than three minutes of Werbach's braying. Just imagine Mr. and Mrs. America as they flip through their 500-channel universe. "Lessee," they might say, "do we wanna be scolded by some pompous punk-ass or do we wanna watch some fat guy win a million bucks on a question about computer bugs?"

I'll stick with the Fat Guy, and a martini straight up, thank you very much.


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