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The St. Valentine's Day Massacre

This might surprise readers out there who have come to see me as a witty and sophisticated man about town, but back in my salad days, I wasn't all that popular with the ladies.

You know something? We're going to get along a lot better, you and I, once you learn to fake shock and incredulity more convincingly.

But it's true. From the time I took my sixth-grade girlfriend out to see "The Rescuers" in 1984 until 1999, when I cooked a delicious fish dinner for the woman who would become my wife, I found myself remarkably date-free on Valentine's Day. And while that might save you a fortune in chocolate boxes, floral arrangements and fancy prix fixe meals, it really doesn't do much for your self esteem. And it preconditions you to hate the 14th of February the way you might also hate the gates of Hell.

For years, every Valentine's Day, I would race home before the sun could set -- like some sort of Bizarro Vampire -- and the streets became thronged with couples pitching gooey, ostentatious woo. I spent the evening locked away from society's cruel and judging eyes, cursing the name of whatever greeting-card-company executive first concocted this rotten holiday.

But sometime in the early-90s, I decided to hell with spending every Valentine's Day sealed off in some obscure dungeon. Surely, there were other dateless losers out there in the world -- and fortunately, most of them were my friends. So on one fine St. Valentine's Day, we gathered at my apartment, where we drank bourbon and smoked cigars and played cards while watching movies with decidedly un-Valentine's Day-themed sentiments. Movies like "Gallipoli" and "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "The Great Escape." (A great movie for a number of reasons, not the least of which is watching Richard Attenborough get mowed-down by a Nazi machine gun -- oddly satisfying if you ever had to sit through "A Chorus Line: The Movie.")

For many years thereafter, I celebrated Valentine's Day the same way -- drinks! smokes! cards! And today... today, I'm a functioning alcoholic who audibly wheezes every time I have to walk up a flight of stairs. Also, I owe substantial sums of money to assorted card players throughout the greater Los Angeles area. So please give generously at PayPal. Very generously.

But most importantly, I no longer shrivel up into a vibrating ball of hate at the mere thought of Valentine's Day. Oh, I still hate it, but not more than I hate anything else in this world, including, but not limited to, crowds, pop music, transcontinental airline flights, and myself.

So if you find yourself staring at an evening of solitude and recriminations on Saturday, I suggest you follow the Philip Michaels approach -- pour yourself a nice, stiff drink, light up a Davidoff No. 2, and make an appointment with your old pal television. While others might abandon you for romantic carriage rides and long walks along the seashore, TV remains faithfully at your side, spewing out enough mindless and/or violent pap to divert you from your crippling loneliness. Or, if you're one of those masochistic types, TV serves up enough contrived romance and heart-tugging malarkey to have you stewing in your own misery well before midnight.

Oh, TV! As versatile as a utility infielder! As flexible and yielding as a Quebecois acrobat! Fie on those who sneer at you!

Here's a list of TV programming guaranteed to see you through another Valentine's Day. As for me, I'll be out with my wife, having one of those candlelit dinners and pitching gooey, ostentatious woo. But I'll be watching with you in spirit.

I can't tell if A Charlie Brown Valentine (8 p.m., ABC) is the animated special I remember watching in my misspent youth or if it's a sure-to-be-terrible remake. All's I want to know is, when is ABC going to bring back the Charlie Brown specials about moto-cross and Arbor Day?

You want to know why Fox is brilliant? It could have just run back-to-back episodes of Cops like it has every Saturday since the dawn of time. Instead, it's giving viewers Cops: Love Hurts (8 p.m.), featuring two glorious hours of domestic disturbance calls. God bless you, Rupert Murdoch!

NBC celebrates the holiday by giving its viewers a Valentine -- moving the godawful Whoopi (8:30 p.m.) to a Saturday night timeslot when few people are likely to stumble across it. You also get back to back episodes of Law & Order (8:59 p.m.) and Law & Order: Special Victim's Unit (9:59 p.m.), since nothing captures the spirit of Valentine's Day like a show about lurid sex crimes. (The USA Network agrees, choosing to broadcast four consecutive episodes of SVU (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.), right after tiresome romantic comedies like She's All That (3 p.m.) and Never Been Kissed (5 p.m.).) Speaking of pabulum, WE serves up that old sappy standby, Four Weddings and a Funeral (5 p.m.), just in time for you to hate the sight of Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell all over again.

Meanwhile, WGN eschews Valentine's Day entirely in favor of pair of movies -- Ghosts of Mississippi (4:30 p.m. PT) and Mississippi Burning (8:30 p.m. PT) -- that depict the Civil Rights Movement as seen through the eyes of heroic white people.

Nothing mends a broken-heart like non-stop sports action. TNT is broadcasting NBA All-Star Saturday (5:30 p.m. PT), featuring the beyond-tired Slam Dunk contest. ESPN features a pair of college basketball games -- Ohio State at Wisconsin (4 p.m. PT) and Memphis at Marquette (6 p.m. PT) -- while ESPN2 presents the 2004 North American International Auto Show (8 p.m. PT). If it includes all of North America, isn't it, by definition, international?

Who better than SpikeTV -- the self-proclaimed first network for men -- to tell us what the male mind wants to see on Valentine's Day. SpikeTV's answer: Ride With FunkMaster Flex (7 p.m. - 8 p.m.), Most Extreme Elimination (8 p.m. - 9 p.m.), and Slamball ( 9 p.m. - 10 p.m.). Oh, I'm sorry -- the correct response is "porn."

There's probably not a better-executed 1980s romantic comedy than Say Anything... (8 p.m, FX). So best to just avoid it this weekend. Instead, for a glimpse at the life of a true romantic, why not spend an evening examining the many loves of Arthur Fonzarelli with TVLand's Happy Days marathon (4 p.m. to 8 p.m). Thoughtfully, TVLand is including the three-episode arc in which Pinky Tuscadero is nearly felled in a demolition derby, prompting Fonzie to propose marriage.

If you've ever dreamed of watching nothing but old Love Connection reruns from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m., then The Game Show Network has finally answered your prayer.

There's no purer love than mobster love, as depicted in Bugsy (5:15 p.m., AMC). There's no love more terrifying than adulterous love, as in Fatal Attraction (8 p.m., Bravo). And there's no love more unintentionally comical than the love between Jennifer Tilly and a doll in Bride of Chucky (5 p.m., SciFi Channel).

It's a day of Oscar-nominated/winning romantic comedies on Turner Classic Movies, with The Philadelphia Story (1 p.m PT), Moonstruck (3 p.m. PT), Tootsie (5 p.m. PT), As Good As It Gets (7 p.m PT) and The Goodbye Girl (9:30 p.m. PT).

Let's get this straight right now -- any special entitled Shortest Celebrity Marriages (6 p.m., VH-1) that does not begin and end with Britney Spears' recent nuptials doesn't know the meaning of the words "shortest celebrity marriage." If only Britney had watched I Married MC Hammer (7 p.m., VH-1), a special on making celebrity marriages work.

Take your mind off all the romance you're not having by watching celebrities do it on 101 Juiciest Hollywood Hookups (3 p.m. - 8 p.m., E!). (I don't names 'em, by the way; I just reports 'em.)

You knew MTV wasn't going to let this day pass without showing either Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica (7 p.m. - 8 p.m.) or Til Death Do Us Part: Carmen and Dave (9 p.m. - 10 p.m.), didn't you?

Sex and violence: After The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (8 p.m.) -- a documentary on the famous mob hit -- The History Channel offers up back-to-back installments of The History of Sex (10 p.m. - midnight).

If you turn on the Food Network any time after 2 p.m., you will be treated to programming on that most Valentine's Day of foods, chocolate, including episodes of Emeril Live ( 3 p.m.), Oliver's Twist (6:30 p.m), and FoodNation with Bobby Flay (7 p.m.) Once MC Kaga's men are duking it out in Valentines Pear Battle on Iron Chef (10 p.m.), you are out of luck, chocolate-wise.

Have yourself a good cry for reasons other than the fact that you're likely to die alone -- Field of Dreams (7 p.m., TBS) can depress you about your unresolved relationship with your father. Or, if you'd prefer to watch the governor of California kill things, there's always Total Recall (9 p.m., TBS). And speaking of folks blowing things up, please enjoy Aliens (5 p.m, Encore) and Tremors (7:30 p.m., Encore)

I may have spent 15 consecutive Valentine's Days without a date. But at least I never spent them watching Hack (9 p.m., CBS) or The District (10 p.m., CBS). Make sure that after this Valentine's Day, you can say the same.


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