at the year in television brings to mind that old Woody Allen joke: the food was
terrible and the portions were so small!
"Why is O.J. Simpson still all over the TV? Nobody cares anymore!," people whined. But whenever
a Simpson case figure like Mark Fuhrman or Bob Kardashian appeared on a prime-time newsmagazine
in 1996, the ratings soared. And then there was NBC's coverage of the Atlanta Olympic Games.
All of us complained about how U.S.-centric, commercial-laden and mislabeled-as-live it was,
and we knew what we were talking about, because we watched all 170 hours of it.
People and their TV habits go figure. Anyway, the following is my Top 10 list of the
best and worst TV of 1996. Yes, it's another Salon year-end list. And so short!
I have a confession to make: I like ESPN. I like the fact that you
can plop down and watch genuine time-wasters like women's pro bowling and make-believe ice
skating "championships" almost every night of the week. I like the ESPN house ads, where Robert
Goulet sings swingin' nursery rhymes and decathlete Dan O'Brien uses his vaulting pole to
deliver the sportscasters' dry cleaning. I especially like the one where Billy the Marlin (the
Florida Marlins' perpetually delighted-looking mascot) walks in on his wife with another man.
And I like that "SportsCenter" show with
and Dan Patrick
whom I find rather amusing. Oh, who am I kidding? I find them more than amusing; I find
. They make me laugh, they make me cry, they make me kiss "Must See TV"
goodbye. I can't get enough of these guys. Does this make me a traitor to my gender?
It's so easy to fall under the spell of Keith and Dan. Their dry, puckish wit (no pun intended)
and obvious intelligence elevates them above the helmet-haired frat-boy howler monkeys that
pass for TV sportsguys these days. Granted, Keith (the one with Groucho's eyebrows) and Dan
(the one who looks like Joe Isuzu) are still sportsguys, and they get silly the way guys do
when they're around sports too much. You may not be able to stand this, especially when Keith
makes his cheering-crowd noises off-camera while Dan is trying to talk. And, be warned, Keith
and Dan are best approached with at least a rudimentary knowledge of sports terms and/or locker
room interview clichés, otherwise the subtle parody inherent in Dan's signature phrase,
"You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him," will sail right over your head.
But, look, I'm woman enough to admit a weakness for jock humor. And I refuse to apologize for
my need to regularly hear the sweet music of an Olbermannism ("He pulled a groin his
own, we hope") or the soothing logic of Patrick at his most philosophical ("He's listed as day
to day, but then again, aren't we all?"). Keith and Dan are more than sportsguys, they're a
comedy team, and a great one. Somebody once called them a live-action "Beavis and Butt-head"
but that's so wrong it borders on blasphemy. Bob and Ray is more like it.
Keith and Dan are goofy and profound at the same time. They call them as they see them (Keith's
angry anti-hockey-fighting rant was a classic) and still have a lot left over to devote to the
pursuit of the perfect sports
catch phrase (Keith's "He puts the biscuit in the basket!" is a strong contender) and to
tweak (sometimes, bash) the reverence with which most ESPN junkies regard professional sports.
Keith and Dan's message comes through loud and clear: Hey, it's only a game. These guys are
en fuego, as they would say, and if you don't catch them on The Big Show now, you will
someday (cue another Olbermannism) drool the drool of regret into the pillow of remorse.