Thursday, June 15, 2006
Dear Jay, about last night.
I caught your show last night. It's been a long time since I've watched The Tonight Show, but George Carlin was on and who can pass that up? You know what I'm saying. We're from the same neighborhood. He's a bit older than me and we traveled in different circles, but I still feel a sort of misplaced local pride in his success. Besides he's funny as hell.
Listening to him last night was an eye opener for me. Not the "I'm a modern man..." riff. That was just a rollercoaster fun ride. What struck me was how long he's been in the business and how many times he's been on the Tonight Show. It never occurred to me how much NBC has been a part of my life, especially when I was growing up.
It seems like half my family worked at NBC. My uncle started there as a page. He went on to become a big shot on the Today Show. That sounds like a big deal now; back then he used to joke how he was second banana to a knuckle-dragging ape. It's true. One of his jobs was taking care of Mr. Muggs. As he got older and more unruly (Mr. Muggs, not my uncle) he used to take Mr. Muggs out back in the alley behind Radio City for exercise. To keep him in line, he used to whack Muggs on the head with a blackjack. Apparently, chimps have thick skulls and it was the only way to get his attention. One day a lady saw them and called the cops. She said there was a thug out back of Radio City beating up a midget. That was the end of those field trips.
Grandpa was also in the business, but a different generation. He and Lou Walters were friends. He helped Lou's daughter, Barbara, get her foot in the door by sending her to my uncle. I am sure grandpa watched more than NBC, but the only TV news we ever watched was Huntley and Brinkley. Their sign off was a running joke with us. We'd leave to go back to the city, Grandpa would kiss my Mom goodbye and then we'd have the same manly exchange "Goodnight Grandpa...Goodnight Kid." Even at the end, when he was senile and no longer recognized me, Grandpa and I still said goodbye like that.
Then there was Johnny. Grandpa liked him. He said Johnny was the kind of guy you were happy to let into your living room. I got to thinking about that last night while listening to your other guest, the blonde woman with the book called Godless. You mentioned how people had sent you email complaining about her before she even showed up. Now I can see why.
I think her presence explains why Carlin looked so jumpy as you went to the break. His knee was bouncing up and down and he was rubbing his knuckles like he was going to pop someone in the kisser. Like Carlin, I'm a native New Yorker. If I knew I would have to sit next to someone like your guest and listen to that bilge, I don't think I would have been able to stay silent, let alone keep a civil tone.
It was obvious you were really trying to help her make amends, to show a bit of humanity and compassion. You were really making a yeoman's effort to inject some civility back into the conversation because you know people invite you into their living rooms and I believe that means something to you. She clearly didn't give a damn whose carpet she crapped on. I don't know where we went wrong that someone could use that like a political prop. Mr. Muggs was tame compared to her.
I don't have any illusions here. We don't have a relationship and you don't owe me anything. I know the show is about promoting product and having a laugh. I know the bottom line is about market share and Nielsen ratings so advertisers can calculate their CPM. I know this isn't Meet The Press; you aren't there to grill people. But I also know the lack of civility your guest wallows in is not (as she claimed) simply the result of more channels and talk radio. People like her and the other hate mongers that clutter the airwaves flourish because the Fairness Doctrine was repealed. That's not my opinion, that's Richard Viguerie's opinion. When the Funding Father of the New Right says it, I believe it.
There is something more upsetting about the show than a guest whoring a book and making money off the suffering of others. It was the audience. During your monologue, I think you referred to them at one point as "The Right Wing Cheering Section." I guess you were making it clear that you recognized they weren't merely partisan Republicans. If that is what you were saying, I agree. They are something else. Something uncivil.
I listen to that bloodlust and I hear echoes of Bavarian beer halls and lynch mobs; echoes I never thought I would hear in my living room. I don't want them in my living room. I don't even want them in my country. Fortunately, I can still change the channel. But my options are dwindling. The more I think about it, the more I fear the lights are going out across the dial, and they won't be lit again in my lifetime. All I can say is I'm glad my grandparents didn't live to see this happen again. It would have broken their hearts.
Goodnight and Good Luck.