Glow of the Tube

Television is a truly amazing medium. Its presence in our lives is remarkable, a kind of great equalizer uniting the largest number of people, giving them a common frame of reference, and reducing them into one category: television watchers. Sounds simple, doesn't it?

In the tumult of the civil rights movement in the mid-Sixties, LIFE magazine ran a photo essay on inner-city living. One frame showed some black children watching television, prompting a reader to write in and question the level of poverty implied in regard to the presence of the TV set. My mother angrily replied to that letter and LIFE printed it. Sometimes the only light in those lives, Mom wrote, comes from the glow of the tube.

I have thought about that letter many times, especially now that I am considerably older than she was when it was penned in a heat of anger over 30 years ago. Her statement bears a stamp of naïveté, but it also carries a basic tenet that any light is better than cursing the darkness. That seems to be a good attitude, allowing for the vagaries of programming but being kind to great masses of people.

It's always interesting, then, to see the emergence of a celebrity like Tiger Woods at the Masters Tournament recently on CBS Sports (Ch 5). Two weeks ago, Woods was a contender; today he has fame and Nike commercials. As the famous tournament progressed Saturday, the buzz was heard
everywhere from Wheatsville's produce section to Waterloo's used CD bin. So I went home and tuned in to a golf tournament.

So did hundreds of thousands across America. This is notable because this sport, usually distinguished by geriatrics outfitted in pastels and sponsored by laxatives, is not very sexy and pulls only marginal viewing audiences. It is, however, astonishingly lucrative for advertisers because the viewership is generally more monied. What is also worth noting about this year's tourney was that in the ratings taken from 36 major Nielsen markets, the final round averaged a 15.8/32 for CBS Sports -- that's an increase of 65% from last year's Sunday rating. Even Saturday's coverage was up 43% for CBS viewers.

I don't think any of that matters to the new young black champion of old white men's favorite sport. Woods' head may have to be carted around for him soon enough, but at the moment he seems to be well-grounded. Still, it's not too hard to figure what's gonna be next: Endless sports coverage. Pictures with Dennis Rodman. Appearances on MTV. The late night talk show circuit. Magazine covers. More Nike ads. A feature movie or guest spot on Friends. Whatever it is, you can be sure we'll be seeing more of him -- just stay tuned. [Tiger Woods appears on Oprah Apr. 24.]

I Want My Empty-Vee: Remember when 101X morning show hosts Ernie and Jane barricaded themselves in the deejay booth and threatened not to come out until MTV (Ch 34) decided to do a Real World season in Austin? What did we get -- a sorry-ass episode of Road Rules. Well, guess what? Forget about the Real World and watch for Austin Stories, according to a West Coast source. "TV Eye" could not get confirmation on this at press time, but MTV did say a publicist would get back to us, which leads me to believe this "slacker slice of Austin life" as it was described is in the works. More, as the talk shows say, to come.

Retribution and Redrum: As video does for film, television sometimes offers a second chance. That's why it is heartening to see The Shining getting a second chance on ABC. As a book, I was so terrified by King's vision of horror I slept with the lights on for days after finishing it. The 1980 Stanley Kubrick film was bitterly disappointing to us King fans -- the director monkeyed with its depraved facets of terror and took so many short cuts, the result was a frantic pastiche of garbled fear that bounced all over the place but never hit home. That was ironic, since the 1979 made-for-TV version of Salem's Lot was very well-done, and featured one of the scariest vampires seen on screen since Max Schrenk's Nosferatu, even if it also featured David Soul. (Kubrick's flamenco dance on The Shining wasn't nearly as big an affront as when the film version of Firestarter changed Rolling Stone to The New York Times.) This new six-hour version of Stephen King's The Shining stars Stephen Weber and Rebecca DeMornay, and Melvin Van Peebles as Dick Halloran, and will run for three nights Sun. Apr. 27, Mon. Apr. 28, and Thu. May 1 at 8pm, and promises to deliver some retribution for Kubrick's sins. I was poking around ABC's rather elaborate website for it at http://www.abc.com/theshining/ and found the usual publicity hoo-hah, with King looking all goofy and aw-shucks about having over three dozen filmed versions of his works, plus fun little extras, like "Six Degrees with Stephen King," "backwards" e-mail, and "Greetings from the Overlook" e-postcards. Hope this is indicative of the effort they've put into The Shining itself. We like Stephen King in made-for-TV movies because his horror is not so much alien as it is a 90-degree turn from reality. Sitting at home in our living rooms, dens, bedrooms, or wherever the screen happens to be -- these are the settings for his brand of fear.

"Last night I dreamed I was at Manderley...": PBS (Ch 9) has the second part of two of Mobil Masterpiece Theatre's Rebecca on Sun. Apr. 20 at 9pm. It's a mystery of classic proportion -- not a whodunnit, but rather a flawless piece of literary suspense, and compares most favorably to Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 version of it. That's a pretty good trick because not only were the leads well-cast, with Laurence Olivier reportedly whispering obscenities into Joan Fontaine's ear to illustrate his disapproval of her casting, but Judith Anderson's portrayal of Mrs. Danvers is positively bone-chilling. Diana Rigg as the formidable housekeeper is likewise cold and intimidating in this Arthur Hopcraft adaption of the Daphne du Maurier classic. The only difference in this version is that I never imagine Vivian Leigh as the never-seen but oft-cited Rebecca.

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