The Academy Awards ceremony aired last Sunday, and while it was heavy on clips and seemed to take an even longer time to hand out actual awards, it was relatively drama-free. Most of the drama occurred prior to the ceremony, when it looked like the ongoing writers' strike was going to turn it into, well, a clip show. Sure, prep time was severely truncated because of the strike, but instead of clips (especially those lame "joke" clips), why not just give the time to the award-winners' acceptance speeches? I don't know whose call it was, but host Jon Stewart came off looking sublimely gracious when he escorted Oscar co-winner for Best Original Song, Markéta Irglová, back onstage so she could have her moment in the limelight. The mic had been turned off when it was her chance to speak after her writing partner Glen Hansard accepted his award. It was a moment made extra cringe-worthy, because Irglová and Hansard's win was the kind that Oscar fans love – a win by two Hollywood outsiders who showed that with a little drive and talent, dreams do come true.
Ah, what a wonderful night. And we get to do it all again next year. That is, unless you are still watching TV over the air. A year from now, your analog-TV set will go dark unless you have purchased a set-top converter or have already switched to a digital-ready TV. If you're unable to swing for a new set, Congress is parceling out 33 million $40 coupons to purchase set-top converters (which should sell for around $50). How do you get one of those coupons? Good question.
From all indications, there is not a coordinated effort between the Federal Communications Commission, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, broadcasters, or retailers. I've seen a couple of vague public-service announcements alerting viewers of the coming change but no direct information on what to do (i.e., how to get a coupon or where to buy it). The NTIA is the federal agency charged with getting the word out about the coupons. But an outreach budget of $5 million to reach an estimated 300 million people (according to a Feb. 15 Hollywood Reporter article by Sam Adams) is a meager effort when compared with the $400 million the UK is spending to reach 60 million about their transition to digital TV.
Now, I'm the last one to create a sky-is-falling frenzy, especially after what happened after the Y2K scare (um, nothing), but this disappoints me. Instead of planning for the worst and hoping for the best, the government is hoping for the best from the TV and retail industry. That is a whole lot of faith in entities more concerned with Nielsen ratings and ad revenue than in making sure that those who most depend on TV are served, like the elderly, the poor, minority groups, those living in rural communities, and people with disabilities.
Even with the best of efforts, there's going to be an uproar when someone's elderly relative turns on his or her set and sees a black screen instead of Judge Judy. I'd rather that than the uproar that would come should a disaster occur with no means to get instructions or warning. I'm just saying.
On the lighter side: Who or what is the root of all evil? Comedian Lewis Black decides in his new series, Lewis Black's Root of All Evil. A hybrid between Celebrity Deathmatch and the aforementioned Judge Judy and its ilk, the perennial curmudgeon presides over a courtroom-like setting where two comedians argue their case before a live audience. First up: Comedians Paul F. Tompkins and Greg Giraldo argue whether Oprah or the Catholic Church is the root of all evil. The second episode features Andy Kindler and Giraldo arguing Donald Trump vs. Viagra. Future subjects feature Paris Hilton vs. Dick Cheney, beer vs. weed, YouTube vs. porn, Kim Jong-il vs. Tila Tequila, and American Idol vs. high school. Nope, no cow is too sacred for this series.
Lewis Black's Root of All Evil premieres Wednesday, March 12, at 9:30pm on Comedy Central.
As always, stay tuned.