Life is unfair. God is a cipher. Fate is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, rolled in a burrito. How else to explain that Stephen Hawking can't speak, and Dan Dierdorf can? That Muhammad Ali has lost the use of his smile muscles, but Bob Knight retains full frowning capability? That ESPN2 has a ticker that never stops, and you have one that does?
Suffice it to say that life can be perverse. But is it hopeless? Only if you consider that Keith Jackson's television career ends on Jan. 4, but Jim Rome's is just getting started. Or that space-age instant replay technology is used for "Stupid Pet Tricks" but not for NFL officiating. Or that something called the Presidents Cup recently turned up on TV, but was a golf tournament, not a fixture of Bill Clinton's wardrobe. So the nation has recently suffered through two torturous television spectacles.
But why? Why do cruel ironies—and inexplicable injustices—abound in this world? Twelve people will see Nagano, the new film from Olympic auteur Bud Greenspan, while The Waterboy plays on nine screens at your neighborhood Hexoplex. Michael Jordan no longer lingers forever in the air, but Michael Jordan cologne does. This is what you call having the worst of both worlds.
So we try to see the glass as half full: When Kevin Costner appears, as he did last Saturday, in an NBC golf tournament in which celebrities try to win a Lexus sedan by getting a hole in one, we tell ourselves, At least he is not at work on a new movie.
But such irrational optimism only goes so far. For instance, we know the Lord works in mysterious ways—primarily, through Reggie White—but what can possibly justify the idea of last Saturday night's $500-a-ticket pickup basketball game on Showtime, the proceeds of which originally were to go to needy NBA players and charities such as UNICEF? As Conan O'Brien rightly points out, these smug, greedy bastards have no business putting their horny hands anywhere near such money. Shame on you, UNICEF!
All of which is to suggest that the apocalypse is nigh. The Biblical signs are everywhere. A six-legged turkey recently appeared on Fox (it was John Madden's annual Thanksgiving creation), even as a six-legged turkey was appearing on ABC (it was the cast of Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place). Television viewers wonder: Can it be long now before that giant cartoon Monty Python foot comes out of the clouds to squash us all?
As humankind approaches the end of the 20th century, it looks for signs of hope. Where? In the one place it knows to look: the television set. (This is only appropriate. After all, we are through the looking glass here, people.)
Just when you're ready to give in to despair, our universal human yearning pays off. A prophet arrives from another time, bringing tidings of comfort and joy. Dick Van Patten had been only sporadically seen on television for the past two decades when suddenly, without warning—on Wednesday, Dec. 16, at 3:30 p.m. EST—TV turned into Van Pattenpalooza. The powerfully comforting and fatherly actor was, for no apparent reason, hosting The World Series of Poker on ESPN and playing Tom Bradford in an Eight Is Enough rerun on something called the PAX network. Yes, PAX. Peace.
Dick Van Patten had come in peace—and, evidently, a hairpiece—to reassure a troubled world. There really was peace. In fact, for one shining moment, he was the only Dickie V on television.