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"When television is bad, nothing is worse," FCC chairman Newton Minow told the nation's broadcasters in 1961, but he was mistaken: When television is truly bad, nothing is better. ABC has built an entire ad campaign celebrating the medium's vapidity ("Without TV, how would you know where to put the sofa?"), and Minow's statement now could be the tide of a highly rated Fox prime-time special (When Television Goes Bad TV).
Super Bowl XXXIII on Fox promises to be television so bad, it's sublime. The pregame programming alone will be longer than, and make about as much sense as, Citizen Kane and Godfather II put together. It will last seven hours. So we can now accept a new correct response to this question posed by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company: What contains 202,700 cubic feet of gas and covers the Super Bowl?
Answer: Jerry Glanville.
The seven-hour prehash is presumably what Americans want. Fox has sold an estimated $150 million worth of commercials for Super Sunday—at as much as $1.6 million per 30-second spot—giving the network the richest one-day advertising windfall in television history. Thus the most lucrative programming in the 60-year existence of TV, the greatest communication tool man has yet devised, will consist largely of Howie Long's making fun of Ronnie Lott's hat.
And why not? Minow, now a professor of communications law at Northwestern, is still taking television to task for squandering its potential, but the rest of us have long ago given up, given in, succumbed to TV's lobotomizing pleasures. As another ABC ad puts it: "Don't just sit there. O.K., just sit there."
Sunday will provide ample opportunity to do so. If the game itself proves too mentally challenging, check out the weekend's counterprogramming. E! puts the triple-X back in XXXIII with its Supermodel Sunday! schlock block. (It includes Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders, a film not by Ken Burns.) The Food Network's Super Food Fest will deliver football-related recipes. (Do try the Quiche-awn Johnson.) ESPN Classic—which joins ESPN2, ESPN News, ESPN Lite, ESPN Dry and ESPN Wicked Winter Ale in the network's growing line of microchannels—will look back at the 1968 New York Jets "20 years after their Super Sunday victory." Evidently, Classic is commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 20th anniversary of Super Bowl III by repeating a retrospective from 1989. Whatever. Just sit there.
At halftime MTV unleashes the Claymation mayhem of Celebrity Deathmatch Deathbowl '99. (Dolly Parton battles Jennifer Lopez, and Mike Tyson takes on Evander Holyfield.) But by no means should you miss the actual Super Bowl halftime show, the exhumation of Gloria Estefan, who will probably sing a song you will vaguely recall as having been kind of popular in 1987. By then the Super Bowl telecast will be in its 10th hour. Two quarters of football will remain.
Five years before the first Super Sunday, Minow challenged broadcasters to watch their stations for one full day, from sign-on until sign-off. "I can assure you," he said, "that you will observe a vast wasteland."
Wrong again. Composing these sentences while prone on my couch, the remote control rising and falling on my gut with each labored breath, I don't see a vast wasteland at all. I see only a vast waistline. The TV, somewhere beyond, hasn't been visible for weeks.