Each year, a number of public figures behave in exceptionally ill-advised ways, are caught and must do public penance with one of television's éminences grises in order to keep their jobs. Kicking off this year's apologies was the author of pseudo-memoir "A Million Little Pieces," James Frey, through a brutal savaging on "Oprah," the lasting lesson of which was not "Don't lie to the public," but "Don't lie to Oprah."
In February, Vice President Dick Cheney relented to appear on "FOX News with Brit Hume" days after accidentally shooting his friend Harry Whittington. Contrite and apologetic, Cheney might have done him some good had he not waited almost a week to speak.
In June, Britney Spears spoke to Matt Lauer. Not to apologize for anything specific just for marrying a rat-faced loser, endangering the safety of her child and walking into gas stations barefoot. She succeeded only in proving to be more unhinged than previously supposed.
In October, Mel Gibson tried to make amends for the alcohol fueled anti-Semitic, misogynistic tirade he delivered to a cop by telling Diane Sawyer he wanted "to heal them if they had any heart wounds from something I may have said." Michael Richards was greeted with nervous laughter when he appeared on "The Late Show With David Letterman" to deliver an excruciating, almost unwatchable apology for his highly inappropriate use of racial epithets. He will be apologizing again in 2007.
News Anchor Musical Chairs
ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff had been on the job for less than four weeks when he and a cameraman were seriously wounded in Iraq in January. With Woodruff injured and co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas pregnant, ABC turned to "Good Morning America" co-host Charlie Gibson to take over prime-time anchor duties. After months of speculation about whether Katie Couric, of the nice legs, pearly teeth and colonoscopy had enough "gravitas" to succeed as a news anchor, Couric finally took over the desk in September, where she and her legs have made a home in the ratings cellar.
Madness on "The View"
Degenerating into a total circus may not be something to which "The View" aspired this year, but it sure made the show more interesting. When lead host, and apparent source of all sanity, Meredith Vieira left to take over for Couric on the "Today" show, the inmates began running the asylum. First, resident Republican Elisabeth Hasselbeck broke into tears while decrying the evils of the morning-after pill, a loss of composure that earned her "Keep it together, little girl" glare from Barbara Walters. Shortly before this, the miraculously self-aggrandizing Star Jones Reynolds quit on air and then sniped at Barbara Walters on "Larry King Live" (probably for good reason). In September, the show fully embraced the lunacy, when Rosie O'Donnell debuted as Vieira's replacement. O'Donnell got going quickly, outing Clay Aiken and insulting Kelly Ripa and all Asians in a matter of months. Thankfully, she has only just begun.
Politics as Usual
Television likes few things as much as an election. For one night, TV performs a meaningful public service instead of degrading our national intelligence and attention spans. And though the networks all trotted out their spiffy new anchors and stayed up late into the night, the most charged political moments of the year had already happened on the campaign trail. Michael J. Fox's commercial in support of stem cell research earned him accolades and vitriol, but he ultimately delivered the Democrats what they needed a powerful political ad, a sympathetic spokesman and a slim victory in Missouri.
In September, former president Bill Clinton gave Chris Wallace of "FOX News Sunday" a dressing-down for attacking him on the show ("So you did Fox's bidding on this show. You did your nice little conservative hit job on me," he told Wallace). The clip has been watched by millions on YouTube, where it has been alternately tagged, "Bill Clinton blames others for 9/11" and "Bill Clinton smacks down FOX News," depending on the uploader's political position. And though it also rose to fame on YouTube, and not the old-fashioned boob tube, the video of Virginia's own George Allen tossing around the word macaca deserves a place on this and any such list. And after all, he did make "Saturday Night Live."
And the winners in prime time are
"Grey's Anatomy" took on "CSI" and Thursday nights and won. In its third season, Bravo's "Project Runway," that rare beast, a reality show about people with demonstrable skills, attracted the critical mass it always deserved. "Dancing With the Stars," also a few seasons into its run, turned into a ratings behemoth. C-listers in tight pants almost demand good-hearted people's sympathy. And "Heroes," about a bunch of lost and depressed people with magical powers, was the class of the new season. S