Friday, January 6, 2017


When did the celebritization of everything begin?

Some reckon it from November 28, 1966, the date of author Truman Capote's legendary Black and White Ball in honor of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.

Open Culture argues it fell on Jun 6, 1978, the date of the broadcast of ABC's magazine show, 20/20:
“I was hired in some fit of aberration,” Hughes wrote in a 1995 New York Review of Books piece that would become the chapter’s basis. “My fellow anchor was the now, alas, late Harold Hayes, who had been a brilliant editor of Esquire but, like me, proved to have little talent for sitting in front of a TV camera with makeup all over his face and reciting lines that had been written for him by other people.” Their producer made it clear that “neither Hayes nor I was to have any say in what we would say,” that “the stories had to have an ‘interesting’ angle; mere news value would not do,” and that “the audience out there could be assumed to have the attention span of caddis flies.”
Viewers who tuned in to the very first 20/20 on the evening of June 6th, 1978 were treated to cultural announcements such as that of Saturday Night Fever‘s position at the top of the record charts; an interview with Flip Wilson offering “a long stretch of pushy bathos” about the comedian’s family troubles; jokes about Pet Rocks; a young Geraldo Rivera, “fired up with sympathy,” exposing the use of live rabbits to train racing greyhounds (the unmoved Hughes remembers his childhood in Australia, where “the rabbit is just an agricultural pest, a little higher on the ladder of existence than a cane toad or a cockroach”); a vocabulary-building “absurdity” after each commercial break; and, bizarrely, a clay-animation Jimmy Carter singing “Georgia on My Mind"...The first issue of 20/20 was unquestionably one of the worst turkeys ever seen on an American network, and yet it was curiously prophetic, and critics like Tom Shales who saw in it an omen of the future of the TV news-magazine program were not wrong.”
Here's what Henry Bemis said of that night, and co-host and art critic Robert Hughes' role in it, in last July's birthday profile of Hughes:
He orbited the talk shows and wrote for all the magazines. His one remarkable FAIL was as the inaugural co-host of the ABC series 20/20, with Esquire editor Harold Hayes, in 1978. Not for them the stodgy stopwatch of “60 Minutes”: the opening sequence consisted of a pair of eyeglasses, whose lenses showed colored bars, which are often seen in the SMPTE test pattern (used when television stations were off the air between sign-off and sign-on). The eyeglasses were keyed over a yellow background, and rotated to its rear position to reveal the 20/20 studio.
There was more. Roone Arledge wrote in his memoirs that the worst of the first show was the Claymation segments featuring caricatures representing then-President Jimmy Carter (singing "Georgia on My Mind") and Walter Cronkite intoning, "That's the way it was” at the hour’s end.
Critics hated the show so much that Hayes and Hughes were fired within the week. Hugh Downs, who never stretched anyone’s boundaries, was brought in for the second show. He stayed for twenty years.
Today the show would likely get rapturous reviews. But that, he often said, is way of the world: "One gets tired of the role critics are supposed to have in this culture: it's like being the piano player in a whorehouse; you don't have any control over the action going on upstairs." 
Now you can decide for yourself:

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