THE SPECIAL “The Paley Center Salutes NBC’s 90th Anniversary”
WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 8 p.m. on NBC/4
WHAT IT’S ABOUT NBC was founded in 1926, and this broadcast is a tour of just some of the years since, mostly prime time and mostly post-1970. There are lots of clips, and interviews, all arranged by topic — news, sports, dramas, and so on. Special starts with ’90s sitcoms such as “Seinfeld,” ends with game shows. Kelsey Grammer hosts.
MY SAY With this special, NBC has yet another landmark broadcast to add to 90 years of so many other radio and TV landmarks — the longest infomercial in history. Clocking in at three hours (including real commercials), “Paley Salutes” showers so many shows and so many stars with so much unblushing encomia that even Ron Popeil would be humbled.
I think I counted “the greatest show ever” 15 times.
Not that we mind the occasional infomercial, of course. Millions of us have ThighMasters, Ped Eggs and old VCR tapes of “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” collecting dust somewhere in the house as proof. The irony of “Salutes” is that what’s being sold here was already bought long ago. Yes, we loved the shows; yes, we loved the stars; yes, they changed the culture; yes, this history was glorious and often inglorious too. (You won’t hear about that last part, by the way.)
But did “Salutes” really need to include “Fear Factor”?
There are a few pleasures here, most notably interviews of the cavalcade of stars from the old days (Angie Dickinson, Larry Wilcox, Betty White, Todd Bridges) and from the newer days (Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Ted Danson). Most of the clips are fun, all familiar.
But what’s missing here is especially of interest. For example, there’s little of Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” — almost all of the tapes from the early years were erased. Deep into the program, just before closing credits, Grammer says, “If we left out any of your favorites, I promise to make it up to you on NBC’s 100th.” But no one will likely complain too bitterly over the exclusion of (say) “Manimal” or “The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo.”
“Supertrain” may have to wait until the 100th, too.
What’s really missing here is Bill Cosby. His name is not mentioned once. “I Spy” (’65-’68) isn’t even noted in passing. That was the first program in U.S. television history to have an African-American in a lead role. “The Cosby Show” finally arrives in the last part of the show, covered in just under a minute. (Phylicia Rashad is briefly interviewed.) After Carson, Cosby was arguably the single most important individual in the history of the network. In “Salutes,” he’s been virtually edited out of that history. It’s a lamentable omission but especially a reminder that an entire legacy has been effaced.
Here’s what NBC really needs to do: Come to terms with that legacy and celebrate it for what it was and what it meant to millions of viewers. Don’t wait until the 100th either.
BOTTOM LINE A long, often deadly, dull commercial that omits a hugely important part of the story.