What were they thinking?

You don’t have to look too hard to find faux pas and foul-ups on the small screen.

October 15, 2010 16:25
4 minute read.
Joseph Fiennes in 'FlashForward'

Joseph Fiennes in 'FlashForward'. (photo credit: Screenshot)


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In a recent episode of FlashForward, one of the main characters, Demetri, is kidnapped on his wedding day, unbeknownst to the guests, who are awaiting his arrival. Demetri’s anxiety-ridden mother tells the main character, Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes), “I’ve been trying to call his cell phone, but there’s no answer.”

“Let me try,” says the intrepid Benford.

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He tries.

“No answer,” he says.

No kidding. Why would he have any more luck getting an answer than someone who tried calling two seconds before? Hello! It’s absurdities like those on TV that get me thinking, “What were they (the scriptwriters and directors) thinking?” I don’t ask a lot from TV – I just want to be entertained. But I don’t want to be annoyed.

Another irksome example that springs to mind was a show where a guy gets a call from an old flame who has come to town. It was New York or LA. I can’t remember the city, but I remember the line. They hadn’t been in touch for a long time. She suggests they meet for dinner, and he agrees.

“Pick me up at my hotel at 8,” she says.

“All right,” he says, and hangs up.

Now, which hotel would that be? We were in on the whole conversation.

If we don’t know which hotel, how would he know? One of my earliest memories of the who’s-minding-the-store scenario occurred on an episode of the original Star Trek. The episode involved an alien named Hanar from the Kelvan Empire. His fellow alien pronounced his name HAY-nar, while Captain Kirk (William Shatner) referred to him as Ha-NAR. Even in those early days, that inconsistency rankled me. Where was the director or the person in charge of continuity? Why didn’t anyone else notice – or care – but me? Okay, big deal. So what’s in a name, I grant. But when they start crossing the line of religious tradition, then you really have to sit up and take notice – and offense.

I still cannot forgive an episode of Friends – the one where Ross and Monica Geller’s grandmother, Nana, dies. Ross and Monica are supposed to be Jewish, so we assume that Nana was Jewish as well. After the funeral, they all go the parents’ house – where they are serving ham. Of all things, why did it have to be ham? They could have served roast beef or chicken or turkey. Why at the funeral of a Jewish character did they davka have to serve ham? Where were the Jews on set who should have known better – at least David Schwimmer (Ross) or Elliot Gould (Mr. Geller)? Okay, that’s all scripted material.

But TV also exposes us to the inadvertent foibles of live broadcasts, where people don’t have a chance to think ahead or edit themselves.

My favorite non sequitur of all time was uttered by a commentator at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.

He was giving a blow-byblow description of a boxing match between a Cuban and a Soviet fighter. During a lull in the action he said (I don’t remember the exact specifications, but I will never forget the gist): “Even though Boris is only four foot nine, he speaks seven languages.”

Silence. His co-commentator then chimed in, “We’ll take a break and when we come back, you’ll explain what you meant by that.”

But without a doubt, when it comes to not thinking things through, in the category of Truth Is More Egregious Than Fiction, the Emmy goes to Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa. On a repeat of The Oprah Show that was aired recently, the co-hosts of the US morning talk show Live with Regis and Kelly were Oprah’s guests, talking about the World’s Largest Pie Fight, which they held outside the ABC Studios in New York in September of 2009.

The large event was staged as an attempt to have hundreds of participants break the Guinness world record of throwing custard pies at each other.

The icing on the cake, as it were, is that for every pie thrown, they donated $10 to the Meals on Wheels Association of America. Nice gesture but misguided message. It was heartbreaking to see the footage of hordes of people flinging 1,500 freshly baked pies at each other in the name of fun and fundraising, while thousands of their fellow citizens don’t have enough to eat.

Here’s a thought: Have a contest to see who could deliver the most pies to the most shelters and soup kitchens in the city, and donate $10 for every pie delivered.

What were they thinking?

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