ONE THING’S FOR CERTAIN: If Sunday’s debate was a prototype for a prime time series, the Disneys and Lorimars of the world wouldn’t line up to sign deals with George Bush or Bill Clinton.
Nope, the only personality worth cultivating based on those painfully dull 90 minutes was Ross Perot, the pint-sized Texan with the Dumbo-sized ears and pocketbook. He was more entertaining as himself than even Dana Carvey is impersonating him.
Perot came across as a colorful character cut from the same mold as Granny on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Granted, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’d want her to be president, but she was at least fun to have around, spinning homilies from the comfort of her rocking chair.
In a media-driven age, being good company is a big part of a president’s job, and Perot definitely topped the list in terms of who you’d want seated next to you at a barbecue. Then again, the choice here was between Bush, who would talk your ear off without completing a sentence, and Clinton, who would discuss the history of charcoal and list reams of statistics about cancer among coal miners.
While it’s unlikely Ross Perot will be elected president, he’s clearly established himself as a person who can, if he wishes, remain in the public eye. (He could also go about the business of spending his $ 3 billion fortune but seems intent instead on this campaigning business–proof positive that not only is youth wasted on the young, but money is wasted on the rich.)
THOSE THINKING ABOUT HOW TO BEST EXPLOIT the Perot phenomenon from a TV standpoint need look no further than the following development roster. As a word of caution, remember this: Just because you come up with a series for Perot won’t prevent him from quitting before it begins production.
o “Perots & Cons”: A Texas billionaire and his war buddy, wrongly imprisoned 20 years for a murder he didn’t commit, team up to fight crime, including occasional forays into Vietnam to try to locate lost POWs.
o “The Perot Test”: A quiz-trivia gameshow featuring Perot as the host interviewing ordinary people. Say the secret word, the Elephant slowly drops from the ceiling and you win $ 100 million. (Possible substitute title: “You Bet Your Life … And I’ll Buy It.”)
o “The Billionaire”: Anthology series based on the classic series “The Millionaire.” Every week Ross Perot talks about the economy for a little while, then reads a letter from someone in desperate need and drops in on them, giving them a check for $ 10 million (inflation, after all). The show then follows how the money changes their lives.
o “Honey, I Blew Up My Ears”: Wacky sitcom about a Texas family man who, in a bizarre experiment, blows up his ears to the point where he can hang-glide with them, much to the confusion of his odd assortment of neighbors. Pitched as a sort of cross between “Green Acres” and “The Flying Nun.”
o “Your Money, My Money With H. Ross Perot”: Weekly debate-discussion show moderated by Perot, featuring guests like Jesse Jackson, Patrick Buchanan, etc. At the end of each episode there’d be a segment in which Perot tries to find out how much it would cost to get the guest to change whatever opinions he or she might have and agree with Perot.
o “America’s Funniest Down-Home Videos”: Perot hosts a collection of family footage and other tapes sent in from folksy Southerners, with guest hosts like Mel Tillis, Dennis Weaver and Andy Griffith. (Could be paired in syndication with “Hee-Haw.”)
o “Ask Mr. Perot”: Saturday-morning science, technology and banking show in which kids and teens get to sit around and ask Perot questions before challenging the “Pyramid of Money” obstacle course to win cash and prizes.
o “Jack & Ross at the Movies”: Movie review program hosted by Perot and MPAA president Jack Valenti, who bicker constantly about their opinions. Sample dialogue:
Perot: “I didn’t care for that picture. It’s lewd and crude and just plain rude. In Texas, we’d call that a cow-chip in a cannister. Those aren’t the kind of values we want to be putting out there for the little children in this country to see.”
Valenti: “You can’t go around sayin’ that you don’t want pictures shown simply because you disagree with them. As far as I can tell this country is still a democracy, and the movies are for all the people. I’m sorry, Ross, but as we say in Texas, ‘That dog won’t hunt.’ ”
o “Dallas”: Serialized drama about … naw, forget it. That dog won’t hunt.
DEBASING THE DEBATES, PART II: CBS is probably breathing a sigh of relief that it didn’t do better with its coverage of Oakland vs. Toronto on Sunday, which ran into extra innings and eclipsed any CBS coverage of the presidential debate.
It would be easy to blame the network for the gaffe, but the fault really lies with the two political parties, whose extended bickering over the debate schedule made it virtually impossible to schedule an event that wouldn’t conflict with prime time sports.
It’s not as if no one was aware that the League Championship Series would be going on in October, and it does leave room for skepticism about whether one side or another wanted to limit the potential audience. The 4 p.m. local start time for three and possibly all four debates represents another slight of the West Coast from that perspective, based on the relatively sparse population in the region.
The fact that Sunday’s game drew surprisingly poor ratings despite its thrilling finish proves there was no shortage of outlets for viewers intent on seeing the too-orchestrated debate spectacle, even with CBS on the sidelines. If the other debates are as exciting as the first, however, don’t count on viewers coming back in equal numbers, even if the only competition is “I Love Lucy” and “Goof Troop.”