Condensing 25 years of any network into a two-hour special qualifies as a tall order, and perhaps especially for Fox, whose outrageous lows were often as significant in defining the enterprise as its highs.
Yet the most egregious absence in the “Fox 25th Anniversary Special” was its complete lack of any journalistic impulses, failing to incorporate a single Fox executive — or, barring that, third-party expert, critic or scholar — to provide some context about what the network achieved, and its substantial impact on television. Indeed, other than “In Living Color” producer-star Keenen Ivory Wayans, only one showrunner turned up — “The X-Files” creator Chris Carter — and that was for about 15 seconds.
Produced by Don Mischer and Charlie Haykel, Sunday’s special instead offered a little bit of everything — nostalgic walk down memory lane, current corporate cheerleading, and inevitably, a clip show. But as constructed, it was utterly weightless — packing about as much oomph as an episode of “Access Hollywood.”
Even limiting itself to interviews with past and present Fox on-air talent, many of the choices came across as arbitrary, including a lengthy tribute to “Family Guy” in the early going, which — don’t have a cow, Seth — isn’t even the biggest animated series associated with the network.
Choosing Ryan Seacrest to host was obvious, perhaps, but also proved deflating. Someone with either a little more gravitas or a better sense of humor would have at least steered the flavor away from conspicuously vanilla.
So when they got to Fox’s reality shows, the only characterization comes from Seacrest referring to them as “often imitated, sometimes simulated, but never truly duplicated.” Seriously?
There were some funny lines, yes — “The Simpsons” delivering a little jab at Fox News Channel comes to mind — but this was empty calories. And instead of celebrating the network’s roots, Fox wound up delivering what amounted to a bad upfront presentation, only a month early.
Actually, I can sum up the whole special in one sentence: A Fox 25th anniversary tribute that gives less time to Barry Diller (zero) and Rupert Murdoch (three seconds as his animated self on “The Simpsons”) than “American Idol” contestant William Hung. Even with an obvious preference for celebrity, that’s hard to figure.
“In the history of television, nothing has had the worldwide impact of ‘American Idol,'” Seacrest said during the closing half-hour.
One can debate the merits of that, but why bother? By the time they reached that point, it was pretty clear Fox’s 25th don’t know much about history.