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Betty White, Ted Koppel: Agony, Ecstasy on NBC

There might have never been a greater swing in quality in a matter of minutes — from low to high — than what happened on NBC Monday night.

First, the network aired a hidden-camera show titled “Betty White‘s Off Their Rockers,” a completely inane prank format that featured senior citizens engaged in rapid-fire gags, most of them centered around either sex jokes or riding motorized scooters. White, gamely, provided wraparounds where she ogled hunky young guys.

Somewhere, Mae West was rolling over in her grave.

When that ended, NBC segued to another senior citizen, Ted Koppel, who provided a terrific report on the newsmag “Rock Center” about the influence of money on politics, and the growing use of Super-PACs to funnel money into campaigns.

The highlight of the long-ish report was Koppel’s interview with Stephen Colbert, who deftly detailed — in pretty hilarious fashion — the bizarre logic that informs the rules surrounding political contributions.

Betty White has become a kind of media mascot, the one old person who it’s cool for the entertainment industry to showcase. That said, it’s hard to imagine what she hoped to gain — other than a check — by lending her name to an exercise as banal as the one NBC aired following her 90-minute tribute. Compared to this, “Hot in Cleveland” looked like “Downton Abbey.”

Koppel, meanwhile, continues to demonstrate broadcast news is desperately in need of his brand of reporting and analysis. It’s only too bad “Rock Center” — an uneven show that has struggled to gain any traction — is where he’s plying his trade.

The advertising imperative to reach younger demos has often resulted in seniors being invisible. So on its face, affording White and her companions a showcase might outwardly appear to be progress.

The only blow struck on behalf of older folks, however, was by Koppel. As for “Off Their Rockers,” that’s a pretty fair description of the thought behind the latest black eye TV has inflicted on the gray-power set.


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