Archive for Wednesday, February 2, 2005

State of the Union is must-endure TV, critic says

February 2, 2005


President George W. Bush will deliver his State of the Union Address (8 p.m., CBS, NBC, Fox, ABC, UPN, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, C-SPAN) to the members of the House and Senate.

The Constitution requires the president to make this address, but there is no law compelling us to watch it. After the pomp and ceremony of the president's walk past friendly and not-so-friendly legislators, and a brief pan of the cabinet and the Supreme Court, the State of the Union broadcast often boils down to a very long speech stitching together a laundry list of proposals that may or may not come to fruition.

Don't go looking for the soaring rhetoric of the second inaugural address. Tonight's speech is more likely to mention Pell Grants and aid to community colleges than talk of the prairie fires of freedom. I've been forcing myself to watch these things since Johnson was president, and with one exception, I can't recall a single memorable line from any of them. That one standout belongs to President Gerald Ford. He began his 1975 address with rare candor, declaring, "The State of the Union is not good." But then again, he was our only unelected president. He wasn't re-elected, either.

So what should we look and listen for? Forget rhetoric, this speech is about emphasis. How often will the president mention Social Security? Iraq? Iran? What topics will dominate the first 10 minutes of the speech? If your pet issue gets tacked on at the caboose-end of the oratory, it's rather easy to see where it lies on the administration's priority list. Last year I was eager to see how much the president would emphasize his just-announced initiative to return to the moon and explore Mars. An idea that big, expensive and visionary had to make the State of the Union! I listened and listened in vain. And, like most space buffs, I'm still waiting for the details.

For all of the work by the president and his speechwriters, the legislative agenda may be dominated by something not even mentioned in his address. Pay close attention to the camera as it scans the Supreme Court. If ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist is not in sight, Congress may soon be asked to confirm his successor. And that may take a while.

  • Proof that cruelty and comedy are often intertwined can be found on tonight's "MythBusters" (8 p.m., Discovery). Experts wiser than me have explained how comedy relies on a "better him than me" attitude toward other people's pain. That's why we laugh when a clown slips on a banana peel, or Buster Keaton drives a car through a house, or Ben Stiller gets a sensitive part of his anatomy caught in his zipper.

"MythBusters" takes this principle to explosive new heights with an episode devoted entirely to the instructive abuse of a crash test dummy. To explore the validity of various urban myths, they submit their dummy (named Buster) to an exploding toilet, a 60-foot plunge into water, an out-of-control elevator and a chair rigged with 60 pounds of bottle rockets. As Buster is broken, burned, mutilated and decapitated, hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage can't stop laughing at his expense. And neither could I. All of this proves that 1) most of the gruesome legends they test are false, 2) most guys (myself included) are really 9-years-old at heart and 3) guys like to blow things up.

Tonight's other highlights

  • Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (7 p.m., CBS): Spider-Man creator Stan Lee.
  • Auditions continue on "American Idol" (7 p.m., Fox).
  • Nightmares plague Claire on "Lost" (7 p.m., ABC).
  • Cheryl Ladd stars in the 1983 TV biopic "Grace Kelly" (7 p.m., WE).
  • The final five are asked to design new uniforms for the post office on the wonderfully overwrought talent contest "Project Runway" (8 p.m., Bravo). This is the best reality show on TV right now.
  • "It Takes a Thief" (9 p.m., Discovery) uses hidden cameras to show a family how easy it is for a professional burglar to steal their stuff.

Series notes

Barely dressed and hardly interesting on "Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search" (7 p.m., NBC) ... Missy Elliot hosts "The Road to Stardom" (7 p.m., UPN)... Lana is attacked on "Smallville" (7 p.m., WB) ... Jesse's ex wants custody on "Kevin Hill" (8 p.m., UPN) ... Bobby has his doubts about Tom on "Jack & Bobby" (8 p.m., WB).

Late night

Patricia Heaton and John Witherspoon appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno hosts Cate Blanchett, Jon Heder and Ashanti on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC) ... Will Arnett and The Features appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:05 p.m., ABC).

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