Larry King has been gone almost a week now, with no return in sight. I think our only hope is for somebody to bring back Miami Undercover, which is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary. (What? You weren't planning a party?) A syndicated crime drama about a private eye that aired for a single season in 1961. Miami Undercover is notable for two reasons: Boxer Rocky Graziano was one of the stars, and Larry King gets murdered in the middle of his radio show in the first moments of the debut episode. Here's a link toan unfortunately unembeddable video clip of King's big scene, which, incomprehensibly, did not get him an Emmy nomination.
If you doubt that the alien moonscape inside the Washington Beltway spins on its own peculiar axis, just listen to the way the chattering-class punditry shrieked, whether in elation or despair, over last week's congressional thumb-wrestling on taxes and spending.
``On a historic night this past Thursday, a new Tea Party Republican Congress completely transformed U.S. economic policy,'' exulted former Reagan economic apparatchik Larry Kudlow in the National Review. ``An absolute disaster and an insult to the vast majority of the American people,'' raged Vermont's socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Out here in the real world, though, it just looked like Washington business as usual, elephantine struggles to produce minor changes that will all have to be revisited next year, packaged with the mandatory collection of goofball subsidies.
Most of the sound and fury was generated by the tax deal between the Obama White House and congressional Republicans. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party portrayed it as a plutocratic sacking of the U.S. Treasury. Sanders filibustered it; Michigan's Rep. John Conyers said resisting a White House compromise with Republicans was nothing less than ``a fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party and the nation.''
But what did it really amount to? Mostly, a promise that taxes won't go up for a couple of years: rates on income- and capital-gains taxes that have been in place for the better part of a decade will stay the same. The only actual cut is a miniscule 2-percentage point decrease in Social Security taxes, which lasts just a year. Read my full op-ed column in Tuesday's Miami Herald.
The week before Christmas is TV's equivalent of Death Valley. So allow me to detour and offer up a mildly entertaining story I wrote with my Herald pal James Burnett while working a city-desk shift over the weekend:
Saturday's gun buyback program at an Opa-locka church was billed as a no-questions-asked affair: Hand over a gun, the police give you $50, and you walk away. But the genial gray-haired man who brought in a Russian-made assault rifle didn't mind chatting about it with a reporter.
"I brought it back from Vietnam when my tour of duty was over,'' he said. "It's just been sitting around the house for all these years. When I pass on, what my kids gonna do with it? I'll use the money to buy Christmas presents for my grandchildren.''
And the sawed-off stock -- which makes the gun easier to conceal, but much harder to fire accurately -- how did that happen? He chuckled, then shrugged. ``That's how it was when I took it off the body,'' he said. ``I have no idea why the guy carrying it did that. But it's true that a whole lot of guys in my unit picked up better guns off the bodies when that firefight was over.''
Whether the rifle, a semi-automatic SKS that's similar to the better-known AK-47, was really recovered from a dead communist soldier after an ambush near the South Vietnamese city of Bien Hoa, and whether it's really been lying quietly in a back bedroom all these years, will likely never be known for certain.
Officers from the Opa-locka Police Department, Miami-Dade County police, and the Florida Highway Patrol who were conducting Saturday's buyback stayed true to their word. They asked no questions and kept deadpan poker faces locked in place. "You hear some amazing stories, that's all I can tell you,'' Opa-locka officer Robert Bell said. "But we're getting a lot of guns.'' Read the full story in Sunday's Herald.
A Christmas Story (8 p.m. Friday, TBS) A funny, touching 1983 film about cranky Santas, fascist teachers, unsympathetic teachers, the effect of low- temperature physics on the human tongue, the Second Amendment rights of children and -of course - alternative sexualities, particularly erotic fixations on desk lamps. And if you miss it at 8, TBS repeats it for another 22 hours.
It's A Wonderful Life (8 p.m. Friday, NBC) Critics and audiences alike hated Frank Capra's film about small-town desperation and redemption on Christmas Eve. But television audiences have disagreed, radically, since it became a TV staple in the mid-1970s.
Yule Log (5 a.m. Saturday, WSFL-CW 39) If you're fool enough to miss spending the holidays up north in a blizzard, WSFL is airing the image of a crackling fire for two hours Christmas morning. All the fun of a white Christmas without the high heating bills, snow-shoveling heart attacks or probable outbreaks of cannibalism among desperate snowbound families.
R.L Stine's The Haunting Hour (8 p.m. Saturday, The Hub) The kids have already broken all their new toys and worked themselves into a hyperkinetic frenzy from eating Christmas candy all day. Terrify them into subservience with this new series from the renowned author of scary children's stories R.L. Stine. And be prepared, this first episode, A Creature Was Stirring, isn't about some cute Christmas mouse.
Let me program your TiVo! Just click on my best bets for the week at www.tivo.com/guruguide.
Face you won't be seeing around Miami anymore: After seven years here, Fox News bureau chief Nancy Harmeyer is headed to Los Angeles, where she'll be boss of news operations for the whole West Coast. Wait til she tries to find masitas and moros out there. Or stone crabs. Hah! I give her six months before she comes crawling, begging us to take her back.
Larry King wound up 53 years in broadcasting Thursday night with a show that including guest appearances by (in ascending order of poll ratings) Barack Obama, Bill Maher, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Ryan Seacrest, Regis Philbin, Barbara Walters, Fred Armisen, Diane Sawyer, Brian Williams and so many others I lost count. Oh, yeah, Katie Couric was there, too. Not many people remember, but her TV career started and nearly ended on CNN when she had diarrhea during her first on-camera appearance. Dunno how her gastrointestinal tract was doing last night -- it's not mentioned in the transcript.
UPDATE: For one night, at least, it was like old time for Larry -- he was on top of his time slot with 2.24 million viewers, ahead of Sean Hannity on Fox News (2.16 million) and Rachel Maddow (874,000) on MSNBC.
Five decades and 50,000 interviews after he first jabbed a microphone into a surprised pop singer's face at a Miami Beach diner, Larry King is hanging up his suspenders. His Thursday night show on CNN will be the last of a broadcast career that eternally careened between pinnacles of wild success and pits of utter catastrophe.
King and his producers are being uncharacteristically tight-lipped about who will appear on the final edition of Larry King Live, which airs at 9 p.m. Comedian Bill Maher and American Idol host Ryan Seacrest will be at King's Hollywood studio -- but 14 mystery guests will also beam in from around the world via satellite.
Could President Barack Obama be among them? He's already shared a microphone with King, as has every American president since Richard Nixon. O.J. Simpson? King's mile-by-mile coverage of Simpson's 1994 slow-motion car chase by Los Angeles police inaugurated the age of crime as entertainment. LeBron James? Bill Gates? Lady Gaga? They've all been chatted up on the nightly show.
Or could the legendary allure of appearing on King's program -- which has survived the nose-dive of his Nielsen ratings even if the show itself hasn't -- even draw guests from the other end of this mortal coil?
Then we might see Marlon Brando, who unexpectedly and indelibly ended a 1994 interview by kissing King full on the lips. ("I still can't stop thinking about it,'' King said 15 years later.) Or segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who opened an appearance on a King show by ostentatiously glancing around the TV studio, then sneering: ``I don't see any blacks working here.'' (Retorted King: "They own the station. They're out to lunch.'')
In fact, it's hard to find anyone of any significance in the past half-century, living or dead, who hasn't sat across the table from King in his various radio and TV incarnations. Read my full story in Thursday's Miami Herald.
My idea for a reality show: How about if each week, some too-sexy-for-his-shirt pop star like Usher got up on stage to croon a backseat ballad, and hot fangirls in tight jeans came up and nuzzled him and then kicked him in the face? But damn it, I wasn't halfway through this post when I discovered that some greedy network suit had already ripped off my idea and even shot a pilot episode at Madison Square Garden! Watch for yourself -- you can all be witnesses in my lawsuit. If you don't feel like watching all the preliminary cuddling, fast-forward to about the 5:20 mark to see the excellent kung fu action.
Wondering what was the use of that digital converter box the government made you buy last year? You might get some use out of it starting Jan. 1, when a new digital-only network sets up shop. Antenna TV goes on the air at midnight on New Years Day with a 28-hour Three Stooges marathon, followed by a 26-hour Benny Hill marathon.
If you have any eyeballs or IQ points left after that, it switches to a vintage TV schedule -- and I mean vintage. The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show (1950-58). The Adventures Of Wild Bill Hickock (1951-58). The Adventures Of Rin Tin Tin (1954-59). Dennis The Menace (1959-63), The Farmer's Daughter, with the dumbfoundingly beautiful Inger Stevens (1963-66). Then for you young folks, there's The Monkees (1966-68) and The Partridge Family (1973-74). Oh, Monkees anthropologists might like to get a look at Circus Boy (1956-58), an adventure show about a 12-year-old boy named Corky, traveling with a circus at the turn of the 20th century. Corky was played by a young actor named Mickey Braddock. Real name: Micky Dolenz.
You won't be able to find Antenna TV on cable or satellite -- at least not for now. It's launching on the digital signals of Tribune Broadcasting stations in 17 U.S. markets. In South Florida, you'll find it on WSFL's 39.3 channel.
I don’t know if permitting gay marriage will ruin the institution, but I won’t be a bit surprised if Marry Me does. Anybody watching this Lifetime miniseries could reasonably conclude that there’s an inescapable correlation between matrimony and simpering twitdom.
This is the kind of show in which men propose 10 minutes into a date, and women study engagement rings with the intensity of theologians getting their first glimpse of a new Dead Sea scroll. The kind in which size really does matter in picking a mate — that is, the size of the wedding. The kind in which, when a female character stamps her foot and insists that “I don’t need a man to complete me!” you can practically see a little thought bubble over her head: But the cover of Brides Magazine, now that’s a different matter… Read my full review of Marry Me, which stars Lucy Liu, in Sunday's Miami Herald.