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Read My Lips: Family Viewing Rocks

By John Eggerton

Given all the talk in Washington about how vast the wasteland of programming has become and how hard it is to find family-friendly shows, I would just like to point out that NBC won the primetime ratings race last Wednesday night (Aug. 21) with a lineup that could have been accompanied by an Ovaltine commercial and a news break from John Cameron Swayze.

A ventriloquist was chosen as the top new talent in America, at least by NBC viewers. That was followed by a game show in which people tried to remember the words to songs. NBC won every half-hour with that lineup. As Major Bowes might have said about TV trends, “around and around and around they go.”

I was half expecting to see plate spinners and Eastern European dog acts fill the screen, followed by a good night kiss for Topo Gigio, not that there is anything wrong with that.

Yes, I will admit ABC had some guy’s blurred butt on its Candid Camera homage, but I don’t share the views of some that such fare threatens the moral fabric of the nation. Last night was one for goofy silliness and retro feelgoodness on broadcast TV.

If you had told me six months ago that a ventriloquist would win the NBC talent show, I would have bet the house, the farm, and the cemetery plot against it. Too corny, too unhip, even for the people left watching summer network TV, which is appparently not a large contingent, but includes me. A serial killer ventriloquist using real hollowed-out heads to draw crowds to one of the countless crime procedurals, maybe. A plotline in Grey’s Anatomy where a guy gets his hand stuck... Well, you get my drift.

I find it somehow sweetly reassuring that viewers got behind a guy who does singing impersonations through puppets and only wants to put ventriloquism back into the mainstream of American entertainment. I don’t know if that’s possible, but the quick-change artists from last year’s show say they have gotten millions of YouTube hits (some 20 million at last count) for their act, a throwback to the era a TV vaudeville, so, who knows?