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What I Watched Last Night

Back in 1995, Court TV brought everything that was sordid and wrong with the O.J. Simpson and the Menedez brothers trials into the living room of anyone who had cable TV. Since there hasn't yet been a trial of the century this century to justify the network sucking up space on the dial, owner Time Warner decided it will dump the Court TV name in January 2008 in favor of something that reflects a move to programming about "real people and real situations."

You know, because real women on trial for poisoning their real husbands aren't real situations. On top of that, in a drastic move to get trashy America and old people to finally break down and buy computers and high-speed Internet connections, the company announced that actual trial coverage will be aired only on the Web.

If last night's Speeders and Getting A Ticket In America is any indication of what the new Court TV is to become, I have a suggestion for its new name: Succhiamo!

That's Italian for "we suck!"

First up was Speeders, a program that follows various city cops and state troopers as they hand out speeding tickets to everyone from electricians to doctors. It's a show designed to be a lighthearted look - complete with wacky music and an even wackier Gotta Be Punny Announcer Guy - at a cop's day when that day doesn't involve being shot at or chasing fleeing drunkards. What we end up with is a show that tries to be Cops without being anywhere as good as Cops because, quite frankly, there's nothing interesting or entertaining whatsoever about cops writing speeding tickets.

Likewise, the speeders are nowhere as interesting or entertaining as the crackheads and domestic abusers who are often the main ingredients of Cops. Maybe meter maids see their share of weird shit on the street, but there's a reason nobody has bothered to give them their own weekly show.

The only person of interest, if you want to call it that, was Oxnard, California, city officer Ernie Orozco - a cop so prolific in his ticket-writing (he once wrote up 70 drivers in a single shift) that he's called "The Hammer." "I gave my mom a ticket one time," he tells a surgeon rushing back to check on a patient at the local hospital; nobody gets a break, except maybe priests. And even there, they'd better be rushing to a really nasty exorcism or something.

Things continued rolling downhill with Getting A Ticket In America, a program that cobbles together years-old footage collected from video cameras mounted on cop car dashboards. Unfortunately, everyone's already seen this stuff a zillion times on shows like World's Wildest Police Videos, World's Scariest Police Shootouts, and You're So Bored You're Watching This.

Ticket is so awfully been-there/done-that it uses police video show veteran John Bunnell to bring read the cheesy, cop cliche-ridden commentary. Christ, if there's any show begging for Robert Stack to be dug up from the dead to for cheesy, cop cliche-ridden narration, it's Ticket.

The highlight of Ticket was the musical cop-video montage of drunk drivers staggering and falling over to The Blue Danube Waltz. Although entertaining, it's the same sort of thing we've been seeing almost every week for years on America's Funniest Home Videos. And that's really more than enough to fill this programming niche. Let's move on to jewel heists and pyramid schemes.

*

An evening of unremarkable TV was salvaged by WTTW'S airing of the somewhat remarkable The Legacy of Jim Croce, an hour-long unplugged reminder of how cruel private air transportation in podunk towns has been to the American pop music industry.

Legacy was shot not long before Croce, then 30 years old, and his guitarist partner Maury Muehleisen ended up dead in a pecan tree grove at the end of a runway in Natchitoches, Louisiana, in 1973. Croce's albums that made him a folk-pop music name (1972's You Don't Mess Around with Jim and 1973's Life & Times) had been out for barely a year, and his third, I Got a Name, was scheduled to be released the day after his plane didn't quite clear the trees.

Legacy presented Croce and Muehleisen doing stripped-down versions of some of Croce's better songs, including the haunting, often musically complex and classically-flavored "These Dreams" and "Lover's Cross." Most of all, it was a reminder that even a somewhat butt-ugly truck driver (who 40 years earlier could've easily been mistaken for a Marx Brother) with a unique voice and a story to tell had the ability to give us some of the best folksy regular-guy music ever made that didn't involve the gosh-howdy yokelness of John Denver or the pretentious rambling of Harry Chapin.

"And the roller derby program said/that she was built like a 'frigerator with a head . . . "

- "Roller Derby Queen"

Nope, there aren't enough guys like this to go around. Makes you think there really is something to be said for just renting a damn bus.

*

Catch up on what else Scott Buckner has been watching in the What I Watched Last Night programming guide.



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Posted on June 8, 2007


MUSIC - They Flirted With Disaster.
TV - A Quincy Top 10.
POLITICS - The Traitor Who Is A Great Patriot.
SPORTS - Gambling At The Grate.

BOOKS - Scientists Gone Rogue.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - A People's History Of Uptown.


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