|New Targets Lined Up For a Deadpan Deadeye|
John J. O'Connor
Michael Moore is not a comedian. His ulterior motives are far too serious. But he is what used to be called, when I was growing up in the Bronx, a jokester. He's the Irish-American smarty whose deadpan delivery masks a genetically subversive heart. Having memorably skewered a chairman of General Motors in his phenomenally successful documentary "Roger & Me", Mr. Moore is now taking his astute indictments of corporate America to, of all places, NBC, owned by General Electric. TV Nation has it's premiere tonight at 8.
Looking a bit like Margaret Rutherford done up for a part in "L'il Abner," Mr. Moore gets off to a neat start by standing outside the Rockefeller Centre offices of NBC and complaining to passers-by that he hasn't been given an office. As luck would have it, Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato, whose inability to resist grandstanding in front of a camera is legendary, stops to commiserate with Mr. Moore even though he's not sure what's up. Mr. Moore mentions "Roger & Me". "Oh," says the reassured politician, "that's famous!"
The pilot for TV Nation was made a year ago and some of the material on this first edition is dated. On a trip to Russia, for instance, driven by worries that nuclear missiles are still aimed at his hometown of Flint, Mich., Mr. Moore grabs a loudspeaker and assures his hosts: "Our Defense Secretary is Les Aspin, you have nothing to worry about." Names change, but Mr. Moore's humor remains wickedly on target. He suggests to the Russians that maybe they should point the Flint missile elsewhere, maybe at Beverly Hills and the homes of stars, maybe Steve and Eydie's.
The results of polls, suspiciously unscientific, are flashed on the screen at station breaks. First poll: "65 percent of all Americans believe that frozen pizza will never be any good and there's nothing science can do about it." Next: "10 percent of all Americans would pay $5 to see Senator Orrin Hatch fight a big mean dog on television." Furthermore, we learn, a majority of both men and women would root for the dog. Mr. Moore has his liberal biases tattooed on his arm.
Following the passage of the NAFTA treaty, Mr. Moore moves to Mexico. They make television sets down there, he reasons, now they can have a television show. It's called synergy. He asks one manager of an American owned factory: "how do you say in Spanish, please, 'Direct me to where you dump the PCB's'" One Mexican guide, touting the benefits of the new capitalism, admits that most workers earn very little. But, she explains helpfully, they have few expenses, no cars and no home mortgages.
Mr. Moore doesn't hog every report. Some are farmed out to correspondents. Merrill Markoe, a comedian and former writer on NBC's "Late Night with David Letterman," goes to Appleton, Minn., a depressed town that wagered it's salvation on the building of a model prison. The problem, at least until shortly after this taping: No inmates. Ms. Markoe walks through the eerily empty Prairie Correctional Facility with an official who speaks enthusiastically of "everything you would have at home (washer-dryers, microwaves, HBO, Cinemax, Showtime)čexcept freedom." Fortunately, a postscript says, some 300 prisoners later arrived from Puerto Rico.
With more and more television news magazines fighting for different angles on and exclusive rights to the same stories, usually presented with dumbfounding sincerity, Mr. Moore's breezy, irreverent, blithely biased excursions are generally refreshing, frequently hilarious. He may run into roadblocks when prospective subjects, now forewarned, see him coming and run for cover. But then there's decades-long spectacle of people trekking onto "60 Minutes" to be sandbagged by Mike Wallace. The lure of getting on television is apparently irresistible. As long as they spell your name right. Final Moore poll this evening: "16 percent of Perot voters believe if dolphins were really that smart, they could get out of those nets." Let's hope "TV Nation" stays around for a while.
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