Sometimes it's just time to bow out gracefully, to exit the stage with a bit of your dignity left. Johnny Carson retired just as his punchlines were teetering on the edge of self-parody. Jerry Seinfeld cut and run while his eponymous sitcom was at the top of the ratings heap. Hell, even “Star Trek: The Next Generation” warped out on a high note.
But there are those who, for whatever reasons, refuse to go gently into that good night. Arguments have raged for at least four seasons that maybe “The Simpsons” is past its prime. Perhaps. But the show still milks more laughs per episode than any five CBS sitcoms combined. There are those who say we don't need a fifth season of “America's Top Model.” There's even talk of euthanizing the doddering “60 Minutes” after more than 35 years.
But my vote for the Golden Couch Surfer Award (hereby given to the most overextended stay by an unwelcome houseguest) goes to syndicated celebrity news magazine “Entertainment Tonight.”
The show first beamed onto the airwaves in the bygone, big-hair days of 1981 and hit its golden era stride mid-decade when the trio of Mary Hart, Leeza Gibbons and John Tesh kept us abreast of such showbiz luminaries as Steve Guttenberg and ALF.
Throughout the '90s, however, the show grew irrelevant as studios exerted greater control over publicity and the Internet became America's prime source of gossip and naked celebrity snapshots. I gave up on the show entirely in 2003 when the producers hired Steven Cojocaru, hands-down the most annoying ass-kisser in the history of celebrity journalism.
In the years since Cojocaru's hiring, “ET” has taken a shocking downturn in its already questionable quality. So far this year, you're lucky if you can find a single celebrity on an entire episode.
Is it that there are no more movies, TV shows and records being made, or is it that no one wants to talk to “Entertainment Tonight” anymore? Perhaps it's that the show has become so elastic in its definition of entertainment. Earlier this year, the show paid $800,000 for the rights to air Mary Kay Letourneau's wedding. If you remember, Letourneau was the sixth-grade teacher who spent several years in jail for raping one of her students. This is the modern-day ideal of a celebrity? Ick. Suddenly endless coverage of Paris Hilton doesn't seem so bad.
Lately, the show has abandoned all pretense of covering the entertainment industry. Wacky wedding videos and surgical nightmare stories are the order of the day. Every single night now features lead stories about ... “Entertainment Tonight” correspondents. Wanna see the history of Mary Hart's hair? Wanna see Maria Menounous dress up in a fat suit and “investigate” the prejudices non-anorexic people face? What about a nightly interview with Cojo talking about his kidney transplant?
“ET,” do us all a favor and take John Tesh's lead: Go away, leave us in peace and accept your final fate as a Trivial Pursuit answer.