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Tim, Tiger, the Tonys and Kobe: What a Father's Day for TV...
June 16, 2008  | By David Bianculli

From morning until midnight, broadcast TV yesterday provided one memorable, riveting Father's Day offering after another. Tim Russert, saluted on Meet the Press. Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate, battling pain and age, respectively, at the U.S. Open. A series of great performances, and performers, at the Tony Awards. And then, finally, the end of Game 5 of the NBA Finals, with the Lakers holding onto a lead, for once, to force a Game 6.

What a day...

The Russert salute on Meet the Press, hosted warmly by Tom Brokaw, was very sweet, and often touching. If you wonder why such a fuss has been made over Russert's unexpected death, it's not only because of the sudden loss, and because Russert was such a good friend and adviser role model to so many. With his professionalism and dedication, he was one of the few TV news guys (or gals) left who embraced the old mold of serious, hard-working preparation, interrogation and analysis. You almost felt like his fellow journalists were mourning the death of quality TV journalism -- or, at least, one more piece of it.

As well they might.

But what got me the most yesterday, in the Russert salute, was the show's use of a previous Russert Father's Day signoff to end his program -- a signoff in which he saluted, quite lovingly, both his father and his only son. Personally as well as professionally, Russert had his priorities lined up just right, and leaves quite a legacy in both departments.


Then came golf, with Tiger Woods entering the final day of a major championship with a one-strike lead -- which he promptly lost after the first hole, and a shaky and painful start. Meanwhile, 45-year-old Rocco Mediate kept plugging, playing and smiling, and wound up in the clubhouse with the lead, waiting to see whether Tiger, who had regained and re-lost the lead over the course of the day (and the day of the course), could pull off one more miracle and catch up.

He did, on the last putt on the last green, forcing an 18-hole playoff that takes place today. ESPN covers the first nine holes (11:30 a.m. ET), and NBC takes over at 2 p.m. ET for the back nine. The best golfer in the world, nursing an ailing knee, versus a man who's never won a major, and who entered the Open as a qualifier, not even ranked in the Top 150 -- the stage is set for sports drama at its best, no matter what happens.


While Tiger and Rocco were still battling it out, the Tonys began on CBS -- and began with the breathtaking opening number from The Lion King. Other performance highlights last night included a reunion of the original cast from Rent, numbers from Sunday in the Park with George and South Pacific, a rousing performance by Stew and company from Passing Strange, and Patti LuPone singing "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from Gypsy -- earning a boisterous standing ovation then, and a Tony soon afterward. It was nice, joked the woman who had last won for Evita in 1980, to pick up one of these awards "every 30 years or so."

And while singers were singing and golfers were golfing, basketball players were shooting and fouling, as the Los Angeles Lakers held off another fourth-quarter surge by the Boston Celtics to win Game 5, avoid losing the 2008 NBA Finals, and send the tournament back to Boston on Tuesday. The Celtics were going for the tying basket in the final minutes when Kobe Bryant forced a turnover and slam-dunked an emphatic winner.

At the end of that game, having spent so many hours keeping at least one eye on so many captivating TV events, I was exhausted -- but, as happens too seldom these days, impressed by what broadcast TV can do what it tries. NBC's Russert and golf, CBS's Tonys, ABC's basketball: There was something wonderful for everybody, and, yesterday, everything seemed wonderful to me.

So today, watch the U.S. Open playoff. And if you get a chance, please listen to today's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. I'm the guest host, and interview Kelli O'Hara from South Pacific (which won for Best Musical Revival last night, among several other Tonys) and Jenji Kohan, creator of Showtime's Weeds, which returns for its fourth season tonight. I'll also, wearing my TV critic's hat, offer a tribute to Russert.

So little time, so much to watch...




Scott said:

I certainly don't celebrate his passing, but for the past twelve years I have found Meet the Press thoroughly unwatchable. For a show that is supposed to feature the leaders of national and foreign affairs, it never seems to change. Maybe the show is simply reflecting the calcitrant nature of our political system.

From the transition from the Clinton to the Bush andministrations, there was a significant change in tone, however. For years, Russert seemed to pursue an unflinching vendetta against the Clintons. Week after week, we were treated to Whitewater, Kenneth Starr and Monica Lewinsky (in absentia).

You would have thought that Russert would turn his supposedly critical eye to the Bush administrations' questionable justification for and botched execution of the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, Russert's most memorable contributions to coverage of the Bush administration will probably be those shamelessly softball one-on-one interviews that he did with the president.

Comment posted on June 17, 2008 9:47 AM

GiorgioNYC said:

Got to agree with the poster. Russert's premature death is very sad for those who loved him. But that doesn't make him a great journalist. To the poster's comments re throwing softballs at Bush -- Russert did the same with the unspeakable Cheney.

Comment posted on June 18, 2008 8:57 PM

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