On a recent Friday night (the deals go up ten grand on weekends) Monty appeared in the midst of a cheering, near-hysterical crowd of citizens, most of them dressed as piranha fish, earthquakes, and other natural disasters (symbolic representations of the fate in store for losers of the Faustian drama, and also good for catching the Devil’s—I mean Monty’s—attention). “This is the marketplace of America!” he announced. “Every time you make a move, you take a risk!” And the crowd stood as one, screaming as they once screamed (in innocent days) for the Beatles, desperate now to take the chance that could lead to damnation, divorce, and alcoholism—or, for the lucky few, eternal youth, a trip to Acapulco, and a complete set of garden furniture.This night, however, there was no such resolution—no one scored The Big Deal—and the catharsis, that feeling of inner peace one expects from shows like Let’s Make a Deal, Oedipus Rex, and Antigone—was lacking.
The Big Deal, of course, is the absolute summa of Monty Hall’s abyss. Here, the three contestants who have run up winnings of a grand or so earlier in the show—trading bicycle pumps for refrigerators, guessing prices of hair dryers, etc.—must choose between a bird in the hand and two—no, ten—in the bush.The contestants face three doors (an echo of the ancient story in which a lone figure, thrust into the arena and spurred on by the howls of thousands of blood-thirsty spectators, must choose which of three doors to enter—two hiding lions that will tear him to pieces, one hiding the princess who will give herself to him forever.) Behind one is five hundred pounds of old Turtles records; behind another a lifetime pass to Gone With the Wind; and behind the third—well, let the Firesign Theater tell it, in their tribute to Let’s Make a Deal, “Hawaiian Sellout” (from Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers):
—“So, here’s your last deal, Mrs. Presky! Now, which would you rather do: hit this Jew over the head with a bag of sugar, or beat out that rhythm on a drum?”
—“Oh, oh, I, I—”
—“Come on, love—”
—“I, I’ll take the bag!”
“You mean you’re gonna trade this four-foot cube of 18 carat Swiss buillion, and the snake knives, Mrs. Presky, all for that little bag?”
“Yes, I—I WANT THE BAG!”
“Well, alright then! Open it up!
“Oh, why, why, this—this is a bag of shit!”
“But it’s really great shit, Mrs. Presky…”
And thus, Mrs. Presky, and we, join company with the mythic heroes of the past. Every day but the Lord’s, and twice on weekends, men and women step forward to put it on the line. No matter what happens, they take it with a smile, because they know it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.
Thursday, Dec. 19
8:30 p.m., Ch. 9: Behind the Lines. A good review of press coverage of current events, and worth checking out. A recent offering on the kid gloves applied to Nelson Rockefeller throughout his career had host Harrison Salisbury going through remarkable contortions in his attempt to keep the hands of Tom Wicker and Richard Reeves off Rocky’s throat. “We used to go up to Albany all the time and ask the Governor about rumors he was giving money under the table,” Wicker said, more or less. “His reply was always, ‘That’s none of your business!'” “But, Tom,” Salisbury would reply, “what about the broader questions?”
Friday, Dec. 20
8 PM, Ch. 9: Washington Week in Review. Another dependable, usually intriguing public tv show, with George Will, the conservative columnist, as its brightest light.Saturday, Dec. 21:
8:30 PM, Ch. 2: Basketball, UCLA vs. Notre Dame. Always an exciting game. Keep your eye on Marques Johnson.
9 PM, Ch. 7: The Adventurers (1970). A three-hour version of the Harold Robbins epic, with Bekim Fehmiu as (more or less) Porfirio Rubirosa and Candice Bergen and a cast of thousands more, most of whom get massacred in the course of the picture. Utterly bullshit, and tons of fun. Whatever happened to Bekim Fehmiu, anyway?:
Monday, Dec. 16
1 PM, Ch. 2: Endless Summer (1966. Well-loved surfing flick about the search for the perfect wave. 8 PM, Ch. 2: Morgan! (1966). An interesting, and now somewhat dated, view of a crazed Marxist-Gorilla lover (David Warner) and the woman (Vanessa Redgrave) who loves him and is going to go nuts herself if she has to spend another minute with him. Worth seeing if you never have.
Thursday, Dec. 19
9:30 AM, Ch. 7: David Copperfield (1935, Dir. George Cukor). Part I of the great Dickens story (con’t. Friday, Dec. 20 at 8:30 AM), with W.C. Fields, Lionel Barrymore, Basil Rathbone. Simply a delight. If you’re home in the mornings, don’t miss it.
Saturday, Dec. 21
2 PM (approx.), Ch. 7: Ride the High Country (1962, Dir. Sam Peckinpah). Western, starring Randolph Scott and Joel McCrae guarding a shipment of gold with their lives and souls. Definitely the best movie all Christmas Week, and happy holidays to all.