It is not the worst television show in the world. It only seems that way when you watch it.
It is called Inside the Actors Studio (search). It airs on the Bravo network (search) and is like no other program I have ever seen in its veneration of celebrity. Entertainment Tonight (search) and Access Hollywood (search) merely make heroes of entertainers. Inside the Actors Studio turns them into gods. It is the official televised church service of the American secular faith, and to tune into an episode is to long for the sound of chalk scratching a blackboard so that there may be some relief from the liturgy.
The host is a man named James Lipton (search). I know nothing about him except this: If he had been alive in the Middle Ages (search), he would have earned his living by licking the boots of the third-rate nobility and then bragging to friends about the sanctity of his tongue.
The live audience is a collection of students who want to grow up to be actors, and who alternately gasp and nod and stare in wide-eyed reverence at the TV or movie star whom Lipton interviews each week, receiving each word that he or she utters as if it were scripture.
But if Inside the Actors Studio is not the worst television show in the world, it was responsible, a few weeks ago, for the most repellant statement that I have ever heard in support of the perverse values of the celebrity culture.
The interviewee was Tom Hanks (search). As the program wound to a close, and I threw away the nub of yet another piece of chalk, Lipton turned to the camera and uttered the following: “I’d like to say a final word to our 240 masters degree candidates here at the New School University. Tonight, you have been privileged to spend a night with Tom Hanks. (Lipton wags his finger at the students.) In the years ahead... earn this!”
At this point, I put the chalk in my mouth and took a bite.
It is one thing to suck up to a celebrity. It is another to be told that it is a privilege to do the sucking. It is yet another to admonished that one must work hard in the years ahead to be worthy of that privilege.
This is not to criticize Tom Hanks. I think he is a fine actor.From what I read, he is also a kind and civil and perceptive human being. So much so, in fact, that I would like to think he was at least a little embarrassed by Lipton’s fawning, obsequious, tongue-abrading performance.
I would like to think as well that, when Hanks heard Lipton tell the students to “earn this,” he thought, if just fleetingly, just for a moment, that young Americans do not need to earn the right to be in the presence of actors, even superb, Academy Award-winning actors like Hanks. Rather, they need to earn the right to be in the presence of scholars and statesmen and people who have achieved notably in science and medicine and engineering and the management of civic affairs.
They need to earn the right to be in the presence of men and women of character and conviction, of integrity and dedication. They need to earn the right to be in the presence of those who found charities and are in other ways boons to society.
I am certain that Tom Hanks fits into some of these categories. But it doesn’t matter. The people in the audience were not awestruck by him because of the kind of citizen he is. They were awestruck because he was Forest Gump (search). Because he tried to save Private Ryan. Hell, even because he romanced a mermaid all those years ago.
Lipton concludes each episode of Inside the Actors Studio by reciting a questionnaire to his guests and eliciting their answers. I conclude this episode of my column by providing a few answers of my own.
What is your favorite curse word?
What single thing most turns you off?
Misplaced cultural priorities.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Inside the Actors Studio has been cancelled.
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch, which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT.