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Isn't this special?

Maybe, maybe not. What is sure to be a star-packed, glossy - and gloss-filled - special begins NBC's monthlong 75th anniversary tribute to itself.

By ERIC DEGGANS, Times TV Critic

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 5, 2002


It's likely to be the most self-congratulatory three hours in TV history. And if you know Hollywood's penchant for celebrating itself, you know that's saying something.

Still, NBC's 180-minute live tribute to itself tonight -- dubbed NBC's 75th Anniversary Special -- is bound to have some high points. You can't assemble a crowd this impressive without a few sparks, including Jerry Seinfeld, Kelsey Grammer, Bill Cosby, Katie Couric, Tom Brokaw and Mr. T.

The special, produced by Saturday Night Live creator/producer Lorne Michaels, epitomizes a month of looking back for NBC, which is including its radio legacy in the celebration. Tributes to come include a Cosby Show retrospective, a salute to Must-See TV and an L.A. Law reunion movie.

For those who can't get enough, there's even a $49.95 coffee table book, Brought to You in Living Color, featuring passages from literary luminaries such as NBC chairman Bob Wright and NBC president Andy Lack. A sample of Wright's wit: "For every memorable TV catch phrase, there is no doubt an equally compelling advertising slogan."

Ummm . . . okay.

Critics have dutifully pointed out that this deluge of glad-handing likely won't highlight the darker chapters of NBC's history, including: its penchant for strong-arming those who invented TV and radio technology out of royalties; the horribly stereotypical images of black people offered by the show Amos n' Andy; and the utter lack of diversity in its urban sitcom model (popularized by the megasuccessful Friends and Seinfeld) that helped exclude minorities from much of prime time television.

And one big name is skipping the show: legendary Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, who told Esquire magazine's Bill Zehme he rejected a personal appeal from Wright.

Still, since some of you are probably going to tune in anyway, here's this critic's short list of favorite NBC moments you won't see:

5. Wacked-out guest Crispin Glover demonstrating his kick boxing skill by flinging a platform shoe-clad foot within inches of David Letterman's face on Late Night with David Letterman.

4. Richard Pryor's appearance on his self-titled 1977 comedy show in a body stocking that made it look like he had been, um, emasculated, while claiming NBC censors had taken nothing from him.

3. The A-Team's "Jump the Shark" moment when evil Gen. Hunt Stockwell (a gloriously out-of-it Robert Vaughn) captures the team and forces its members to become covert government agents -- meaning the U.S. military had to pick up the tab for Mr. T's hefty jewelry bills.

2. Dateline NBC anchor Jane Pauley's on-air mea culpa for the stunt that cost NBC News its then-president and the newsmagazine its top management: the rigged explosion of a General Motors truck in 1992 to illustrate a story on real problems with the vehicle's gas tank.

1. Rock goddess Cher turning to Letterman in 1986 and telling him the real reason she hesitated to appear on his show: "I thought you were an a---."

-Times researcher Cathy Wos, the Associated Press and Times wires contributed to this report.

AT A GLANCE

NBC's 75th Anniversary Special airs live at 8 tonight on WFLA-Ch. 8.

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