Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Los Angeles Grammy news reporter's "bizarre on-air episode"

A reporter for Los Angeles's CBS affiliate suffered from -- well, I don't know what it is that she suffered from, actually -- on Sunday night. You can view the video at The Telegraph:

That is harrowing. Clearly, she is trying to say something, and yet she knows she isn't. The confused expression on her face -- why can't I say these simple words??? is difficult to watch. Yahoo claims that she's doing fine now, however:
One of the most memorable performances from Sunday night's Grammy broadcast was also one of the most terrifying: Serene Branson, an Emmy-nominated CBS entertainment reporter began speaking gibberish during the network's post-Grammy newscast. However, after initial fears that Branson may have suffered a stroke on-air, she is reportedly doing OK.

"She was examined by paramedics on scene immediately after her broadcast. Her vital signs were normal. She was not hospitalized," the CBS affiliate that employs Branson said in a statement posted late Monday on its website. "As a precautionary measure, a colleague gave her a ride home. And while Serene says she is feeling better today, she wants us to know she followed-up with a visit to the doctor for some medical tests."
Now that she's apparently, hopefully doing fine, I can reveal what I first thought when I saw this video. It's a bit frivolous.

Back in 1985, CBS revived the classic science fiction/fantasy/horror anthology program The Twilight Zone. They did just about everything right with it. They hired writers like Harlan Ellison, Alan Brennert, and George R. R. Martin. They hired directors like Wes Craven and William Friedken. The show adapted short stories by people like Ellison, Martin, Theodore Sturgeon, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and Stephen King. They also broke up each hour episode into two or three segments -- so if a story only needed ten minutes, that was all it got.

The episodes run occasionally on Chiller, and many of them seem oddly dated now. Perhaps it has to do with the shot-on-film-but-edited-on-video limitations. But during its first season, it was one of my all-time favorite television shows.

Anyway, my favorite segment of the series was called "Wordplay," which featured the occasionally funny comedian Robert Klein as a salesman who is trying to learn about his company's new medical product line. Slowly, over the course of several days, the salesman hears people "misusing" words -- teaching old dogs new trumpets, that sort of thing.

By the end of the segment, every single word has changed, and the salesman is forced to relearn every word all over again.

The director, Wes Craven, and the screenwriter, Rockne S. O'Bannon, pace it just about as perfectly as they can. The first time he hears an oddly placed word, the salesman thinks he must have misheard. By the end, he's completely overwhelmed and hopeless. It's as good as anything either of them has ever done.

Like any great piece of horror, it works on several levels. On the one hand, there is an ordinary man who is trapped in a world that is slowly changing in ways he cannot control. All he can do is try to cope, yet he's frustrated in these attempts, until finally the world just makes no damn sense to him anymore.

The transposition of the words is, in itself and taken out of context, hilarious. A dog is now called "Wednesday." That is so bizarre as to be funny, and yet the context in which we discover that a dog is now called "Wednesday" is surprisingly moving.

But more than that, I always saw the segment as a metaphor for the onset of dementia. Imagine living your life by one set of rules but then, slowly, because of something like Alzheimer's or herpes, your grip on reality is shaken. Everyone around you seems to suddenly be using an entirely new vocabulary. You try to get your point across and yet the more you struggle the harder it is, the more pathetic and helpless you feel. And the more distance separates you from everyone else.

Of course I hope that Ms. Branson's "episode" is not indicative of any serious medical condition, and that she completely recovers. And I hope that she is not trapped in The Twilight Zone.


A.Jaye said...

You know I never watched the Twilight Zone? Maybe the odd one or two episodes but I can't aactually remember doing so. Thanks to this post I'm more than interested. Your observations of good horror are spot on Sprague. Coming from you anything less would have disappointed me.

As for the chick on live TV - she fluffed her lines. Doesn't mean she's an idiot but she looked like one.

Ricky Sprague said...

Thanks for the praise, A.Jaye. It means a lot.

Some of the new TZ segments are very good -- "Wordplay," "The Shadow Man," "Shatterday," "Button, Button," and "I of Newton" are my favorites. Those are all from the first season, actually. Some of the segments do not hold up now, however.

The "reporter" is now reporting that she had a very bad migraine headache:

I'm no physician, but that sounds exceptionally mundane to me. I know that migraines can really knock you down, but I've never seen it cause someone to speak in tongues. From now on, when someone tells me they have a migraine, I won't believe them unless and until I hear some gibberish.

"If you're really having a migraine, then why were you actually able to TELL ME that you have a migraine?"