Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fox TV Pulls a "Reverse Heidi"

No, it's not a college football play, a call option trading strategy, nor even a subchapter heading in the Swiss translation of the Kama Sutra.

(Yes, I know Swiss is not a language. Work with me here.)

On November 17, 1968, the AFL's Oakland Raiders came back from a 3-point deficit with 65 seconds to play, scoring 14 points to beat the New York Jets. A thrilling finish to a critical game that would have been forgotten, ultimately -- except for the paradoxical fact that nobody saw it.

Nobody saw it, because NBC executives saw fit to cut away from the end of the football game to begin the previously scheduled, two-hour broadcast of Heidi, a dramatization of the beloved children's novel.

Outraged football fans lit up NBC's switchboard in protest of the network's boneheaded decision. NBC Nightly News anchor David Brinkley, on behalf of the besieged network, apologized to viewers on his Monday evening newscast, concluding in his trademark sardonic tones, "Next time, the little girl from the mountains will have to wait."

Last night, after a 40-year wait, sports fans everywhere exacted their revenge on the pesky little milkmaid. Only it wasn't football but baseball that did her in; and it wasn't NBC but Fox Television; and it wasn't even Heidi but the Hugh Laurie medical drama House that got kicked in the milk bucket.

You see, Major League Baseball playoff games are notoriously slow-paced. Managers bring in parades of new pitchers from the bullpen in the middle and late innings, and each new pitcher needs warm-up time. Pitchers, catchers, managers, and coaches don't want to make a strategy mistake, resulting in endless conferences on the mound. Batters adjust their helmet and batting gloves between pitches and call timeout if the pitcher is taking too long. Closely competitive games often go into extra innings.

Last night's Dodgers-Phillies game, which aired on the Fox Television Network, actually ended in regulation innings, with a Jimmy Rollins double in the ninth giving the Phils the walk-off win. But by the time the parade of 10 pitchers ended and the bullpen catcher spat tobacco juice in the dirt for the last time, a mere 3 hours and 44 minutes later -- reasonable, actually, by post-season standards -- Fox's prime time programs had been delayed, starting with House.

Fox aired House in its entirety immediately after the ballgame. In today's TIVO-driven, DVR-equipped era of time-shifted viewing, however, many fans missed it. Those who had pre-set their DVRs to record House at its scheduled time found that their 60-minute recording consisted of 45 minutes of baseball and only the first 15 minutes of the medical mystery -- minus commercial time. Hardly enough time to warm up the MRI machine; barely enough time for Dr. House to insult two patients and three colleagues.

House fans were livid. On Internet message boards, they posted in protest. On Twitter, they tweeted in hash-tagged agony. A few Luddites (those with DVR capability, anyway) probably even phoned the Fox switchboard. But it was all in vain. None of them realized that it was Fortuna, Karma, and the Universal Studio in the Sky all rolled into one, messing with their viewing obsession and evening up the score. Heidi climbed the Alps; the Fates, represented by Fox, tripped her up (using House's cane) and pushed her back down the mountain, 40 years later. And then they stole her goats.

Nowadays, Dear Reader, if you happen to see a forlorn, 50-year old woman wandering around Canton Bern, tending no goats, her long, blonde braids streaked with gray, her empty milk buckets in crooked hands, take pity. Listen for a while to her wistful, bittersweet stories of when she skipped along mountaintops. Maybe give her a hug and toss a Euro or two into her rickety buckets. Above all, Dear Reader, please don't ever say the words "Baseball", "Fox", or "McCarver" in her presence; that would be the cruelest cut of all. For now you know what turned Heidi 'ho'.

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