It has long been true that somewhere, there’s always someone who’s offended by something. It might be something totally outrageous, or it might be something so mild that you wonder how anyone could become upset. But until recently, to voice an objection, you’d have to write a letter or make a phone call. Now, with omnipresent social media and the nature of digital communication, those complaints come almost instantly and in much greater volume, and the threshold for whining has been lowered considerably.
Case in point: a recent episode of NPR’s “Fresh Air,” in which TV critic David Bianculli was reviewing some DVD releases of 1970s talk shows. In his segment, Bianculli included a 1970 clip of “The David Susskind Show.”
“The David Susskind Show” was in its 12th season as a rather dry panel interview show, mostly focused on current affairs — the Charlie Rose show of its day — when someone on his staff suggested doing an episode about Dan Greenburg’s new book, “How To Be A Jewish Mother.” Greenburg was invited, as were actor George Segal (then starring in “Where’s Poppa?“), rising young comedian David Steinberg, pizza chain owner Larry Goldberg, and fashion designer Stan Herman. So was a filmmaker named Mel Brooks (whose “The 12 Chairs” had just opened), who quickly dominated the conversation. Susskind tried to maintain control, steering the discussion from the difficulties of assimilation to being “too Jewish” in America in that era to how success was measured in their families, but his questions only slowed down the comedy and plugs for the guests’ various projects, and Brooks rarely let a lull pass before he started riffing on one thing or another.
It became Susskind’s most popular show ever, despite a few complaints from people who objected to the comedic Jewish stereotypes. They were probably the same people who complained in 1983 when I did a parody on my WHCN/Hartford morning show of the second “Star Wars” movie in a five-part series we called “Return Of The Rabbi,” complete with the Death Star Of David and Jewish-American Princess Leia. As with the guests on Susskind’s show, everyone involved in my parody (Martha Cohen, Gary Horn, Irv Goldberg) was Jewish, which helped defuse some of the objection. As for the rest of it, with full support from management, we let it roll off our backs and it dissipated quickly.
NPR, on the other hand, felt it had to issue a public statement, so they had their ombudsman (a journalism professor), look into Bianculli’s segment, investigate why he did it, explain the history of the Susskind show, and on and on. Here’s his rather lengthy summary of all that, which somehow drags “All In The Family” and Stephen Colbert into the discussion for context.
Better yet, how about just going back and watching the original (with modern commercials inserted by Hulu)?