Blown out of Proportion: The Biggest and Baddest of 1998

Bigger isn't necessarily better, but if all you did in 1998 was pay attention to your television screen, you'd be forgiven for thinking so. This year's crop of nonevents blown up into mega-events, or of actual happenings exploded way out of proportion into super-mega-ultra events, has been rich indeed. Never mind that truly important happenings (like what?) got less than the airplay they deserved. This was, as seen on TV, the year that blew, and blew big.Seinfeld's last episodeWhenever a long-running TV series has its grand finale, it's a chance for the writers to have one last hurrah, the actors to clutch each other tearfully as the credits roll, and the networks to hype the episode for weeks in advance, usually with a "behind-the-scenes" special episode or, as was the case with "Seinfeld," a sappy highlights show that aired before the big bye-bye. But instead of leaving 'em wanting more, the hyper-hyped last "Seinfeld" episode just prompted many viewers to ask, "Is that all there is?"Ally McBeal's short skirtsThe length of TV character Ally McBeal's skirts, coupled with the thinness of actress Calista Flockhart's legs (plainly visible below said hemlines) actually made the mainstream news on several occasions. In an attempt to stir up controversy, such hard-hitting "news" programs as "Entertainment Tonight" further investigated the possibility that Flockhart was anorexic (denied) and that her skirts were too short for feminism (affirmed, or denied, depending on who got asked). The logic here is obvious: Hot show brings big ratings. If we talk about the hot show, we'll get big ratings, too. Yikes.The Starr reportAll the blowing in this lascivious document got blown so far out of proportion, you'd almost think it was worth impeaching the president over. But instead of letting the whole thing blow over, Clinton got to blow up Baghdad. Made for better TV, anyway.Dr. Jack's "60 Minutes" assisted suicideHey, how often do you get to watch someone die on national television (on a show that isn't a miniseries, sitcom or hit drama, that is)? More viewers tuned in to see Thomas Youk's almost-live death on "60 Minutes" than to any other program that night in November. It barely needed to be blown out of proportion, as the debate over assisted suicide blew right into high gear after this.Alcohol on campusCollege students drink alcohol. Some drink too much. Some die because of it. Happens to kids who don't go to college, too, but those incidents get blown off by mainstream media in search of a sexy frat-house story. When a handful of college kids blew their limits and died this fall, it became the Big Issue on Campus, and therefore the Big Issue on Your TV Screen. The hype alone is enough to drive any kid to drink.ViagraDiscover that some medical insurers aren't covering prescriptions for Viagra, the dick-enhancer of the moment, and call it a controversy. Find a few guys who take it to soup up their performance and keel over afterwards, and call it a catastrophe. Find a woman who figures what's good for the gander is good for the goose, and call it a curiosity. But whatever else, TV just couldn't drop the balls on this one: There was just too much blowing at stake.

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