Who Should Replace Gene Shalit on Today? (Hint: Me)
It's a sad day in film culture: After 40 years of raining puns, ridicule and unabashed blurb-addled ecstasy on morning-TV viewers across America, movie critic Gene Shalit is packing up his bow tie and retiring from Today. Shalit made the announcement in a press release, adding that his future plans "embrace publishing, the Internet, radio and commercials." Are you thinking what I'm thinking? No, not "Good luck." More like, "Job opening!"
This is a hallowed position in American criticism, and you'd better believe that Today producers will painstakingly search for just the right person to fill their Critic's Corner. To which I say, "Guys! Over here!" I've been watching Gene Shalit all my life! I know exactly how to uphold institutional continuity in a role (and at a network) that desperately needs it, and if there is God in heaven, NBC might allow me to prove it. To wit:
I can fake the funk!
Shalit was the Zen master of praising films without really praising anything at all, often extrapolating trenchant cinematic themes from arbitrary B-roll footage. And of course when he did add a legitimate nugget of acclaim, he would sell it, son. Take this earth-shattering review of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, which features such endorsements as, "See the three-headed giant flying lizard-y dragon!" and "Marvel at Rob Cohen's direction of this prodigious movie with a cast that looks like thousands!" (I am not making this up.) This kind of creative contrarianism is harder than it looks, but I am up for the challenge!
I can hate!
Especially on Funny People!
I can interview!
I like to think of myself as a pretty good interviewer, but it's not like I have to be. I could learn to pitch softballs! Just sit me down in an empty restaurant about six inches away from the talent, and let the awkward earnestness fly!
I can play well with others!
The key to Today is its chemistry, and I know chemistry. I could keep it light with Lauer, and I could roll with Roker. Mixing with Meredith ain't no thing. Hoda and Kathie Lee? They're all right with me! Ann Curry? Actually, I can't stand that bitch. But it would mostly be just like the halcyon days of Gene and Jane, I promise!
I can pun!
As alluded to in the above clip and basically any sentence Shalit has spoken since the Truman administration, the guy knows his way around a play on words. But his retirement shall not hold us back from carrying on the tradition, Shalit? (Groan all you want, it's in my Genes.) Anyway, if Family Guy thought Shalit was bad, wait until I o-pun up a cornball can of whoop-ass at 30 Rock.
I can shill!
These days, a critic is only really a critic if he can move the merchandise. And I'm not talking about movie tickets; I mean products. Shalit knew this years ago, and was way ahead of his time in his pitchman duties for everything from trivia games to camera retailers. Ask anyone who's seen my reel; I do LeBron James's "What Should I Do?" commercial better than he does it himself. (NB: A lot of people don't know Gene Shalit's 1985 Stage II commercial was a key creative influence for The Social Network's Winklevoss twins, but I did! Where can I send my résumé?)