This is a low

One of my favourite phrases in television is “jumping the shark” – the moment when a series whose popularity is possibly on the decline does something desperate to try to give ratings a boost. The saying comes from a moment in Happy Days when Henry Winkler, playing The Fonz, literally jumped a shark on a pair of water-skis. The Fonz was on the water skis, I hasten to add – The Fonz jumping over a shark that was in turn wearing a pair of water skis would be a step too far, clearly. But it was still pretty ridiculous, and the episode is generally regarded as the beginning of the end for the show.

Tonight, running myself ragged on the treadmill at the local gym, I finally saw a show jump the shark. In fact, I may well have seen popular culture truly eat itself.

There’s not much excuse for this, but I was watching entertainment news show Extra, on NBC. There, I’ve said it. Given that my other options were “All Access: Awesomely Ridiculous Celeb Moments” on VH1, or back-to-back Pavarotti obits on CNN, it somehow seemed like the lesser of three evils.

Hosted by Dayna Devon and Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath, Extra is the televisual equivalent of reading OK! magazine, yet marginally more vapid and irritating. You’d get more in-depth interviews from trained turtles. And everything is coated in a shiny layer of pure unadulterated sucrose. Mark McGrath has progressed from rock star to polished presenter, while Dayna Devon’s no slouch in the journalism stakes. She’s presented TV news for ten years, and while at ABC in Memphis, she was part of a team that picked up an Emmy for Best Live Broadcast.

So when Dayna decided to have tummy tuck plastic surgery because she felt that she couldn’t lose the weight gained after having two children, you might have expected a serious piece on the pros and cons of such invasive surgery. You’d have been wrong.

Not only was Dayna advertising the fact that she had sold the ‘before, during and after’ pictures of her surgery to People magazine (“the new edition hits newsstands tomorrow” according to Dayna, in a thinly veiled voiceover plug), but the feature was essentially a commercial for the revolutionary techniques of her incredible plastic surgeon.

Who just happens to be her husband.

Yes, Mr Dayna Devon (Brent Moelleken) is a plastic surgeon – and coincidentally when Dayna decided to have work done, he bravely stepped in to offer his services. The remarkably positive coverage of his surgery on primetime American TV did not even enter his mind.

How astonishing is it that in this country, a TV presenter can sell to People magazine an exclusive story essentially advertising her husband’s business, and at the same time persuade her TV employers to run a feature on the whole thing? Can we expect Davina McCall to appear on her own show on BBC1, urging viewers to buy Heat magazine for its feature extolling the virtues of her father’s graphic design business? Whatever happened to the days of journalistic integrity and independence? They vanished long ago, it would appear.

At least viewers are having the good grace to be outraged by the feature. On Extra’s own website, viewers are leaving less-than-complimentary comments about the whole sorry affair. “Annie” sums it up pretty well:

“Nothing better than showing off your good-for-nothing huge ego while giving your hubby some free advertising. Niiiiiiice.”

While “A.B.” hasn’t got a bad point either:

“I remember when I heard that Dayna was marrying a plastic surgeon. Hmmmm… I wonder what her underlying motive was. She always desperately seems to try to be someone she’s not – fake laugh, fake sympathy in her voice… and now it’s been confirmed, a fake body.”

And “Donna” seems to have it sewn up too:

“I am so amazed that you did this story. How could you? …You may be fortunate enough to work in entertainment and be married to a plastic surgeon but you were very insensitive with this report. You come across as competely vain and I am very disappointed in you and the network. There are millions of women who “live” with their “ugly” bodies and you just made then feel terrible. I am ashamed of you.”

If you want to watch the piece in question, you can do so here. Just don’t expect Emmy Award winning television from Dayna Devon this time, OK?

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