1992 Floats In on Hot Air of Parade Talk, Talk, Talk

New year, new gripes.

Parades, for example. You, too, can host one. It's like running for office. All you need besides a microphone is the curious ability to say nothing and take up to 2 1/2 hours doing it.

As always, the Rose Parade floats were gorgeous, aromatic and telegenic. And, in a big surprise, not one float welcomed home the troops from the Persian Gulf War.

Following tradition, however, the prevailing assumption by Wednesday's typically fawning and effusive parade commentators--on ABC, CBS, NBC, KTLA and KTTV--was that anyone who builds or finances a float automatically qualifies for sainthood. Good engineering and creative flower arranging equal goodness. Give us color and spectacle, then we'll adore you. Backed by enough chrysanthemums and a high-sounding theme--"Discover Better Surgical Techniques"--Jack the Ripper would make the hero's list in this arena. Or even Saddam Hussein.

So, if you please, no raining on the commentators' parade. Only happy faces are welcome in Pasadena.

"This is no place for a statement," snapped KTTV parade veteran Bill Welsh, after one of his colleagues had mentioned that sheriff's deputies had "taken charge" of animal-rights activists protesting the use of live animals in crash tests by General Motors, which had one of the most spectacular floats in the Tournament of Roses gala. "This is a place for a parade," Welsh added.

But of course, parades are statements. This one, whose Christopher Columbus-saluting "Voyages of Discovery" theme angered many American Indians among others, was no exception.

Floats themselves are motorized messages, too, ostentatious propaganda either in behalf of their sponsors or some lofty cause such as education or world peace.

Moreover, some TV commentators have become masters of the glib plug, a la KTLA's long-running Bob Eubanks using the occasion of Wells Fargo Bank's float Wednesday to rave about the service afforded by that institution. So why should one side have the last word? Why not peaceful protests, too, whether American Indians, animal-rights supporters in bunny suits or anyone else with a cause to promote, provided those who may be breaking the law are willing to be arrested for their efforts? Activists are merely utilizing a lesson they've learned from TV: He who speaks loudest gets the sound bite. And a funny costume doesn't hurt, either.

Besides, protests are as American as, well, parades.

When it came to plugs, however, NBC was in a self-promotional class by itself, followed by CBS, as both networks echoed their past Rose Parade performances by using their coverage of this event to relentlessly call attention to themselves and their shows. This was their voyage of discovery.

They were their own floats, with NBC, in particular, reminding you of those former days on ABC's "Monday Night Football" when Howard Cosell would enthusiastically welcome stars of ABC shows to the broadcast booth as if they had dropped by unexpectedly.

In addition, the opportunity to escape Ed McMahon became another compelling reason to watch the parade on KTLA or KTTV, both of which omitted commercials from their coverage in contrast to the advertising-laden Big Three networks.

Flashing his Grin From Hell, McMahon was everywhere on ABC, CBS and NBC Wednesday morning fronting those irritating get-rich-quick spots for the American Family Sweepstakes.

McMahon: "Make me rich, you say? How about $10 million rich?" He urges Americans to enter the only sweepstakes "with my picture!" He adds: "Hurry!" Then the panoramic teeth, the blinding whiteness, the grating artificial smile.

You'd pay $10 million just to get him off the air.

This series of spots joins those for Publishers Clearing House, Sports Illustrated and Nike (whose cartoon-style raging, demonic, colossus-size version of Charles Barkley of the Philadelphia 76ers plays on his reputed violent nature) in being among the most annoying on TV.

The best post-parade coverage, meanwhile, came later Wednesday night on KCOP, where tongue-in-cheek reporter Rich Procter, speaking to viewers "without commercial interruption" while boldly admitting being "consumed by the spirit of (KTLA commentator) Stephanie Edwards," took a tough stand against marching bands having to follow horses. Cut to tape of parade workers, shoveling horse poop from the street.

Poop, it seemed, was everywhere.

REIGNING ON THEIR PARADE

KTLA Channel 5 uses a commercial-free format to score a big ratings victory in its parade coverage. F28

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