and suggest some answers to the confusion at 1775 Broadway,nNickelodeon’s corporate office.nAt 8 P.M. Nick at Nite begins its broadcast night. Its primentime lineup begins with Mr. Ed, followed by the newlynacquired Bewitched, which, along with the also new GreennAcres, has been receiving the heaviest rotation of all Nicknspots. At the time of this writing, Bewitched is beingnpromoted in four different spots. Two are “Smart TVnshoppers compare” commercials. In the first, a promotionalnstill of the cast of the NBC sitcom Who’s the Boss? is shownnand dismissed for having “no Dick York.” Cuts to shots ofnDick York’s “dorkiness,” and the spot ends with a typicallynflattering Nick message: “More of what you watch TV for!”nAdvertising gets mocked and propagated simultaneously;nand so, coincidentally, does TV. “You” are not someonenwho watches the stupid sitcom W/io’s The Boss?. “You” arena discriminating TV connoisseur, watching Bewitched instead.nNow watch the real commercials. In this and othernmirthfulness, the joke is made by Nick at Nite, your friendnand fellow TV viewer.nThe mechanism by which Nick harmlessly gives advertisingnand television their affectionate knocks is ancommon bond among its target generation: superior irony.nWith a bottomless source of obsolete inanity in 50’s and 60’sntelevision, McRobb’s generational peers are able to reassurenthemselves of their cultivation with no intellectual effort.nThus, Nick at Nite can produce “mock” jingles in itsn”mock” commercials — “Whether you like color or blacknand white / you get good TV with Nick at Nite — Brandnreruns!” — and assure its viewers not only of theirnHouyhnhnm superiority, but of their lofty distance fromncommercials and what they represent.nTV viewing is not witless, Nick insists. For example,nanother promo for Bewitched depicts the “Nick at Nitenanswer man” above an imaginary correspondent’s questionnon the given topic, “How Powerful is Samantha?” “DearnAnswer Man,” writes Iris, “Could Samantha create anboulder so heavy even she couldn’t lift it?” To thisnonce-theological dipsy-doodle, the answer man replies, in anperfectly acceptable non sequitur, “No” (shot of car floatingninto tight parking spot), “but can she ever parallel park!”nThe Nick at Nite announcer, whether in his natural form, orndisguised as the answer man, is always in a position to makenfun of the shows, and, incidentally, his own useless extratelevisualnknowledge.nThe Bewitched spot runs in heavy rotation, but not thenheaviest. That honor is reserved for Green Acres. Selling thenshow’s location, “Hooterville,” as “TV Land’s Hometown,”nNick scrolls a list of TV Towns: New Rochelle,nMayberry, Bedrock. The list is too fast to read on firstnviewing, and the towns’ corresponding shows are neverngiven, but the point is made: “Hooterville” is just one namenon a list of TV towns, and Nick at Nite is the one with thenlist. And what does Nick at Nite do with shows that aren’t asnstupid as Green Acres?nCar 54, Where Are You?, which ran until March, andnMr. Ec?both have a sense of buHesque about them; both arenconspicuously designed to provoke honest mirth. Mr. Ednknows why it’s funny. It’s about a talking horse. But to sellnMr. Ed, Nick has to play up the joke even further, takingnMr. Ed’s lines out of context, surrounding them with zaniernor broader zingers. Mr. Ed, at one time on the show, saysnjokingly, “Why couldn’t I have been born a woman?” Nickntakes it out, shows it, and meanly jokes, “Mr. Ed—it’s notnjust for kids anymore.” In another, Wilbur, Carol, and Ednare presented as a “love triangle.” One can easily laugh atnthis stuff, but it has nothing to do with enjoying the show; innfact it brazenly subverts it. But, as all kids know, makingnjokes at somebody else’s expense is a great way to makenfriends, and it makes little difference whether the jokes arentrue.nThe fantastic contrivances, ridiculous characters, andnconstant mugging of almost the entire cast of Car 54 is toonobviously deliberate to be made to look silly, but Nick tried.nThe Nick at Nite announcer sells Toody and Muldoon asn”the Enforcers,” patrolling a dangerous New York City thatnhas nothing to do with the show. Nick sarcastically points tontheir “serious” problems: cut to Fred Gwynne, as Muldoon,ntelling the captain, “We need more people for Joel’s barnmitzvah.” But the sarcasm doesn’t work. No one would putnJoel’s bar mitzvah on TV as a real problem. Nick at Nitenhere has its face against the glass wall of an equal hipness,nand, like all faces so pressed, it takes on an unpleasantnexpression. Will McRobb, an apparently sincere man,nwould protest against this reading of the spot, and did remarknon the difficulty and lack of necessity of repackaging Car 54.nBut it was done nonetheless. TV Land can’t have its bordersncompromised.nThe shows themselves, taken as shows, arentreated as the cartoonish nuUities theynusually are. But TV as an element innlife — its omnipresence — this is what Nicknat Nite concerns itself with.nUnless it happens by accident. Take, for example, SaturdaynNight Live, which Nick has not developed any good waynto promote. One spot opens with sentimental music and anmontage of famous SNL bits. “Good friends . . . Goodntimes . , . Landsharks.”nThis is a funny enough satire of a beer commercial, butnnot of Saturday Night Live, which spent a great deal of itsntime producing exactly this kind of parody. As a Nick atnNite-style promotion, it is a complete failure. The reason isnthat if “the best promos come from the dorkiest shows,”nthen SNL has to have some of the worst promos. The samenis true of SCTV, which up until February 1990 followednSNL, and (to an extent) Laugh-In, which up until Augustnfollowed SCTV. Nick at Nite had a crack at Laugh-In,nwhich is dated enough to seem “dorky,” or unhip. Thesenshows had a pioneering effect on the kind of satire that Nicknat Nite does so brillianfly; but they (especially when theynsatirize television) are competitors when on Nick’s airtime.nIf anyone is going to master television on Nick at Nite, it isngoing to be Nick. As a result, it is forced to compromise itsnTV Land idea. “SCTV doesn’t really fit into the hard-linennnAPRIL 1991/23n