When it comes to our jobs, we are all replaceable. The current recession has certainly brought this home to many people. There’s always somebody who is younger, smarter, or closer to the boss’ cousin waiting to step in and take somebody’s job. But how would you feel if you lost your job to a cartoon character? That’s kind of what happened to noted sportscaster Al Michaels. Michaels is the famous voice America has been hearing on Monday Night Football for years. Next year, he’ll be broadcasting Sunday Night Football on NBC. And he’ll have that NBC job all because of a cartoon character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
It’s a bit complicated and it’s all going on in the Valley, but we should be able to follow it, too. Disney owns ABC and ESPN. Universal owns NBC. Michaels has been working for Disney, who wanted Oswald, who was owned by Universal. So they made a swap: NBC got Al Michaels, and Disney got Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. I wonder how many MBAs they needed to work that out.
Of course, there were other parts of the deal. NBC gave ESPN more access to certain sports events, but the clincher was Oswald. In case you never heard of this lucky rabbit, you’re not alone. He was a character created by Walt Disney more than 80 years ago, before Walt came up with that famous mouse of his. Somehow he lost the rights, and somehow Universal/NBC got them.
When I first learned about the deal a few months ago, I thought it was a bit strange. But when I heard Al Michaels’ voice the other night on Monday Night Football, I couldn’t get it out of my head that this man — the announcer who, at the 1980 Winter Olympics, came up with the phrase, “Do you believe in miracles?” — was being traded for a fictional character.
Reacting to the deal, Disney president Robert Iger commented, “ … Oswald is back where he belongs, at the home of his creator and among the stable of beloved characters created by Walt himself.” I guess the corporate people at Disney thought it was important for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to finally get away from the bad influence of the likes of Woody Woodpecker and start hanging out with someone like Bambi.
I admit that I don’t understand big business, but are the Disney stockholders really excited that after all these years, they’ve finally recovered Oswald the Lucky Rabbit? Are they saying things like, “I’m not interested in profits or losses as long as we have Walt’s rabbit again?”
What about the kids who watch cartoons? Have they been moping for years, uncooperative at home, and uninterested at school because Oswald the Lucky Rabbit has not been part of their lives? In fact, is this rarely seen rabbit what’s been missing from American culture all these years? Would the crime rate have gone down and the literacy rate have gone up if we all had just watched Oswald as children?
Who knew that a cartoon character that most of us had never heard of could be so important? And if Oswald is this significant, other cartoon characters might have equal value in American society. When our economic situation started going downhill, should our top economists have consulted Scrooge McDuck? Instead of concentrating on Brad and Angelina, should all those gossip magazines really be focusing on Boris and Natasha? Rather than turning to all those diet gurus, should millions of Americans be commiserating with Porky Pig?
Oswald won’t be calling the football games next year instead of Al Michaels, but maybe we’re just a slip on a banana peel away from something like that happening. A television performer’s career is precarious at best. We’ve all seen actors and actresses replaced on shows by others who are younger, blonder, or willing to work cheaper. But at least these people were replaced by actual humans. How would you feel if you got back to the office from lunch one day and Tweety Bird was sitting at your desk?
Anything’s possible in television. Trading places with cartoon characters could start a trend. Who knows? Maybe David Letterman will end up at ABC in a trade for Fred Flintstone. At least CBS wouldn’t have to worry about Fred fooling around.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his Web site at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.