Wide Receivers on TV

Keyshawn Johnson loves interior design; Terrell Owens loves hot tubs.

The T.O. Show 

There are four principal avenues by which a top-rate NFL wide receiver might stay in the public eye when out of the highlight reels. The most popular involves making the journey into the broadcast booth, closely followed by taking a few high-fanfare rides down to central booking. Michael Irvin, not just a Hall of Famer but a deft multitasker, has heeded both callings with great aplomb.

More exotically, the WR might make a foray into electoral politics or its close cousin reality television. In the former arena, Steve Largent triumphed on four consecutive seasons of Who Wants To Be a Congressman? but—like Lynn Swann, a fellow Republican—collapsed in the final round of So You Think You Can Run for Governor.

It is the greatest wide receiver of all time who bears responsibility for legitimizing reality TV as an acceptable off-the-field occupation. Jerry Rice has appeared on Dancing With the Stars, Don’t Forget the Lyrics!, and The Biggest Loser, among other rarefied entertainments. The résumé he’s put together is almost touching, its promiscuity suggesting not the ruthlessness of an attention whore but the restlessness of a talent with too much time on his adhesive hands. Terrell Owens and Keyshawn Johnson are the latest stars to runs routes down the artificial turf of unscripted programming. Let’s think about Owens first because, hey, he always does.

Having launched his career in the popular arts by ushering the celebratory end-zone dance into its baroque phase, Owens now gives us The T.O. Show (VH1, Mondays at 10 p.m. ET), a documentary series in which he negotiates a period of transition and pays lip service to the idea of settling down. The action picks up in March of this year as the Dallas Cowboys release Owens from his contract. We see T.O. peevishly slouched in front of SportsCenter at his place in Miami, brooding. “I had a million things running through my head,” he says retrospectively. Whom did T.O. turn to for counsel? His mother? His pastor? His old high-school coach? “I called my publicists.”

Consoling though it may be, in a time of trauma, to have one’s ego stroked by a trained public-relations professional, this statement initially seemed quite pathetic, as did Owens’ declaration that his bodyguard is “the big brother that I’ve never had.” Is his life really so lonely? Mercifully, all becomes clear posthaste. Owens doesn’t turn to the people on his payroll for companionship; he just keeps his pals on the payroll. The publicists are Monique and Kita, and they function less as flacks than as surrogate sisters. The bodyguard, Pablo, is really just an old buddy—and a good thing, too, as he’s just a big honey bear who confronts no danger more clear and present than adjusting his own throw pillow.

T.O. shortly signs a contract with the Buffalo Bills, and all is well with his professional future. However, Mo and Kita have further plans for him. “We deal with Terrell,” one or the other says. “We don’t deal with T.O.” Providing the show with its core conflict, they encourage Terrell to develop powers of introspection and to find a quality woman. Naturally, this involves first spending a night out in South Beach and then an off-season in Los Angeles. “L.A., here I come,” says T.O. “L.A., here I am,” says T.O.

Here was T.O. in L.A., his famous gladiatorial arrogance looking like an endearingly boyish cockiness. He cruised the sun-cooked freeways in his Bentley, top down. Mo and Kita preened in the backseat. Pablo, riding shotgun, broke wind so noisomely as to cause some inter-lane weaving. A very minor romantic comedy had been launched. This season of The T.O. Showwill involve Terrell failing to make a commitment to any of the lovely women who visit his hot tub, all of whom Kita derides as hoochie mamas. Why she hatin’?

Where The T.O. Show is almost comforting in its banality, Keyshawn Johnson: Tackling Design (A&E, Saturdays at noon ET) is mildly bizarre in its. It seems that the three-time Pro Bowler has developed a keen interest in interior decorating and launched a firm to express that interest. Committed to his aesthetic principles, Johnson must battle difficult clients who don’t understand the importance of contrast or the potential of wallpaper. Especially passionate about window treatments, he talks with his index fingers about a cornice as if doing a postgame analysis of a cornerback. “The tufting is a bit much,” he says of a sofa. What does that rug do the room, Keyshawn? “It brings everything together.” At one point, he sends a subordinate on a slipcover-related mission with the parting words, “You need some help finding some places, just look at the navigation on the phone.” The AT&T Navigator duly directs the kid to an establishment called Sofa U Love. Why did he not just call the store? Flag down. Offensive product placement—15-yard penalty.