For many people, the pre-Oscars red carpet parade is the real highlight of the show, when reporters get to pepper the likes of Angelina and Sean Penn with inane questions about their "craft" and their couiffeure. Popular as it is, this annual tradition has never been a proud moment for journalism, but the sorry state of this year's coverage made one long for the good old days of Joan and Melissa Rivers. The sad cast of anchors at ABC was led by a bewildered-looking and formerly anonymous (at least to me) fellow named George Pennacchio, who, when he wasn't boring celebrities with rambling, inexplicable monologues, startled them with such questions as this hardball to a puzzled looking Kate Winslet: "You are in a very tiny category of people nominated such as yourself, it must be nice!" His follow-up was even more thoughtful. "Who do you owe it to–the good choices in your brain?" Later he asked Mickey Rourke, "You do things your way. What is your way?"
Not to be outddone, E!'s gushy Ryan Seacrest suffered an equally embarassing moment when he crouched down to interview the half-dozen dark-toned tots who star in Slumdog Millionaire, only to discover that they didn't speak a word of English. And after years of tag team coverage by Joan and Melissa, Rupert Murdoch’s ratings-challenged TV Guide Channel replaced them with an even scarier duo: former boybander Joey Fatone and Melrose Place’s Lisa Rinna. The latter has magically transformed herself into a slightly butcher version of Fatone's 'N Sync bandmate Lance Bass. Although their rapport was awkward and their bona fides a bit lacking, I was nonetheless transfixed. (Fatone, after interviewing Mickey Rooney: "Why are there so many old people runnin' around here?" Rinna to Miley Cyrus: "Everything you touch turns to gold, so can I touch you?") There were other standout performances, of course, especially by ABC's Randolph Duke, who trenchantly opined on the evening's fashion circus. But his act was slightly overshadowed by his grand attitude and taut, dour demeanor, which made me wonder if he was somehow related to Doris Duke. Next year, maybe George Pennachio can ask him.