He began in the entertainment industry back in 2011 when he burst onto the national scene as the computer who could beat humans at “Jeopardy”. Now, 50 years later, IBM’s Watson is receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for a brilliant career in TV that few could have foreseen.
Following his groundbreaking appearance on the popular quiz show, in which he handily defeated two of the program’s all-time champions, Watson set out to prove he couldn’t be typecast as the nerdy brain with the lightning-fast trigger finger. It was a modest beginning that many at the time dismissed as a desperate attempt to hold onto his 15 minutes of fame just a little bit longer.
“After the ‘Jeopardy’ thing, a lot of people figured he’d retire back to the computer science lab to cure cancer or solve some other great problem,” said long-time TV critic and Watson biographer Ben Schultz. “I could see making the grand tour of the talk shows of the day to bask in the celebrity for a few weeks. What we didn’t expect was how he would take reality TV by storm, then use that as a base to move onto much greater things.”
Following turns on chat shows like “Live with Regis and Kelly” and “The View,” Watson shocked many observers when he got a bit part on MTV’s popular “Jersey Shore,” playing the ATM machine that Snooki tried to break into for cash to fund a drinking binge. He parlayed that appearance into still more work at that entry level into show business.
He appeared on “Maury” to air the dirty laundry that was the custody battle over a laptop born to a Kmart cashier from Sparta, Tenn. Watson at first denied paternity of the young machine, but agreed to pay Lurlene Martin child support after a DNA test proved he was the father, and after Lurlene’s fiancé hit him with a chair.
Next, he showed up on “Judge Judy” to resolve a dispute with an ex-roommate who claimed the two agreed to split the cost of a new couch. Then it was on to the action game show “Wipeout” where he suffered a near-fatal injury after bouncing off a huge rubber ball and into a pool of water. He was among the early round of rejects on shows such as “American Idol” and “The Bachelorette” before his big break came as a contestant on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice.”
“When it got down to the final three, and he was competing against Gary Busey and Meat Loaf, you had to figure Watson was in over his head,” Schultz said. “But he took that assignment to sell mangos and bananas to commuters in Grand Central Station and absolutely blew Busey and Loaf out of the water.”
What then became Watson’s Tropical Fruit On-The-Go franchise kept him financially well-off while he struggled as Trump’s assistant. Though co-workers said he labored ably as the computer that coordinated tee times at the Trump Westminster Golf Club, he obviously wasn’t happy being unable to show off his massive computing power.
“Most observers figured he’d just gradually fade from the scene,” said Schultz. “We were all surprised when he was announced as the successor to host Jeff Probst on ‘Survivor’.”
After travelling the world for several years in that role, mediating disputes over who stole whose rice, and which scrawny psycho-bitch would win a weekend at the all-inclusive Sandals Resort, Watson landed a role as the wise-cracking neighbor on the Charlie Sheen sitcom “No Men, Just An Addict and His Computer.” He transformed cheap laughs about porn sites and online gambling into a successful spin-off titled “My Dear Watson” that ran for five years on CBS.
After a failed attempt on the Ultimate Fighting Championship circuit during which his only victory in the Octagon came after an opponent tripped on his power cord, Watson focused on his growing tropical fruit empire for several years. He funneled profits from that successful enterprise into the TV production company he named “Watson Happening!”
“He was doing real well creating kid shows for Nickelodeon, and he almost overlooked what became the greatest opportunity of his life,” Schultz said. “His friends all knew he couldn’t stay out of the limelight for long, that he was born to be in front of the camera rather than behind it.”
Watson starred in a string of TV hits in the 2020’s and 2030’s, playing a variety of rogue cops, gruff district attorneys and eccentric crime scene analysts. But a small vanity project called “Inside Watson,” in which a single camera focused on his internal wiring and CPU functions, became an international hit when computers themselves began watching TV around 2040.
“Without that demographic, ‘Inside Watson’ would never have become such a breakout hit,” Schultz recounted.
From there, it was one success after another. He won multiple Emmys, basked in the acclaim of critics who credited him with bringing intelligence back into prime time, then launched his own TV network in 2045. That enterprise, which he named “WON” for “Watson’s Own Network,” cemented his reputation as a TV legend.
“I’d like to thank the academy for giving me this incredible honor,” said Watson in his trademark monotone. “And, of course, I want to also thank God.”
You saw the Visa credit card commercials all through the NFL playoffs and during the Super Bowl. It featured a collection of odd geezers who belonged to the “Never Missed a Super Bowl” club. Going all the way back to the first game in 1966, these guys had been to all 44 Super Bowl games. They flashed their ticket stubs to prove they never missed a one.
“I skipped my daughter’s wedding one year, but I wasn’t going to miss the big game,” bragged one into the camera.
“My first grandchild being born almost got in the way back in 1988, but I still made it,” said a second.
“My wife had a hemorrhagic stroke the morning of the 2000 Super Bowl,” added a third man. “She was literally bleeding from the ears. I called an ambulance, propped her in a lawn chair down by the road, and still made it to my seat just before kickoff. That was the year it was the St. Louis Rams against the Tennessee Titans. No way was I going to miss Kerry Collins leading the Titans to a near-upset.”
Sadly, one of the men featured in the commercial didn’t make it to Texas for Super Bowl XLV this year. Wisconsin native Bob Cook, 79, had to watch the game from his hospital room. Only a few days later, he was dead.
“I’m just a die-hard Packer fan,” he had told the Associated Press in late January, although it turned out that dying wasn’t really that hard after all.
It’s not too late for the perfect last-minute Valentine’s Day gift if you visit AsSeenOnTV.com.
This website is the home of all the preposterous crap that you’ve seen advertised on late-night TV infomercials. There’s Pajama Jeans and there’s the Potty Patch, a square of artificial grass on which your dog can pee indoors. There’s Nyce Legs Spray-On Nylons, which presumably can be used in conjunction with the FURminator De-Shedding Tool (designed primarily for furry pets but also perfectly adequate as a dipilatory). They have Dryer Balls and they have the Shake Weight.
It may not be appropriate for the love of your life, but they also have the Fart Machine No. 2, which “blows the Original Fart Machine away” using “patent-pending BOOM-BOX TECHNOLOGY to make those booming fart sounds that you asked us for.”
My favorite — and the gift I’m sure my wife is going to absolutely love — is the TV Hat.
The long-billed visor holds a darkened box where you can place your video iPod, giving you a semi-private viewing experience that is said to rival being in a movie theater. “Just place your portable player in the pouch at the front of the bill, put on the TV Hat, flip down the black-out sides, sit back, relax and enjoy,” reads the accompanying ad copy. “Everyone loves it, no matter what age!”
The original commercial for TV Hat plays in an endless loop on the website, promoting its use in a variety of settings. You can wear it while working out on a treadmill (if you don’t mind the risk of a fatal fall). You can wear it while commuting to work (passengers only; not recommended for drivers). You can wear it in bed (a husband is shown kissing his bookworm wife goodnight, then flipping down the TV Hat so he can watch porn).
They also say you can wear it while waiting for your flight at the airport, though they suspiciously neglect suggesting its use on the plane itself. I imagine that security screening agents, air marshalls and your fellow passengers might view you more as a terrorist threat than simply someone looking to enjoy “Glee” in private.
Order the TV Hat today. Supplies are limited, for reasons I think we can all understand.