After Don Imus of MSNBC's "Imus in the Morning" tried to be funny with some racially disparaging remarks about the Rutgers University women's basketball team last week, he initially defended his actions by saying that it was a "comedy act."
Then, after the loud and instant outcry of black leaders calling for his immediate dismissal, Imus moved quickly to apologize over and
over again -- on Rev. Al Sharpton's radio show, and on, of all places, NBC's "Today Show."
This is strange considering NBC News had no problem suspending him for two weeks from his MSNBC cable network TV show, "Imus in the Morning," which is simulcast with the radio station that airs the show, the CBS station, WFAN New York. CBS has also suspended Imus for two weeks.
"Seinfeld"'s Michael Richards, of course, had a comedy act too.
But these aren't real comedians, per se -- not of the true standup variety, many of whom can spend years developing their acts. Instead, the material is merely -- and usually -- of shock value.
Imus has been doing this kind of stuff throughout his 40-year career. He takes great pains to note he is an equal opportunity offender -- making equal fun of Jews, gays, and Catholics.
In recent years, he has catered to politicians who appreciate Imus' knowledgeable background in political issues. Up until a couple of days ago, many were standing in line to make an appearance. Guests appearing on his show have included Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Senator John McCain, and Senator Barack Obama, for example.
NBC definitely didn't need this blow. Lowly cable news channel MSNBC had been making some gains on CNN in the morning -- with Imus getting close to 400,000 viewers.
Now comes the real test as Imus looks to save his job. Will the audience return? Will the incident curb his witty edge -- and thus any entertainment value of his show?
Two weeks from now, "Imus" advertisers decide whether to make a return visit -- brands that include Bigelow Tea, Chrysler and the New York Stock Exchange. That will be a key indicator.
Anyone can make a mistake and offer regrets. But there are usually consequences -- depending on how much hurt is released.
Some observers say it's now hard watching a "Seinfeld" episode -- on syndicated or cable TV or on DVD -- without thinking about Richards' "comic," racially charged routine. The same may be true for Imus.