MTV Video Music Awards The 2004 event was held in a Miami auditorium that resembled nothing so much as a Las Vegas version of Mad Max's Thunderdome. The only thing missing was Tina Turner. But considering the joint was bulging with cell-phone brandishing post-tweens who probably wouldn't have recognized the pride of Nutbush even if she walked among them wearing a sandwich board advertising her name in neon lights, it's just as well she didn't show. This year's three-and-half-hour gala was directed by Oscars telecast veteran Louis J. Horvitz, an old hand at allowing cumbersome awards programs to grow tedious long before they run overtime. Of course, even Horvitz would be hard-pressed to maintain a tedious pace over that span, so a few fun, even great, moments managed to shine through. Among the more memorable:

  • Will Smith's appearance in an old-school Mike Schmidt Phillies jersey (Schmidt was with the Phils when they actually played well and won a World Series and stuff) to introduce Miami to the newest member of the Heat. Shaquille O'Neal paused from repeating the phrase "Can you dig it?" long enough to promise the home folks a championship. Shaq then repeated "Can you dig it?" a few more times before sitting down. Hey, he didn't rap.

  • Australia's Jet rocking out on "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?" and winning Best Rock Video.

  • The bouquet of roses wrapped around Gwen Stefani's head of bleached, billowy curls. I guess the Shirley Temple look was in because the gals broke out the rollers this year — Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera all sported big hair, but Aguilera stole the show with her sexy post-modern flapper look. That hip-hop-in-a-speakeasy production number was dynamite, giving Aguilera a chance to not only sing and dance, but also to grab Nelly's trousers. However...

  • Alicia showed her true tresses in a frizzy 'do that suited her much better — and wore a revealing thong (think Farrah Fawcett-poster revealing) — when she sat behind a piano to perform an exquisite version of "If I Ain't Got You." Nature abhors a cornrow void, however, so Stevie Wonder joined in on harmonica. The song segued into a supercharged "Higher Ground" that Lenny Kravitz desperately tried to ruin with an overwrought Jimi Hendrix impression. The tacky wah-wah guitar fills were bad enough, but that leather fringe getup with the feathers made him look like a cross between Hawkman and Tommy Chong. Lenny also hammed it up in commercials for the Gap in which he ironed his hair to bump and grind with Sarah Jessica Parker.

  • Keys' tribute to Ray Charles: "He showed us the way across the dial and around the world." Amen, baby.

  • Kanye West's smoking duet with Chaka Khan — a woman so hip even saying her name makes you feel cool. Chaka Khan.

  • Jay-Z's sartorial tribute to Al Capone. Sitting beside him, Beyonce looked like his moll.

  • Dave Chappelle's bemused question for the crowd: "What don't you like?"

  • The Terror Squad, Lil' Jon, the East Side Boyz and the Yin Yang Twins shook the house and made Bruce Willis smirk. I'm guessing Bruno forgot his harmonica because he didn't jump up on stage to spark an impromptu jam on the Seagram's Golden Wine Cooler jingle.

  • Mr. "Vote or Die" himself, P. Diddy, on who deserves to win the Best Female Video: "I hope there's a five-way tie." That's why he's the activist.

  • Carson Daly (aka America's favorite tool) introduces the Bush and Kerry girls, each of whom urged the crowd to vote before plugging their respective fathers for the White House. Unfortunately, Jenna and Barbara appeared via satellite from New York, the site of the GOP convention. Too bad, because the Video Music Awards could've used a good on-stage brawl between two sets of well-to-do white girls with high-level political connections. Speaking of which...

  • The Olsen twins showed up to introduce a routine power ballad by that "inspiration to newlyweds," Jessica Simpson. Mary-Kate also took a moment to "thank people for being so supportive of me the last few months" while trying to get the hang of her hippie-chic threads, which looked about two sizes too big. A girl in the crowd wept. Then Simpson serenaded fans from a trapeze festooned with wedding flowers, which makes me wonder how dumb she really is because she wound her wrist in a hand grip to keep her balance. It was a very smart thing to do — otherwise she might have fallen and squashed people, which would've been tragic as well as funny. The crowd showed its appreciation by waving illuminated cell phones instead of lighters.

  • Courtney Love didn't do anything self-degrading before millions, mainly because she wasn't there. Fortunately, we still had Jimmy Fallon and that guy in the Big Foot suit with the Beastie Boys.

  • Jon Stewart's conversation with Rev. Al Sharpton, who vociferously objected to the dearth of black nominees for the Viewer's Choice Award. But after getting the rhetoric out of his system, Sharpton conceded that he really didn't care because "I voted for my girl Christina (Aguilera)." Stewart was impressed by the viewer turnout, amazed "that millions of you are willing to vote for something irrelevant." By the way, the GOP convention starts tonight.

  • Usher on winning Best Dance Video: "I guess there ain't no comparison between me and Justin Timberlake." Except in Justin Timberlake's version of reality.

  • The way the sound was always discreetly killed whenever an artist said a bad word. You can rest easy now, Tipper Gore.

  • Outkast wins Video of the Year for "Hey Ya" and the joint suddenly looks like a political convention site. Balloons drop and signs pop up everywhere. Some reflect the names of states, others say "Choose or Lose," "I Will Vote" or "I Need a Fake Driver's License." Okay, so the last one wasn't emblazoned on a sign. Because it goes without saying.

    Biography: Jack Nicholson
    Susan Sarandon calls Jack Nicholson "the father of cool" and she's right. In fact, Jack is so cool, he didn't bother to grant A&E a fresh interview for this two-hour retrospective of his colorful life. A lot of it dealt with his femmes fatales (Anjelica Huston, Rebecca Broussard, Sandra Knight, et al.) and his movie successes, like Chinatown, Five Easy Pieces, Terms of Endearment, As Good as It Gets and About Schmidt. But the most interesting bits were from Big Jack's salad days. The clip of the baby-faced Nicholson as the masochistic dental patient in Little Shop of Horrors ("I enjoy going to the dentist more than anywhere else") is priceless. Unfortunately, his participation in such underground classics as The Trip, Psych-Out and Head are somewhat glossed over. The last was a film Nicholson created for the Monkees with Bob Rafelson. In the book Monkeemania, Peter Tork described Nicholson as "the kind of person who is probably genuinely off his rocker yet socially correct at all times. He channeled all his manias and craziness into acting." And the world is a much better place for it. Just imagine what Nicholson would've turned into without showbiz.

    Command Decisions
    On the eve of the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, the Continental Army is faced with a column of British regulars and Indians besieging the key outpost of Fort Stanwix. Q: Who do you send to spread a rumor among the Indians? A: A lunatic. Since Jack Nicholson wasn't alive yet, the job went Hon Yost, a "half-wit" whom the Indians considered to be holy. Yost suggested the Continental force coming to relieve the fort was "as numerous as the leaves on the trees." The Indians deserted en masse, the British broke the siege and the remaining American forces gathered to battle (and eventually capture) the main British army. Who was the inspired rebel hero who concocted this clever scheme? Benedict Arnold. I'm telling you folks this because a) the folks who made this program conveniently forgot to do so and b) it explains to my friends why I'm always wandering around with a book in my hand.


    Justice League Unlimited
    The sorceress Circe turns Wonder Woman into a pig (with bracelets!) and will only reverse the spell if Batman gets up on a nightclub stage and sings. You heard me right... Batman sings. In cape and cowl, DC's implacable Dark Knight Detective croons a torch song like Mel Torme. "Is there nothing you can't do?" asks the breathless Zatanna, the JLU's resident magician. Now I'm not averse to humbling Batman every now and again (DC seems to believe he could take on the entire universe and win), but if I wanted the Camp Crusader, I'd watch Adam West "biff" the heads of Cesar Romero and Burgess Meredith. Still, the episode reminded us that the choicest moments of the revamped series are the appearances of DC's lesser known heroes. Here, we only get a few cameos, but it was nevertheless a delight to see the Elongated Man (a stretchable detective — not to be confused with Plastic Man) and the Crimson Avenger, a modern-day highwayman notable as DC's first-ever masked hero. But to hit its own sweet spot, JLU needs to ditch the funny bone and take its characters more seriously (though not too seriously).

    American Justice
    Bill Kurtis dug up the lurid case of Fr. John Geoghan, the Catholic priest at the center of the controversy that led to the resignation of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law. Numerous victims came forward to accuse Geoghan of molestation during his service in various parishes, but instead of removing him, the Church moved Geoghan to different posts and had him seek counseling. The victims had to deal with their anguish on their own (often in self-destructive fashion) while Law hushed up the crimes with a cover-up worthy of the Nixon Administration. Geoghan himself never quite grasped the pain he created, and could never understand why he was defrocked and sent to the slammer. "The priesthood meant everything to him," said his friend Fr. Joseph Casey, who seems equally in denial. Geoghan was murdered in prison. Patrick McSorely, one of his alleged victims, died of an overdose after granting an interview to the program. These tragedies aside, the saddest aspect of this sordid story is that many good men of the cloth now serve under a dark cloud of suspicion. And if you doubt that good priests do exist, check out Diary of a City Priest by Fr. John McNamee, a man whose selflessness, humility and grace reminds self-righteous cads like me how much louder works speak than words. — Danny Spiegel has the weekend off. Today's column was written by G J Donnelly.