Does it seem like only yesterday that the YouTube nation was watching a drunken, shirtless David Hasselhoff eat a cheeseburger off the floor?
The story at the time was that he'd asked his daughter to make the tape as a spur to get himself off the sauce. That didn't change the profound grotesquery of watching a C-list celebrity trying to pick his way through a Big Mac piecemeal when he was about 45 seconds away from passing out. A slow motion tape of a bear going through garbage might have had more grace.
The upshot of all that in Hasselhoff's profoundly ugly divorce battle was that he got custody of the kids. (Who leaked the tape? Place your bets, ladies and gentleman. Your guess and the judge's are likely to be the same.)
And now, a couple of weeks later, in the year of our lord 2007, he's the tempestuous focal point of one of the most popular shows on television.
Yes, David Hasselhoff, the tall, twinkly-eyed has-been who used to talk to cars in prime time and sprint along the beach with Pamela Anderson in search of photogenic drowning victims.
The show is "America's Got Talent," the eclectic "give us your tired, your poor" version of "American Idol" which offers, at its conclusion, $1 million and a gig in Vegas, rather than a recording contract with Clive Davis. Who knows? Hasselhoff might be playing down the street in the Vegas version of "Chicago." Or "Guys and Dolls." Or "The Primo Carnera Story."
On the first round of "America's Got Talent," three buzzes from the judges meant you were out, just as one gong used to on Chuck Barris' junk masterwork.
The show is now in its second "let's get serious" stage in Las Vegas, having winnowed out all the no-talent pretenders who play their didjeridoos on pogo sticks and sing Shania Twain songs at the age of 107.
Hasselhoff is still there with fellow judges Piers Morgan and Sharon Osbourne, whose hair is of a cherry color not found on humans in nature and is a lot more fun than Paula Abdul will ever be. Morgan is to Executive Producer Simon Cowell, on the other hand, what Mike Dukakis is to Bill Clinton (whatever critical acuity he may have, he has the personality of a pickle fork). Hasselhoff is there to provide the egomania and the decidedly surreal version of showbiz sagacity for an era that watches hammered never-will-be celebs retrieve wet lettuce and cheese chunks from the floor while they dine.
And, best of all, offstage, Jerry Springer -- Jerry Springer! -- is there to provide the requisite humanity and encouragement.
In the reality TV world where Hasselhoff is an arbiter of showbiz value and Springer is the voice of empathy and civilization itself, clearly anything is possible.
Which brings me to this summer's "Big Brother 8," CBS' unstoppable evocation of Hell on Earth, in which a bunch of "houseguests" are forced to live together for the sake of personal display and the chance at a bunch of money.
Lest anyone delude themselves into thinking "Big Brother" isn't a major TV show, remember that it takes up three days a week and is hosted by Julie Chen, the wife of CBS uber-honcho Les Moonves.
And this installment has just given us what may be the sickest wrinkle yet in reality TV history. With three of this season's "houseguests" told they'll be forced to co-habit with their "worst enemy," we found out that one of those cobra and mongoose pairings was a daughter and a father who haven't talked in two years.
Daniele is a 20-year-old waitress at Hooters. Her father, Dick, is a 44-year-old bar manager who calls himself "evil Dick" and sports a Satanic goatee, hair so moussed it could injure a porcupine, tattoos and tattoos on top of his tattoos. Go to the "Big Brother" Web site and you learn that his favorite bands, unsurprisingly, are Guns 'N Roses, Motley Crue, the Ramones, Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson and (say what?) Paul McCartney.
Can we speculate that maybe, just maybe, this new post-Freudian wrinkle in reality TV may be taking matters a little too far?
So far, even, that even the kindly, offstage ministrations of a cheerful, loving and supportive Jerry Springer wouldn't be enough?