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You may have seen the story on the news this past weekend: adult parents—people presumably with the mental capacity to drive a car and vote and everything—who spend upwards of fifteen thousand dollars on a birthday party for their child. One lady was shown to have paid close to $40,000 (FORTY thousand!!) on a party for a four year old who would clearly rather have been somewhere else.

What struck me about the story most was that I’ve seen it before.

Every year.

All my life.

In fact, way back in the early sixties (before I was born) the third-greatest* TV show of all time, “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, did an episode about this. Laura wanted to give Richie as big a birthday party as all of Richie’s friends were getting. The episode seemed absurd as Laura described the “typical” birthday party, which involved renting out an entire amusement park. Rob and Laura decided to buck convention and just throw an old-fashioned party for Richie, which turned out to be a disaster, but—in true sitcom fashion—a fun disaster for us, the viewers.

Since then, several other TV shows have done episodes about how out of hand a child’s birthday party can get. And, every year, just like the news crews returning to Capistrano to watch … whatever it is that comes back to Capistrano each year (birds? IRS agents? I can’t remember) there will be news stories about out-of hand birthday parties.

And, of course, it will make the news every winter that there’s an ICE STORM somewhere that has knocked down power lines and stranded motorists. Every summer, there will be stories of HURRICANES and every spring there will be a story about the start of baseball season and Larry King’s latest wedding. It leads the cynical among us to sneer at the news people, “Sure, the storm is a news story, but why must you act surprised EVERY YEAR about the fact that winter has come?!?!”

The reality is that, thanks to cable TV and the internet, there are about a billion outlets from which we consumers may consume our news. To compete in such a market, news crews have to strive to be accurate, of course, but they must—at all cost—avoid being boring. So your local television station has a choice to make. Could they just flash across the bottom of the screen once, “It’s liable to be cold tonight?” or should they block out one fourth of the screen with a radar picture of what may or may not be the area you live in (who knows?) and keep a running commentary across the bottom of the screen that lets you know which school districts are closing so that you’ll know to go ahead and call a babysitter and miss the names of everyone who’s guest-starring on the show you’re watching? Sure, it’s annoying and makes you not want to watch that channel again … except that if something that big is happening I can’t afford to turn away! Oh, wait! I better turn away ‘cause the other channel is predicting snow AND ice! Never mind that you probably weren’t going anywhere the next day and your kids are out of school, THIS IS IMPORTANT STUFF!

And you need to find out what the weather’s going to be like for the birthday party.

* behind “The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Rockford Files”.