BEFORE WE GET to our list of People to Watch in 1999, I have a confession to make about Dan Rather.
Every time there's a national or international crisis that requires the networks to interrupt their broadcasts with a "Special Report," I switch to CBS and Dan Rather.
I do this for one reason.
Because every time I see that tight, eerie smile flash for no reason, every time I see those dark eyes narrow menacingly at a White House or overseas correspondent with whom he obviously disagrees, every time I watch that syncopated tap-tap-tapping of the pen in his hand, I honestly believe there's an excellent chance he'll go off the deep end.
At any moment, I can see ol' Dan shooting to his feet, stabbing a quivering finger at the camera and shouting to millions of stunned viewers: "Those @#$%&* Iraqis have really done it this time! They keep jerking our chain, our bombers will turn Baghdad into a @#$%&* strip mine!"
Don't tell me this couldn't happen, either.
This man is like 10 ounces of Semtex. He could blow in a heartbeat.
It is with the same morbid fascination that I now watch the administration of Jesse "The Body" Ventura, who was sworn in as Minnesota's new governor the other day.
The former pro wrestling bad guy tried mightily to lend an air of dignity to the proceedings, going so far as to shed his normal campaign attire of camouflage fatigues for a conservative dark suit.
But then, at the end of his 15-minute address, he shouted (apropos of nothing): "Hoo-yah!"
Which I thought was a nice touch. At least he didn't yell: "Tap the kegs, dudes, and bring out the wenches!"
Still, reading the inaugurationcoverage the next day, my favorite paragraph was this one: "On election night, Ventura suggested he might rappel down to the capitol building from a helicopter to start inauguration day. He later dropped the idea at the urging of his staff."
Oh, I love this guy. I really do.
And I wish I lived in Minnesota. Because for the citizens of Minnesota, every day will be like Christmas for the next four years.
Every morning, Minnesotans will be able to pick up the newspaper or turn on the TV news and wonder: "What kind of insanity is Jesse up to now?"
In addition to my man Dan Rather and, ahem, Governor Ventura, I'll be paying particular attention in 1999 to:
Bill Clinton -- How does he do it?
Look, I'm a nervous wreck if I have an overdue library book.
This guy has a sex scandal hanging over his head, an impeachment trial looming, a wife who wants to take a Louisville Slugger upside his head, a daughter who's mortified at his antics, millions of Americans who loathe him, dozens of former friends and colleagues who feel betrayed by his lies, all sorts of civil lawsuits awaiting him -- and he's rolling along, singing a song!
Did you see the prez the other day announcing tax breaks for long-term health care?
He looked so relaxed, you thought he was in a bakery ordering a dozen crullers.
Whatever he's on, I want a fistful of it right away. I'll pay cash money, too.
Sally Jessy Raphael -- Here's my idea of hell: stuck on a StairMaster watching this woman's talk show. This, unfortunately, happens three times a week at my health club, where the TV is locked on one channel.
The other day, the Queen of Sleaze took a break from discussing cheating husbands and teen-age hookers to do a show about animals. The audience was filled with little kids and their parents.
So naturally, after a few animals were brought out (I remember seeing a porcupine and an owl), Sally's question about one particular species was: "How do they have sex?'
Atta girl, Sally. Way to class it up.
All I could think was: Where's the guy with the tranquilizer gun when you need him?
Dick Clark -- OK, Now it's official: The guy did sell his soul to the devil. He's what, 114 years old? And he still looks 35!
Did you see him on his rockin' New Year's Eve special? You couldn't find a wrinkle on that man's face with a photon microscope.
If he goes one more year without aging, I say we cut him open, find out if he's one of those animatronic figures from Disney World.
Albert Belle -- Hey, Oriole fans, three little words:
Tick, tick, tick ...
Pub Date: 1/07/99