Your point is magnificently taken, and I remember posting something when
the awards were first created that they weren't about Sam at all, but
television ratings. Awards shows are hideously cheap to produce, and are
promotion tools for sagging arts venues.
Because ratings are what matter above all, to give such an award to
someone who someone really deserves it would not attract that sacred
demographic (which, if you read the piece in the Sunday Times magazine of
Oct. 20, is a crock).
Notice how all the recipients have been comics (albeit good ones) and
writers. Notice how Twain is beside the point.
In a just world, the prize would go to writers, the first having been
awarded posthumously to H.L. Mencken (Terry Teachout's new biography, THE
SKEPTIC, is quite good).
After him, the usual lovely suspects: Garrison Keillor, Roy Blount Jr.,
Christopher Buckley, Cynthia Heimel.
But these awards aren't about Sam. They're about television, and the
forum and the circle should do everything possible to distance themselves
from this fakery.
Not that Newhart isn't deserving. He should have been first.