IT WAS one of those television moments. One of those terrible, unforgettable, cringe-inducing television moments when you wish a crater of infinite diameter would open up and humanely swallow everyone on screen.
You may know the moment. You may have seen the video. Millions of others have; it's on YouTube and countless news and entertainment websites. It's destined to go down in infamy as one of those "Did he really just say that?" episodes.
The "he" in question is Sam Rubin, entertainment reporter with Los Angeles station KTLA. In the course of interviewing Samuel L Jackson, live via video link, about his role in the RoboCop remake, Rubin asked: "Did you get a lot of reaction to that Superbowl commercial?"
Uncomfortable pause. "What Superbowl commercial?" said Jackson, as Rubin looked off to his right, his face suddenly resembling a waxwork being melted by a blowtorch.
There was indeed a commercial, for Kia cars, during the Superbowl. But Jackson, one of the most recognisable stars in the world, who has appeared in more than 100 films including Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Django Unchained, the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Unbreakable, Die Hard with a Vengeance and several Marvel superhero movies in which he plays SHIELD boss Nick Fury, wasn't in it.
Rubin had somehow managed to confuse Jackson with Laurence Fishburne, another of the most recognisable movie stars in the world, who did appear in the commercial, in the guise of Morpheus, his super-cool character from The Matrix franchise.
Jackson then proceeded to gut him like a fish. Slowly. And with undisguised relish.
"I'm not Laurence Fishburne! We might be all black and famous, but we don't all look alike.
"You're the entertainment reporter for this station and you don't know the difference between me and Laurence Fishburne? That must be a very short line for your job!"
By this point the melting waxwork had become a pitiful, milky-white puddle of embarrassment, just waiting for someone to mop it up and pour it down the drain. Jackson, now seemingly as much amused as annoyed by Rubin's gaffe, turned up the sarcastic heat.
"There's more than one black guy doing a commercial. I'm the 'What's in your wallet?' black guy (a reference to a credit card commercial Jackson does), he (Fishburne) is the car black guy. Morgan Freeman is the other credit card black guy – you only hear his voice, though, so you probably won't confuse him with Laurence Fishburne."
As Rubin, to a chorus of groans as well as a few out-loud laughs from the two anchors in the studio, furiously retreated like a man trying to ride a rusty trike backwards up the side of Everest, Jackson reeled off a list of all the black actors working in Hollywood he's not. Eventually, Rubin managed to steer Jackson back to talking about RoboCop, which the star said he'd decided to do because of the wonderful cast, including Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman.
And then . . .
"You do know who they are, though, right, just in case you have some of them on the show?
"Do the research, make sure you don't confuse them with some of those other white actors."
It was simultaneously hilarious and horrible. It also, although few people seem to have latched on to the irony, echoed the episode of Ricky Gervais' Extras in which the socially inept, terminally clueless Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jensen) also mixes up Jackson, appearing as himself, with Fishburne.
"You were brilliant in The Matrix."
"I wasn't in that one."
"Yeah, you were."
A rare case, then, of real life genuinely imitating art. Or at least what passes for real life inside the balloon-like heads of the autocue automatons who dominate American television news.