Point/Counterpoint: Prime-time slime sinks lower, but should networks teach values?
Tom Barberi and Laurie Wilson
Tom, I'm shocked and appalled. Except this time I really am.
Recently NBC began airing ads for a new sitcom: "Coupling." The name is appropriate. This sitcom is about exactly that. It appears to be the video bridge between soft and hard porn in prime-time television.
The slide down the "slippery slope" always has been a reference to censorship. It now appears that the lack thereof has us sliding to pure porn on network television. We started the slide with the networks pushing the envelope a bit more each season. The television and movie transition from never showing even a married couple in the same bed to family shows with parents in a double bed to shows implying extramarital sex was relatively slow. It took years. But in just a few seasons, we have gone from shows like "Friends" to "Will and Grace" to "Sex in the City." Now, we have "Coupling," and according to Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Entertainment, "America is ready for it." Well thank you very much, Mr. Zucker, for getting us ready for such filth.
This latest installment is another gift from British television, just like "Survivor," the king of reality shows. Many of us know from travels abroad that Britain and Europe have much looser standards in television viewing. In fact, some of what is available in prime time European television can be described as nothing more than solid pornography.
In our efforts to keep up with the Joneses across the ocean, our predominant television entertainment are programs designed to bring out the basest of behavior in people. The reality shows have people figuring out how best to stick it to other people in the name of fame and fortune, and sometimes just to be seen as the meanest, nastiest dude possible. Seems the skin shown in the reality shows wasn't enough. We need to see more sex!
In fact, there is nothing that commends this latest show to decent people. Zucker admits that they are going for the outrage. "That is good for us," he says. If people become outraged, more people will watch this show that has lines so risqué they cannot be reprinted in a decent newspaper.
It pains me that, as of this writing, only two stations nationally have refused to air the program: in Salt Lake City and in South Bend, Ind., home of Notre Dame. What we really need is a wholesale boycott by stations across America, but, although many other stations have expressed concern, they have not refused to air the show.
Personally, I decided years ago when "NYPD Blue" came out with its mature-audiences-only warning that I would boycott such shows. I also refuse to watch reality television. I don't for a second believe that my personal boycott warrants even a notice from the network executives. But it would, if a few thousand more of us protested.
Tom, it is time that we stand up for decency and reject those who control our access to entertainment and present us with such schlock. Oh, how I long for the days of "Mr. Ed."
Laurie J. Wilson is on the faculty of the Department of Communications at BYU.
Laurie, you can come out from under the covers. Just tune into Nickelodeon and you can watch "Mr. Ed" until you run out of oats to munch on.
Without knowing it, you hit the nail on the head when you try to link "Friends" to "Will and Grace" then to "Sex in the City." What you are not saying, or realizing, is that network television has been getting trounced by HBO as evidenced by the Emmys of the past couple of years. The networks here are not trying to keep up with the Brits, but rather with cable.
Another example of this is the latest study showing the increase of cussing on the major broadcast networks. According to the Parents Television Council, during the so-called "family hour," from 8-9 p.m. foul language increased by 94.8 percent between 1998 and 2002. I keep picturing a herd of Gayle Ruzika-type watchdogs with their clipboards checking off the dirty words with perverse glee.
The funny thing about this is the concept of "family hour." That phrase referred to a time when there was only one TV in a house and Mom, Dad, Wally and Beaver would sit down together to watch. Today, just about every kid has his or her own TV, but don't worry about them being exposed to shows like "Coupling." They are too busy illegally downloading music or chatting with undercover vice officers posing as teenagers on the Internet.
You, Laurie, and KSL are doing what NBC's Jeff Zucker dreams about. By acting like the plastic covers that the grocery stores put over issues of Cosmo you're tweaking the interest of otherwise uninterested readers, or in this case, viewers.
"Coupling" now has the edge in the new fall lineup because of the actions of WNDU in South Bend, Ind., and KSL here in Salt Lake City. What may be just another insipid half-hour sitcom will become the object of curiosity because of this flap.
I don't want to upset you more than you already are, so I won't mention other new shows like "Skin" and "Las Vegas." As Dr. Phil would say, "Get real" Laurie, and stop expecting Mr. Zucker to be the parent. His job is to make money, not teach proper values to your kids.
The novelty of reality shows hasn't seemed to peak yet, but I think we are getting close. It can't get much worse than "The People's Champions" on FX cable channel that premiered Sept. 19. This is sort of an everyman's (or woman's) Olympics with competitions such as naked tricycle races, seeing who can break wind the most in an 11-floor elevator ride, who has the heaviest booger and, my favorite, tossing the most grapes into a plumber's butt crack. Now that's entertainment. Where's Regis when you need him?
What amuses me is that when the LDS Church-owned KSL announced it was not going to carry "Coupling," the LDS Church-owned Deseret News had a front-page story about KSL not carrying it and in the same edition of their paper had an editorial praising KSL for not carrying the show. Enough, we get it. Stop patting yourself on the back and just get out of the network TV business. Seriously, I can't imagine anybody in the hierarchy of the LDS Church, much less church members, watching a good portion of the shows KSL broadcasts in prime time without cringing.
More important than keeping "Coupling" out of our living rooms is: What do we have to do to keep Ed Smart off TV? Ciao.
Tom Barberi is a radio talk show host on KALL-700 AM 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays.