In 1998, the country's most popular soap opera took place in real life. Allow me, dear reader, to give you a reprieve from the sordid mess in Washington by bringing you the year's winners and losers from the other entertainment industry, Hollywood.
Losers: CBS boss Mel Karmazin and his toilet-tongued meal ticket, Howard Stern. During the massive promotional blitz earlier this year, these two characters predicted "The Howard Stern Radio Show" would beat NBC's "Saturday Night Live" in the ratings. Wrong. Stern's sewage is generating only one-third of "SNL"'s audience, and eleven stations (and counting) have dropped him. Karmazin and Stern deserve each other; the public doesn't deserve either one.
Winner: The WB's "7th Heaven," not only a first-rate family show but also the third-fastest-growing series in prime time, with viewership increasing 28 percent in the past year. During the November sweeps, it was the most-watched program on its network, ahead of the far-more-hyped "Felicity" and "Dawson's Creek," which reminds me of our next...
Loser: "Dawson's Creek" creator Kevin Williamson, who, speaking of the show's notorious teacher-student affair, told Playboy, "That relationship is based on romance, and I think that's why...the Moral Majority has gone after it. It's probably not the most responsible relationship on television in terms of right-wing philosophy, but it certainly is...nonjudgmental [and] endearing."
Memo to Mr. Williamson: a) The Moral Majority ceased to exist a decade ago; and b) Bill Clinton needs your spin services. Fast.
Winner: The movie industry, which agreed that films' web sites would have to pass muster with the Motion Picture Association of America. These sites, which often have featured envelope-pushing material, now must adhere to the same taste guidelines as posters, television ads, and other forms of movie promotion.
Loser: Bravo, the arts cable network which is giving factually challenged leftist filmmaker Michael Moore ("Roger & Me") another shot on television. Beginning in April, Bravo will run Moore's "alternative" newsmagazine, "The Awful Truth," arguably the most unfortunate show title in the history of television. The awful truth about Moore is that he's awful at telling the truth.
Winner: Fidel Castro, who declared that American popular culture "transmits poisonous messages, in the social and moral order, to all families, to all homes, to all children."
Loser: Fidel Castro, whose wretched Communist system in Cuba transmits poisonous messages, in the social and moral order, to all families, to all homes, to all children.
Losers: Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche, for general obnoxiousness and specifically for whining about how they're treated in Hollywood, the place which, regrettably, heaped fame and fortune on them both. They have announced their intention to leave the public eye. Now wouldn't that be grand!
Winner: Tom Hanks, for his gutsy remarks about Clinton.
Loser: Tom Hanks, for immediately reversing himself on his gutsy remarks about Clinton.
Winner: DreamWorks SKG, for the breathtaking "Prince of Egypt." Move over, Disney, because DreamWorks is now the king of animated movies.
Losers: Playwrights Terrence McNally, for his religion-bashing drama "Corpus Christi," and Paul Rudnick, for his religion-mocking comedy "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told." According to the New York Times, Rudnick's work, which debuted in mid-December, "retells the Bible from a flamboyantly gay perspective" and opens in an Eden occupied by Adam and Steve, who "begin naming everything in the garden, including their own body parts." And, yes, the play includes "full frontal nudity."
Winner: PAX TV, taking small but significant steps toward becoming the only quality, full-time family broadcast network.
Loser: The Fox network, which plans as many of its slimy animals-attacking, cars-crashing "reality" shows in '99 as it produced in '98. Among the less exploitative topics: "Cheating Spouses Caught on Tape" and "medical oddities." Worse are two motorcycle-jump specials featuring Evel Knievel's son Bobby (in the second - scheduled, of course, for a sweeps period - he will "attempt to jump a portion of the Grand Canyon") and one featuring the deliberate sinking of a ship, complete with stuntmen trying to escape before it slips beneath the water's surface.
Winner of the year: Comedian Steve Allen, who in 1998 came roaring back into the public spotlight, this time leading a national campaign to clean up the filth on television.
Hollywood would be well advised to listen to Mr. Allen. Why? Because the loser of the year is the entire television industry, broadcast and cable. Overall TV use among 18-to-49-year-olds dropped by four percent in November; for the season, viewing among 18-to-34-year-olds is down six percent. The networks responded to the bad news by blaming the messenger, Nielsen.
In not taking responsibility for its mistakes, the TV business was like, well, Bill Clinton. And so it went in 1998.