1999: The Cultural Tug of War

Now that 1999 is almost over, it's time for our annual look at the winners and losers on the cultural scene for the past twelve months.

Winner: The Pax TV network. Launched in 1998 to provide family programming exclusively, it was ridiculed by the Hollywood elite. Dull, boring, un-hip, out-of-step - you know the thinking here. A reported $400 million investment by NBC this summer proves someone out there is waking up to the potential.

Loser: CBS, for scheduling the upcoming Steven Bochco show, "City of Angels," at 8 p.m. Bochco, who's pushed more envelopes than the U.S. Postal Service, in the family hour? Get ready for more sewage, especially since he says network president Leslie Moonves has given him "assurance that we will not have to modify our content."

Winner: The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, for its invaluable willingness to rebuke provocateurs, from Chris Ofili to Kevin Smith, who insult the faith, and the faithful. This outfit is becoming Public Enemy #1 in Hollywood. Congratulations.

Loser: Jess Cagle of Entertainment Weekly, for rhapsodizing in the December 24 issue, "Ricky Martin will turn 28 years old on Christmas Eve - a fitting birth date for a man who, at this particular stage of his career, could change his name to the Second Coming without much argument." Mr. Cagle deserves an award for writing something so incredibly offensive, and a second award for writing it at this time of year.

Losers: Trey Parker and Matt Stone, of "South Park" infamy, for the continuing affront that is their television series; for their disgusting movie, "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut"; and for releasing a Christmas CD with a track called "Merry F--ing Christmas," a version of "O Tannenbaum" credited to Adolph Hitler, and a cover photo of a bowel movement with a Santa hat on.

Winner: "Joan of Arc," the spring CBS miniseries that told Joan's story the right way: accurately, powerfully, and inspiringly.

Loser: "The Messenger," the fall theatrical movie that told Joan's story the wrong way: by presenting her as a delusional egomaniac, while missing the entire point of the story. The film bombed, and deservedly so.

Loser: Dorothy Swanson of Viewers for Quality Television, for claiming that "Will & Grace," which features two gay characters, "put the traditional sitcom back on the map." A map of Greenwich Village, maybe.

Winner: The Omni Hotels chain, for dropping in-room adult movies because they're inconsistent with the "pro-family" values of Omni owner Robert Rowling.

Loser: CBS again, for renewing "The Howard Stern Radio Show." This program, which debuted in August '98, was a flop: dozens of sponsors fled; dozens of stations dropped the show; millions of viewers left. CBS renewed it. Go figure.

Winner: The Motion Picture Association of America, for deciding that soon, print advertisements will explain why a film was given its rating.

Loser: Academy Awards host Whoopi Goldberg, for subjecting hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide to a barrage of vulgarity during this year's telecast. Oscar fans received a holiday gift when it was announced earlier this month that Billy Crystal would host next year's ceremony.

Winners of the year: Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Sam Brownback, for using, but not abusing, their prominence in the cause of cleaning up the culture.

Loser of the year: The Fox network, which launched the raunchiest one-night lineup in broadcast television history on Thursdays this past fall. Well, they tried to launch it: the planned 8 p.m. entry, the hypersexed teen drama "Manchester Prep," was canceled before it aired. The shows at 9 and 9:30 - the racially, religiously, sexually, historically (one scene depicted Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant in a whorehouse) offensive animated cartoon "Family Guy" and the Hollywood sitcom "Action," home of bleeped-out f-words and graphic sexual references - aired a few times each before being pulled. In fact, all of Fox's new series this fall - not just those on Thursday - flopped.

Oh, Fox airs the popular "Ally McBeal." Now that's an achievement. That show has become so pornographic that TV Guide devoted a cover story to it, calling it "network TV's most uninhibited sex romp ever."

And on we go toward the millennium.