Bochco 1, Broadcast Standards 0

Bochco 1, Broadcast Standards 0
by L. Brent Bozell III
March 17, 1998

In a March 12 interview with the syndicated entertainment news show "Access Hollywood," television producer Steven Bochco stated that "the thing I'm really proud of is that I played a part in dragging this medium, kicking and screaming, I think, into the late 20th century." Actually, it's not the TV industry that's being dragged, kicking and screaming - it greatly admires Bochco. The outrage he's inspired comes from those who find his "innovations" - ever more graphic sex, language, and violence - tasteless and unnecessary.

Bochco's latest brainchild is the first-year police drama "Brooklyn South" (CBS, 10 p.m. Mondays). The September 22 premiere provoked an uproar long before it aired because of its raunchy language and, especially, its gratuitous ultraviolence (by television standards). Specifically, in one scene an officer is shot in the head and spurts blood all over the place. But that is far from the only disturbing content: yet another policeman also is shot in the head, albeit with less gory results. For language, words like "a-hole" and "balls" are used regularly. Now, the cynic would suggest that this reaction is precisely what Mr. Bochco wanted. In the age of shock TV (see: "Ellen," "Roseanne") producers relish the promotional value of a good old controversy.

But this was no one-time thing. In fact, Bochco was just warming up with the premiere.

A week later, a medical examiner tries to warn Darnell, a ghetto kid, about the potential consequences of the drug trade. He shows Darnell a body, explaining, "Here's where his genitals would have been," then lifts the dead man's blood-soaked boxer shorts to expose what's left of his privates. Obscenities like "a-hole," "dick," and "piss" are back again.

Welcome to the late 20th century, according to Bochco and CBS. This, they seem to say, is not what television should be allowed to be; it is what television should be, period. Virtually every week since, "Brooklyn South" has underscored that point.

-October 13: In addition to three uses of "prick" and one each of "a-hole" and "dick," the phrases "hand job" and "I'm sorry I didn't make you come" enter the prime time vernacular.

-November 3: A grisly murder scene in which police find three victims, each shot in the back of the head; two uses of "a-hole" and one of "prick."

-November 24: A man gets out of the bed he shares with his girlfriend, exposing his naked rear to the camera; more coarse language.

-December 8: "A-hole" is heard twice; "dick," "piss," and "prick" once each.

-January 19: A woman's naked backside is shown just after she's had sex with her boyfriend; five uses of "dick"; one each of "a-hole" and "balls."

-January 26: A woman is found dead in the trunk of a car, her throat slashed, blood covering her body; more obscenities.

-February 2: Beyond the usual offensive language - "a-hole," "dick," "piss" - a new word is introduced to prime time: "Bulls-t."

Wow. But more important: Why? Why use your newly found creative freedom this way? Naked rumps and cheap gutter talk do nothing to increase the artistic worth of the show, so why do it? Because Bochco and Co. can. Another wall of traditional values has come down - hurrah! That is the only reason for doing this.

You probably haven't heard a great deal about "Brooklyn South" since its premiere, primarily because its most outrageous material isn't new to broadcast television and, therefore, isn't news. You see, ABC's "NYPD Blue," another Bochco production, broke this ground several years back. That program, currently in its fifth season, remains no slouch in the raunch department. Simone (Jimmy Smits) and Russell (Kim Delaney) still display their bare bottoms now and then, and Simone and Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) curse with abandon. The shock value of such content is gone; the bar, thanks to these programs (and cable's "South Park"), has been lowered time and again.

I don't mean to reduce "Brooklyn South" to its least appealing elements. Actually, yes, I do, especially because they're so gratuitous for a show of such high quality. The obscene language, the unclothed derrieres, and the gore are simply inappropriate, late time slot or no late time slot, parental-guidance ratings or no parental-guidance ratings, V-chip or no V-chip.

The Hollywood establishment, of course, is loving this. The "Access Hollywood" interviewer, Nancy O'Dell, gushed that the end of her piece that "Bochco the innovator is again pushing the envelope as he forces television to new places... What an absolute pleasure it was to speak with him."