The other night I was tuned in to NBC, watching the Mel Gibson movie "Braveheart," clearly one of the best films in recent years. Next door on Fox they were airing the annual Emmy Awards extravaganza, clearly one of the dumbest shows television has to offer.
Go beyond the hoopla - the dresses, the stars, the winners and losers - and ask yourself this simple question: Just what are they - we - celebrating here?
There are exceptions, of course, but as a rule there's just so little to cheer about, really, with a television industry that quality-wise is in the sewer. And about to get far, far worse, if you can believe it.
Folks, this is not a pretty picture.
It's virtually impossible now to find a prime time show without sexual themes - and incredibly stupid ones at that. With the number of high-school-aged characters having sharply increased of late, it's safe to assume that teen sex will abound in prime time. According to a Rolling Stone roundup, "The most common plot point in this fall's [teen-oriented] shows is a...guy fornicating in his bedroom while his parents are home."
Sadly, even ABC's traditionally family-friendly TGIF comedy block is no longer safe from sex-driven programming. Entertainment Weekly reports that a sixteen-year-old boy on the debuting "Odd Man Out" "amuses himself by making jokes about needing sex." Why the shift? The magazine provides a comment from "Odd Man Out" producer John J. Strauss: "ABC is making a real effort to try to broaden the demographic [on Fridays], and they've really encouraged us to adultify - if there's such a word - the stories."
Yes, America, it's come to this: The TGIF lineup now includes a series produced by Strauss, a writer of that cornucopia of raunch, "There's Something About Mary."
There is, however, a bit of positive news regarding teen sex: Entertainment Weekly says that Rupert Murdoch himself was so "outraged" by a now-notorious scene from Fox's upcoming drama "Manchester Prep" in which a teenage girl learns to masturbate while on horseback that he called the network's entertainment boss, Doug Herzog, to object. The scene will never air.
Score one for Murdoch. But it's just one scene on just one show. The proverbial drop in the bucket.
Adults won't be left out of the sexual frolicking. TV Guide informs us that Veronica on "Veronica's Closet" "will have [an] interlude...with a construction worker. (As executive producer Marta Kauffman notes, 'There's nothing like a guy with a hammer in his pants.')" Ray Romano tells Entertainment Weekly that his title character on "Everybody Loves Raymond" "realizes [wife] Debra only has sex with him on days when she goes to an aerobics class with a hot stud instructor."
And when adults aren't having sex, they'll be talking about it. A "Suddenly Susan" producer says that under a new owner, the magazine for which Susan and the gang work will become "very sexy, this side of porn."
Then there's "Action." The more you hear about this new Fox "satire" of Hollywood, the creepier it sounds. According to Electronic Media, "Rumor has it in the third episode, Jay Mohr's [lead] character receives oral sex from two different people - one of whom is a man."
Keep close track of the ratings for "Action." If it's even somewhat successful, copycat shows are likely, especially since it's a favorite with industry insiders. UPN's Tom Nunan says he "admire[s]" Herzog's "boldness" in airing the series, adding, "It has the kind of personality that I'd like some of our new sitcoms to have." (Perhaps not coincidentally, a producer of one of those new UPN sitcoms, "Shasta McNasty," claims that his show is like "a live-action 'South Park.'" God help us.)
NBC's Garth Ancier called "Action" "a little too out-there for us, but I think it's a well-done show." The question is, if his network's slump continues, how long before Ancier axes a standard-issue sexcom like "Veronica's Closet" and replaces it with his own "Action"-style envelope-pusher, chock-full of bleeped obscenities and jokes about penis size?
Finally, there's vomit. TV Guide alerts us to an "unsavory trend...the sight of characters in various stages of upchuck." The magazine says that series including NBC's "Third Watch" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," ABC's "Snoops," WB's "Mission Hill," and Fox's "Time of Your Life" will contain barfing scenes.
It sounds like it's the viewers who will need to keep an airsick bag handy this season.