It tells you just how low society's standards have fallen when approximately seventeen million people can be found glued to a TV set for four hours over six days watching a houseful of people...talking. Such is the allure of CBS's putrid reality series "Big Brother." I'm not sure how the contestants for "Big Brother" were chosen, but a propensity for potty language and uninhibited sex chat must have been high on the producers' checklist.
Some background for those of you lucky enough to be ignorant of this show: In the July 5 premiere, ten persons moved into a house on the CBS studio lot in Los Angeles. They are restricted to the house and its yard. Cameras and microphones monitor them virtually everywhere. Every other week, viewers select a resident for removal from the house. The person left in the house at the end of the series wins $500,000.
For about a week, the most noteworthy element of "Big Brother" - other than the obnoxious, racially militant black resident, Will - was its frequent bleeped f- and s-words. Then, on July 13, one of those words went unbleeped, when a contestant, Eddie, asked, "What happens if you, like, cussed real loud, like, 'Holy s--, it's her!'?" Will replied, "They probably have it on the, uh, delay." But they didn't.
"Big Brother" has grown increasingly crude since then. As of August 4, the count of edited-but-understandable f- and s-words stood at 178.
As is to be expected from a show as dumb as this, sex has emerged as a major conversational topic. On July 21, Jordan (a woman) admits to being "sexually frustrated," whereupon Curtis tells her, "You can always masturbate." She indicates that given the contestants' lack of privacy, that doesn't appeal to her. Eddie adds, "I'd f-- a chicken first." On the 29th, Curtis wonders, "Where can you [here he utters a slang term for masturbation, complete with hand gestures] around here?" And on August 4, millions of viewers watched while the guys and gals sat around talking about orgasms, and about trying to urinate with an erection.
So who is watching this show? CBS broadcasts "Big Brother" between 8 and 9 o'clock. Welcome to the "family hour" in the new millennium.
Also during the family hour we find Fox's "Opposite Sex," which centers on the first three males to be admitted to an all-girl prep school in its hundred-plus-year history. In the July 17 premiere, fifteen-year-old Jed, the main character, returns home to find his older brother having sex in his bed.
A week later, the series dealt with a party thrown by a junior girl to "sacrifice" the virginity of two students. Only one legitimate excuse is offered for still being a virgin at fifteen: fear of not being sexually skilled enough.
The show's adults are thoroughly hip about - meaning, in favor of - teen sexuality. The school janitor sneers at Jed's virginity. A woman in her mid-twenties meets Jed's friend Cary and quickly beds him, disposing of his virginity. The school's female guidance counselor tells Jed, "At fifteen, I didn't even know how to masturbate." Ultimately, Jed remains a virgin, not because he chooses to, but because police break up the party before he can have sex.
Is there any good news about this summer's prime time? Yes. "Mysterious Ways" (8 p.m. Mondays on NBC) is described by its executive producer Carl Binder as "sort of...the flip side" of "The X-Files." Binder explains, "It's about the idea that there's something out there that's greater than us, that's looking out for us."
"Mysterious Ways," which focuses on an anthropologist who believes in miracles and a skeptical associate of his, features a good deal of thought-provoking dialogue about cosmic matters. Aside from occasional, mild curse words, it is good for family viewing.
Nielsen ratings for "Mysterious Ways" have been strong. The show moves to the Pax network (of which NBC owns about one-third) on August 22; here's hoping it provides that web with its first hit. As for "Big Brother" and "Opposite Sex," here's hoping someone - their fans? their casts? CBS president Les Moonves? Fox chief Rupert Murdoch? - develops a sense of shame over this kind of garbage.