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NBC: Must-See or Smut-See?

Last week's issue of the New Yorker reported that "recently, the [television] networks have begun to ask themselves a novel question: What if we take a stab at the fresh, the daring, the alternative? Not long ago, NBC's entertainment president, Warren Littlefield, gave all his executives granite stones engraved with a single word: 'Risk.'"

Having watched as much as I could stand of the first two nights of NBC's premiere-week programming, and then taken a much-needed shower, I can conclude only that Littlefield picked the wrong four-letter word to engrave on those stones. A far more appropriate choice would have been "Smut."

NBC kicks off its fall season with the sitcom "Suddenly Susan" on Monday, September 21, at 8 p.m. By about, oh, 8:03, Luis is telling two of his co-workers that Maddie "asked me to sleep with her tonight. Is it the right thing to do or is it just my pants talking?" They don't sleep together, but the next day, she says to him, "If you had come up, it probably would have led to a night of such wild and unbridled passion, we would still be lying there, a tangled heap of sweaty, quivering, satisfied flesh." A bit later, a newlywed addresses her husband: "All I want to do right now is rip off what's left of my clothes, throw you into that bed, and not come out till there's peace in the Middle East."

This is the family hour on the Nothing But Coitus network.

At 8:30 comes "Conrad Bloom," a debuting series about a hunky ad executive in his late twenties. Needing to postpone a tryst with Alison, Conrad phones to inform her he hates to bail out, since "this was gonna be our third date, and you know what that means? Oh, well, if I have to tell you, maybe it doesn't mean that." (Ultimately, they do have sex.) As for mere suggestiveness, there's an exchange between Conrad and his female boss, apropos of a colleague breast-feeding her infant daughter in front of them. The baby bites her mother's nipple, whereupon the boss remarks, "I hate when they do that." Conrad says, "I didn't know you had kids"; the boss counters, "I don't."

Can it get any more stupid than this? Well, yes.

Nine o'clock brings "Caroline in the City," on which Annie walks in on a naked Richard and comments, "That reminds me. I need to buy toothpicks." Later, Caroline tells Richard - they've just become a couple- that they should wait two months for their first lovemaking. When he asks why, she replies, "Because it's far enough away so we won't feel like we're rushing, and soon enough so we won't go crazy." (The truthful answer would have been, "Because two months from now will be during the November sweeps, and our sleeping together will boost the ratings.")

Finally, at 9:30 we get "Will & Grace," the heavily hyped premiere featuring a gay male lead character, and why bother. There you have it: Monday's "fresh" and "daring" lineup.

The next night at 8, "Mad About You" centers on Paul taking Viagra and walking around Manhattan with a very obvious erection. On "Just Shoot Me" at 9, Dennis has sex with his boss's child's nanny. At one point, they wonder what to do about a stain they've left on the couch and decide to simply turn the cushion over. By 9:30, column or no column, you just can't stomach any more of this nonsense.

What makes this all the more remarkable is that NBC is pushing this mindless garbage, this filthy, silly, pathetic tripe, in a most deliberate way. Christopher Lloyd, executive producer and head writer of "Frasier," commented to the New York Times, "The pressure we get is [to] mak[e] the show racier, not less racy. There's a huge amount of impetus to make things edgy... not to avoid sensitive subjects."

So the lemming-rush into the gutter continues. Littlefield's granite gifts could one day serve as tombstones for the networks that were too dumb to realize they were alienating millions and, thereby, killing themselves.

Meanwhile, some three thousand miles away, the oh-so-serious scribes at NBC News are bemoaning the release of the Starr report as offensive and damaging to impressionable youngsters.

You don't know whether to laugh, or cry. Or just put a brick through your
TV set.