NBC's Non-Family Formula
Prime time television's ratings leader, NBC, last Monday [note to editors: May 12] became the first network to announce its schedule for fall 1997. The peacock web has long prospered despite airing minimal family programming, and judging from what it has planned, it apparently believes that if the bottom line ain't broke, don't fix it: once again, shows suitable for all ages are the exception to the rule. In other words, "Must See TV" is a must to avoid for those concerned about cultural sewage.
An ongoing and disturbing trend at NBC over the past few years has been to shift racy sitcoms, such as "Friends," "Mad About You," and "Wings," from the 9 o'clock to the 8 o'clock hour without toning down their adult content - and without alerting parents, which a content-based ratings system would do (that's why the networks are fighting it). This spring, "NewsRadio" became the latest family-unfriendly NBC program to enter the former "family hour." Now the network has another such move planned for the fall, and it's a doozy: the extremely vulgar "Men Behaving Badly," shown this season on Wednesdays at 9:30, is set to air Sundays at 8.
For those of you lucky enough not to have seen "Men," the main thing you need to know is that its beer-swilling slob protagonists, Kevin and Jamie, make Al ("Married... With Children") Bundy seem refined by comparison. On their first date, Kevin and his girlfriend, Sarah, "got hammered at a party and did it on a bed full of coats"; subsequently, they had sex in a photo booth at the mall. Jamie's no slouch when it comes to promiscuity: he boasts of having fifty-six hours of "nonstop sex" with a woman he's just met. Youngsters shouldn't be exposed to this garbage, and adults should be embarrassed to admit they tune into it. (By the way, earlier this season "Men" stars Ron Eldard (Kevin) and Rob Schneider (Jamie) reportedly were displeased with NBC because it wasn't allowing the series to live up (down?) to the even raunchier standard set by its original British version.)
"Men" will be followed on Sundays by a new Jenny McCarthy sitcom and a movie. The McCarthy vehicle is an unknown quantity, and the movie will be different each week. Nonetheless, the presence of "Men" earns NBC's Sunday lineup a preseason family viewing grade (PFVG) of?F.
Here's a night-by-night look at the rest of NBC's prime time schedule, excluding news programming.
Mondays: "Suddenly Susan," "Fired Up," "Caroline in the City," "The Naked Truth." "Caroline" is the most sexually obsessed of the four, but not one is fit for youngsters. PFVG: D.
Tuesdays: "Mad About You," "NewsRadio," "Frasier," "Just Shoot Me." The witty "Frasier" is the tamest of this group, but it's on at 9; the frisky "Mad" and the friskier "NewsRadio" air in the "family hour." PFVG: D.
Wednesdays: "The Tony Danza Show" (new), "Built to Last" (new), "3rd Rock from the Sun," "Working" (new), "Law & Order." Not bad. The descriptions of the first two shows are encouraging: Danza plays a sportswriter who, according to publicity material, is "bent on raising his two daughters with a few old-fashioned values," and "Built to Last" is a "heartwarming comedy about a proud, middle-class family that owns a contracting business in Washington, D.C." Also, the racy "3rd Rock" has been moved from 8 to 9. PFVG: B-.
Thursdays: "Friends," "Union Square" (new), "Seinfeld," "Veronica's Closet" (new), "ER." Thursdays have been libidinous on NBC since the heyday of "Cheers," and nothing I've heard about the two new series suggests anything will change. PFVG: D-.
Fridays: "Players" (new), "Homicide: Life on the Street." "Players" is worth keeping an eye on if only because it stars Ice-T, whose crimes against humanity include writing and performing "Cop Killer" and declaring that the day the Los Angeles riots began was "the happiest day of my entire life. I'm so proud the people got out there and made some muthaf--in' noise." If this sort of poison finds its way into the scripts, "Players" could become the most offensive show on NBC. PFVG: D.
Saturdays: "The Pretender," "Sleepwalkers" (new), "Profiler." "The Pretender," a 9 o'clock offering for most of this season, has occasionally contained premarital sex, making it a dubious choice for family viewing. That's too bad, because it's usually a positive series that teaches compassion and fair play. If in its new, earlier time slot it purges the objectionable material and targets a younger audience, as ABC's "Lois and Clark" did with some success a few years ago, NBC may have an all-ages winner. PFVG: C.
Overall PFVG: D. The most-watched network on television, patronized by a public that denounces the sad state of it all.