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The Word Under the Street: Fox

On September 14, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and William Bennett announced they were giving their Silver Sewer Award for cultural pollution to the Fox television network and its chairman, Rupert Murdoch.

Sad to say, it's impossible to question Lieberman and Bennett's choice. Fox isn't the only web that's specialized in the tasteless, of course, but it's been a trailblazer. "In its five years of existence," wrote Erich Eichman in a 1992 American Spectator article, Fox "has earned the dubious distinction of having brought television's already abysmal content to new lows, mostly by trading in coarse jokes, risque humor, [and] sexual innuendo." Seven years later, Eichman's statement still holds true.

One might concede exceptions to this general rule of raunch, with an occasional good movie here, an innocent documentary there. But you have to wonder why they even bother. Think of Fox programming - from "Married...With Children" to "Melrose Place" to those animal-attack and car-crash "reality" shows -and the word "garbage" comes to mind. Filthy, crassly exploitative, and just plain stupid enough to insult the intelligence of your average baboon.

Now comes a fresh autumn crop of Fox series, two of which, "Get Real" and "Action," have debuted at this writing. Each carries on in the network's Silver Sewer tradition.

A few minutes into the "Get Real" premiere, a mother enters the bedroom of her sixteen-year-old son, Cameron, and finds him in bed with his girlfriend. "It's not easy to be the mother of a sexually active teenager," Cameron's seventeen-year-old sister, Meghan, says, "especially when he's the only one in the house who's getting any." (In the second episode, however, mom and dad end their slump, displaying plenty of skin along the way.)

Later in the premiere, Meghan remarks to a buxom woman, "My God, you could hide Anne Frank in that cleavage." Yes, this inanity is that unfunny.

Few shows have received the pre-premiere hype of "Action." Here's a typical exchange. Actress Salma Hayek, playing herself, confronts film executive Peter Dragon (Jay Mohr) about her long-ago audition for him.

Hayek: "I guess you...have no recollection of you[r] drawing a little face on your little penis and asking me to put on a puppet show."

Dragon: "Hey, that's not my style. That's inappropriate."

Hayek: "Then you started playing with yourself."

Dragon: "That's a medical condition."

The brilliance of this script is a mystery understood only by some Fox executives and Bill Clinton.

It's bad enough that this trash dominates the Fox prime time lineup. What makes matters worse is that Fox is now blanketing its Sunday-afternoon pro-football telecasts with raunchy, sexually suggestive promotional spots hyping these shows. To be sure, Fox has been exposing youngsters to smut in this manner for many years, but now it's worse than ever. The latest example came on September 12, opening day of the NFL season.

In the promo for Fox's coverage of that evening's Emmy Awards, steamy saxophone music plays in the background as Emmy co-hosts Jenna Elfman ("Dharma & Greg") and David Hyde Pierce ("Frasier"), shot from the chest up, sit close together, side by side, conversing "romantically."

Elfman, gazing into Pierce's eyes: "Can I touch it?"
Pierce: "Very gently."
Elfman, looking toward Pierce's lap: "Ohhh, it's so smooth. I wish I had one."
Pierce: "If things work out, I'll give it to you."

The camera pulls back, revealing that they were talking about an Emmy statuette. Elfman comments, "It's bigger than I expected."

Imagine the outrage of the average parent trying to enjoy a game with his young children when something like that hits him between the eyes. I've been in that position. Outrage turns to helplessness as you realize that as much as you'd like to protect your kids from every manifestation of cultural sewage, it's simply impossible. There used to be some safe harbors - like prime time's family hour and, yes, sports telecasts - but those are gone, too.

Fox apologized for airing the promo during the game (the network claimed that "it was designed to run in [shows] like 'Ally McBeal,' not football" - as if somehow that made it OK). According to press reports, Murdoch also interceded personally when another Fox show aimed at youngsters, "Manchester Prep," was going to feature a scene with one teenage girl teaching another how to masturbate. But that's nowhere near enough. Parents are well advised to banish the Silver Sewer network completely.