As another television season begins, it's time for parents to determine which new shows require gunslinger-quick reaches for the remote control. The new lineup begs another question: how did some of the truly retched, thoroughly unpopular, destined-for-the-trashbin disasters from last year - survive?
Watchdogs of sleaze TV face an ethical quandary: Is it better to draw attention to trash television offerings when they're Nielsen-starved, or is it better to let them lay largely undiscovered? Exhibit A is "Off Centre," mysteriously renewed for a second season on the WB network and known only as that TV show made by the sex-crazed "American Pie" people. Last year, in its first season, it was ranked as the second-most offensive show on all of broadcast television for family viewing by the Parents Television Council. It looks like the public agreed: The show ranked 101 out of 119, placing its toilet offering in the ratings toilet.
The PTC's ranking, apparently, was an outrage to executive producer Danny Zuker - because it didn't get the blue ribbon for perversion. In an interview with the entertainment web site zap2it.com, he proclaimed "I take this as a wake-up call for us to try harder. I think this year I'm going to have one of my characters...actually eat a live baby on the air. That might do it." This Zuker's a real ham.
See the dilemma? Zuker is clearly trying to shock his way into more attention for his sputtering product. But he was on such an outrageous roll, piling up the shock lines like a bad standup comedian, it's too hard to ignore.
1. "We're just trying to do a nice family show. For the Manson family. No, all we're doing are nice, heart-warming stories that they did on 'Leave It to Beaver," with three-ways and farting and giant poo."
2. "I'd like to think that underneath the lesbians and - oh, what else have we done? - sexually transmitted diseases, that there's a heart."
3. Asked how he would achieve top-sleaze status, he said, "I want to introduce some Satanic elements into the show. We're going to keep on doing what we do. I think we're going to go to the Bible and just do the opposite as much as possible."
The Zukers of Hollywood mock God's word and call it humor. You won't see that in any WB promotional materials, but I'm sure Zuker would say it's all in a hard day's work "pushing the comedy envelope." His entertainment motto is "reprehensible but funny," as in "we may be reprehensible, and you may not like what some of our characters do, but it's funny." To whom? To Zuker and some of his fellow workers at WB - and that's about all.
But that's all talk. What really matters is what's on the TV screen. The show's plot revolves around two New York roommates - wild British sex machine Euan and his comparatively uptight American roommate Mike. Last year's episodes were just raunchy with topics centering on venereal disease, whether couples should watch pornography together, and of course, the episode about adult circumcision, drowning in male crotch references. This team has the artistic talent of a coconut.
This year, the WB web site promises that "Episodes will cover how each character lost his or her virginity, cockfighting - both literal and figurative - and a fierce competition to see who will be first to bed beautiful twins. Euan will meet a woman whose anything-goes sexual exploits prove to be too extreme even for him."
What's saddest about this is the situational ethics of the WB, whose greatest success is the family drama "7th Heaven." One night is family night, but another night is a pelvic parade. In an earlier dispatch on zap2it.com, it was reported that WB officials watched last year's fourth episode and said they liked it, and "don't do it again." Why? "It didn't have anything overtly randy," said Zuker. Co-creator Paul Weitz said, "After our first meeting [WB President] Jordan Levin said, 'Don't let us soften this up.'"
Like many of the top merchants of "adult" entertainment, Zuker is a hypocrite. He says he won't let his own kids watch what he makes for a living, but he pumps it out for everyone else's kids to emulate. What he's producing is geared exclusively toward children - teenagers, college kids, and the occasional adults who never grew up to learn about the joys of commitment, love, and sexual responsibility. Zuker's not the only hypocrite of course. The same can be said of the brass at WB, as well as its parent AOL/Time Warner since I suspect you won't find a soul who will endorse this trash as suitable for children. And yet they renewed it for another year.