Last April Fool's Day, at a press conference announcing his weekly late-night television program, Howard Stern remarked that broadcast standards were "at an all-time low" and that he was "here to represent" that state of affairs. He was too modest. Week-old garbage has a better stench than the thoroughly repugnant "Howard Stern Radio Show," which has now aired twice and easily qualifies as the most disgusting show in the history of broadcast television.
The premiere, on August 22, opened with Stern telling his audience what President Clinton should have said during The Speech: "My penis is swollen bigger than Rosie O'Donnell's head. I want to show you my penis right now. I tell you, I'm so backed up I could shoot Alan B. Shepard into orbit. In conclusion, there is an opening for an intern here at the White House. If you can suck the color out of a marble... please apply."
That was followed by an appearance by Nicole, a masculine-looking female bodybuilder. Stern had her take off the top of her bathing suit-like costume and soon was fondling her breasts. Then, doubting that Nicole really was a woman, Stern sent her and his female sidekick, Robin Quivers, into another room so Quivers could inspect Nicole's genitalia. When they returned, Stern asked Nicole, "Do you want to make some money? We'll look between your legs on pay-per-view. People will pay $20 to look between your legs. You'll make a fortune."
That was followed by two lesbians, one of whom stripped and gave Stern a lap dance.
And that was followed by two segments with an animated-cartoon version of JonBenet Ramsey. In the first, a little-girl voice said, "I'm JonBenet, and if you stay tuned, I'll reveal the name of my killer before the show's over... but I'm going to wait till later, OK, 'cause I don't want to miss a minute of the Howard Stern show." The second stated, "I'm JonBenet. Anyone find my killer yet? It pisses me off. Here's the guy that pisses you off: Howard Stern."
For the August 29 installment, highlights included a man on all fours with a microphone at his rear end, trying to "set a new record of 400 audible explosions of gas"; a cruel "Dating Game"-like bit featuring a mentally retarded man; and an interview with a dominatrix who said her specialties were "caning, boot worship, smothering, trampling, psychodrama, and long-nail torture."
Since the 1970s, movies, pay cable, and radio often have provided a home for this sort of toxic media waste, but it never had the imprimatur of a major broadcast television network. Until now, thanks to CBS.
It's refreshing to note that many television critics, who
tend to award standing ovations to envelope-pushing content, are vehemently
rejecting this show and its sponsor. Dusty Saunders of the Rocky Mountain News
blasted the debut as "repulsive... stupid," and the Toronto Star
called it "puerile trash."
Tom Shales of the Washington Post declared it "among the dregs of the dregs... [an] abomination... sickening," and the New York Post weighed in with "a low point in television history, and a disgrace to CBS."
Why would CBS lower itself so?
Actually, Stern's CBS gig is no surprise given that the man who made him rich and famous is second in command at the company. Mel Karmazin, whose Infinity Broadcasting enabled Stern to rise from New York shock jock to nationally infamous author, movie star, and all-around vulgarian, last year sold Infinity to CBS's parent company, Westinghouse, in exchange for $3.9 billion in stock. In April, Karmazin was named CBS Corp.'s president (and is considered the leading contender to succeed current chairman Michael Jordan). If Stern boosts CBS's bottom line, it would seem he's safe there, no matter what his outrages, as long as Karmazin has anything to say about it.
It's all very ironic, if not downright hypocritical. Three years ago CBS set out to reinvent its image (and recapture the audience that had abandoned it) by airing a variety of pro-family series like "Touched By an Angel," "Promised Land," and "Cosby." Just last year the network introduced "Coast to Coast," a prime time magazine show featuring positive, life-affirming messages. As veteran CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg put it at the time, "I think right now in America we're seeing entirely too much incivility and too much coarseness, too much nastiness."
Apparently Mr. Goldberg's superiors weren't convinced we had seen entirely too much incivility, too much coarseness, too much nastiness. So they gave us "The Howard Stern Radio Show."