Saturday, October 21, 2006

Short Takes - October 21, 2006

Show updates: To no ones surprise Shark got a full season order this week. This means that half of CBS’s new shows have full season orders. Of course when Smith was cancelled it meant that a quarter of the new shows had been cancelled - CBS only introduced four new series this year. No word yet on The Class but I wouldn’t be surprised if it got a full year too.

On the other hand The CW cancelled half of their new series and gave a full year to the other half. The Kelsey Grammer produced comedy The Game got a full season order, while the network cancelled Runaway. I haven’t seen either but in the case of Runaway, I have to confess that I like the adult leads, Don Wahlberg and Leslie Hope. Wahlberg is a far better actor than his brother Mark – and showed it in Band of Brothers and the late lamented Boomtown – while I find Leslie Hope kind of sexy and a good actress. I first noticed her in 24 but she really had me in the short run series Line of Fire by smoking. She smoked like a woman who needed a freakin’ cigarette rather than as someone who was using a cigarette as a prop to look sexy.

Also, NBC (which is simultaneously complaining about the cost of production of new programming in the first hour of primetime – see below) has announced that they will be ordering more episodes of Friday Night Lights, a show which at least currently airs the first hour of primetime, but would probably benefit from a move away from Dancing With The Stars and NCIS.

CBS getting creative; NBC, not so much: Apparently next season on CBS won’t feature as any new “procedural” series like CSI or Criminal Minds. TV Squad reports that the network is looking at series about wife swapping and the sexual revolution of the 1970s, the women’s movement, a comedy from one of the writers of Borat, and an American version of Viva Blackpool. The latter is a BBC production that mixed the criminal investigation of a murder at a casino (though they called it an arcade, a word that has a different meaning in North America) with fantasy sequences and people bursting into song. And it worked.

NBC on the other hand has announced that it will no longer be programming either comedies or dramas in the first hour of primetime. According the NBC president Jeff (two ‘F’s, one ‘Z’) Zucker, “advertisers just won't pay enough money during the 8 pm time slot to cover the costs of comedies and dramas.” Instead the network will be offering reality programs and game shows. In fact what Zucker really means is that advertisers won’t pay enough money for the comedies and dramas that NBC is putting on the air during the “8 pm time slot”. That’s fairly obvious since none of the other four networks has had much problem finding sponsors. Currently NBC runs the drama Friday Night Lights and the comedies The Office and My Name Is Earl in the first hour of prime time.

What does the PTC hate this week?: NewsCorp, the parent company of Fox and the FX cable network. In a statement at the NewsCorp shareholders meeting, PTC Chairman of the Board Lee Weil made this statement: “Mr. Murdoch, I believe that you are a good man with solid values, and yet NewsCorp has clearly carved out a niche for itself by specializing in smutty, vulgar, and violent entertainment, all in pursuit of profit. You should be ashamed - but it’s clear that you aren’t, and neither are the executives that work for you.” Well right there he got it wrong. Rupert Murdoch is a man whose newspapers ouside of the United States regularly feature pictures of topless women, graphic details of the latest in gossip and whatever titillating crime has oozed out from whatever rock. Murdoch is all about the profit. Always has been from the time he took over the Adelaide News after the death of his father. Profit is why he founded Fox News Channel.

The PTC Chairman then goes on to list some of the “smutty, vulgar, and violent entertainment” Murdoch should be ashamed of:

  • Nip/Tuck which has featured themes of misogyny, sexual violence, incest, bestiality, pedophilia, and necrophilia. The producer of the series has publicly stated that his goal is to pave the way for broadcast television to feature a “rear-entry” sex-scene in the next three years.
  • The Shield which has featured an officer of the law acting out rape fantasies with prostitutes and being forced to fellate a gang member at gunpoint.
  • Rescue Me which recently included a scene of a man raping his estranged wife.
  • The War at Home which one TV critic described as “unconscionably smutty.”

The PTC Chairman then went on to decry “NewsCorp’s flagrant disregard for families as demonstrated by its abuse of the publicly owned airwaves through its refusal to abide by federal decency laws and community standards and NewsCorp’s complicity in forcing families to subsidize the pornographic content on its cable properties as part of their cable package.” At this point Weil informs us that he\e “cherishes the First Amendment” but then quotes Theodore Roosevelt: “I believe in the first amendment, and I cherish the freedoms our forefathers fought and died for, but I also know that with freedom must come responsibility. Theodore Roosevelt said, ‘Men can never escape being governed. Either they must govern themselves or they must submit to being governed by others.’” Weil offers a warning: “Until NewsCorp does a better job of keeping sexually explicit and violent content off of television during hours when children are in the viewing audience; until NewsCorp stops forcing cable subscribers to help pay for the disgusting and depraved content of Nip/Tuck you will be under the constant scrutiny of the FCC, of Congress, and of millions of outraged American families.” Families represented, of course, by the PTC and its more religiously based counterpart the American Family Association.

They actually changed the Worst of the Week show from what I thought I had seen earlier this week – back when my own computer actually worked. This time around their Worst of the Week is the episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit which featured Jerry Lewis. They started out by pointing out Jerry’s presence on the show: “One of America’s most beloved Television icons, Jerry Lewis, guest stared on Law & Order: SVU this week. Hopefully viewers didn’t tune in to see “The Nutty Professor” solve a crime, because there was nothing funny about this episode.” And except for a brief mention at the end of the article that is the last we’ll hear of Mr. Lewis. The bulk of the article talks about one scene in the show: “They find a woman and her young daughter lying in bed murdered, bloody, bound, and naked. Both have been stabbed 40 times, raped, and then suffocated with packing tape. Melinda (the coroner) explains, “The vaginal trauma was more severe on the child…due to her pre-pubescence.” Later she elaborates on the cuts saying that each of the 40 cuts was inflicted before death and that the victims felt every one of them. Detectives pry the little girl’s hand open to retrieve a crucifix she tore from her mother’s neck. The entire scene is too much for Dani to handle and she is noticeably shaken not only by the gruesome sight, but at the idea that a child could suffer in such a way.” The PTC expresses its moral outrage at this scene by saying “It is puzzling how the writers of SVU could conceive of Dani being disturbed by the sight of the murder scene and yet present the scene as entertainment for Americans. Are we heartless, desensitized monsters who feel nothing at the sight of a murdered child who was raped and murdered? Is the intention of the show to disturb us?” As a matter of fact, yes it is. Sex crimes are among the most horrendous in any nation. Most of the information about the crime is given in the form of description rather than depiction. The viewer is meant to feel moral outrage particularly at the murder of the child so that when the murder suspect is later himself killed by Jerry Lewis’s character we not only excuse the murder but actually support his actions. And remember this is not an actual murdered child, this is an actress who once the scene was shot got up, washed whatever Hollywood-in-New York is using for realistic blood and went off to school or her next audition.

Why the PTC and similar groups must be stopped: I found this statement came from Sumner Redstone, Executive Chairman of CBS-Viacom and whatever else they own on the Center for Creative Voices blog, or at least part of it. The bulk of the text comes from a Hollywood Reporter article. Redstone was speaking to The Media Institute which is describes as a “First Amendment Think Tank”.

Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a world where, increasingly and alarmingly, a couple thousand form complaints from people condemning shows that they have never watched can result in an indecency fine 10 times higher than an year ago. In a world where these same form complaints can lead regulators to dictate business models that ultimately do more harm than good. And yes, in a world where entertainment and news executives, musicians and artists are living in a great deal of fear.

If the public is not happy with a particular program, then they won't watch it, and it will go off air. Government censorship - and by this I mean imposing any kind of burden or penalty on those who publish protected speech - circumvents this process. This is particularly pernicious not only because it is prohibited by the Constitution but also because it can be abused by the government.

Give the government the tools to punish those it doesn't like or silence what it doesn't want to hear, and you undermine democracy. Give people the tools to choose what they see and hear, and you enhance democracy.

No comments: