"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 28 April 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Low Turnout


[best things about San Francisco this week:]

Today is the first day of the

rest of your so-called life.

Isn't it a relief you survived

the last seven days without TV?


Or perhaps you didn't realize

today is the final day of

TV-Turnoff Week. How would you

know, if you hadn't seen it on

the ten o'clock news? For the

fourth year running, an

organization called TV Free

America sponsored this high

holiday, allegedly at the

request of 35 governors, 35,000

schools, and the American

Medical Association. They hoped

5 million Americans would turn

the dummy box off, lay down

their remote controls, and find

something to do with their

hands. Like smoke cigarettes or

spank their kids. Anything, so

long as it wasn't bathing in the

glow of that diabolical consumer

electronics appliance.


Television is the only medium

that carries so much moral

baggage. Think about it: How

many "Kill Your Bookshelf"

bumperstickers have you seen in

the past decade? While it seems

a pointless and Herculean task

to shovel the stalls of every

cultural critic who's shit him-

or herself over TV's inherent

malevolence, we don't mind

putting our backs into it, if it

means we can remark upon the

relative abominations of Anne

Rice and John Grisham, and watch

Jerry Springer in peace.


[returning to warm weather and kelly green's new bbq center

Indeed, as the rest of TV

responds to the sting of public

opinion, Jerry has stayed the

course of


programming. Needless to say,

he's in good form - or, if you

prefer, at the top of his heap.

That, of course, makes him an

easy target. Last week, at the

proud acme of our week away from

television - we apologize for

those withdrawal spasms, it was

hell - the Astor Chocolate

Company offered a free box of

candy to the first 1,000 people

who pledged to boycott Springer

(and send their household

garbage to his producers). Now

there's a wholesome substitute:

10,000 empty calories for 60

empty minutes. The same anxious,

headachy feeling and irritable

bowels without all the damn



Sadly, though, even while we

were turning him off and writing

him up, TV itself has turned on

Jerry. A few weeks ago at the

National Association of

Broadcasters convention, ABC

honcho Robert Iger called the

Springer show "an embarrassment"

to the TV business. There's

something both comic and cosmic

- transcendentally medicated,

perhaps - about the head of the

network responsible for

Roseanne and Married with

Children preaching on the

subject of restraint from the

podium of the Las Vegas

Convention Center, the veritable

altar of common sense and good

taste. And Rolling Stone decrying The

Jerry Springer Show as a symptom

of "cultural braindeath" (writer

Eric Hedegaard, getting a little

too far out of the shallow end

for his own good, actually

quotes Sherwin Nuland's How We

Die in last week's biopic cover

story) is surely one of the

finest examples in recent memory

of the pot impugning the kettle.

You think Jerry's soul is in

mortal danger? Let's be

perfectly candid: There's a much

deeper, much hotter hole in hell

for the likes of Celine Dion,

Lenny DiCaprio, and Jann Wenner.


[coming home, being picked up at the airport, clean car 

In spite of its manifestly

unliterary name, the whole point

of TV-Turnoff Week was to

reclaim the four hours a day

that the average American spends

googly-eyed in front of the

phosphor glow of the tube. There

was a time - a dark, amoral

period of wandering and

opprobrium - when we didn't know

whether to laugh or cry over

this postmodern cliché. Or

wonder who the hell watches 8 to 12

hours a day, picking up the

slack for the rest of us. Today,

it makes us hotter than a

two-peckered billygoat. That's

valuable time they could spend

online. Valuable time they could

spend buying and reading one

particularly good book. In other

words, time they could be

spending googly-eyed in front of

the phosphor glow of Suck.


Debate this not: What this

country needs is less action and

more penny-ante moralizing.

Given half a chance, today's TV

producers are more than willing

to broadcast valuable cultural

artifacts, especially if they

can cast someone from Star Trek

in a lead role. Just nine days

ago (barely under the wire

before TV-Turnoff Week!), NBC

debuted their stylish

interpretation of Brave New

World with Leonard Nimoy as

World Controller. And despite

the distractions of a sumptuous

music-video production, set in

some lunar L. A. interior, they

could hardly keep themselves

from moralizing - not about the

dangers of technocracy,

communism, or any of the other

chimeras Aldous Huxley was

obsessed with back in 1932, but

about the true tools of fascism:

the advertising and journalism

industries. NBC producers,

finally finding the time to look

up "irony" in their kid's

uncracked graduation-day

dictionary, have figured out a

new self-loathing strategy. Just

to be safe, though, they'll

stick with the literary canon

for their material. Consider

USA's brave new reworking of

Moby Dick last month. With

Patrick Stewart as Ahab, they

managed to turn an allegory

about human aspiration,

conquest, and good,

old-fashioned monomania into a

sexy leather-and-burlap morality

tale about the dangers of

untreated mental illness in the

barbaric days before soma, er,



[my mint taking over the garden (mojitos for all!) ]

No, the new conscience of

television is not very

complicated after all: What we

want isn't always good for us.

That's a realization as old as

our taste for apples, our shame

of nakedness, and our fear of

snakes. Just so, in the next TV

season, we fully expect to see

teleplays for Gravity's Rainbow and

Pilgrim's Progess, extrapolating

what their authors' views might

have been about networked

computers, turbo diesel cars,

and teenage bisexual prostitutes

who gobble paint chips.


But in the valley of the shadow

of television, what the world

needs now is love, sweet love.

And although Gavin McLeod's in

retirement, we're confident Love

Boat - the Next Wave is

ultimately the only thing that

there's just too little of.

courtesy of E.L. Skinner