There are some interesting developments regarding the most disgusting program in the history of broadcast television, UPN's "WWF Smackdown!" Over the past few weeks, "Smackdown!" has been dramatically toned down; though it remains violent, its sexual content and foul language have decreased considerably.
"Toned down" is a relative term, of course. The "tame" June and July editions of "Smackdown!" have contained inflatable women; a pimp character accompanied by prostitute characters; repeated audible crowd chants of "slut" and "a--hole"; persons in the crowd giving the finger; and wrestlers striking each other with objects including a nightstick, a glass pitcher, a champagne bottle, a bowling ball, and a lead pipe.
The reduction in raunch began right around the time that MCI WorldCom, the show's most consistent sponsor, publicly withdrew its advertising dollars. This isn't the first time that "Smackdown!" has scaled back its outrageousness, however. Late last November, after major advertisers like Coca-Cola and AT&T pulled out, WWF impresario Vince McMahon promised "less aggression, less-colorful language, less sexuality" on "Smackdown!" McMahon was briefly true to his word, but by the end of January, the filth was back in full.
And get ready to see the WWF -- everywhere.
Effective in September, the WWF's cable programming moves from the USA Network to Viacom-owned TNN (which will run the WWF's Monday-night smash "Raw Is War") and MTV. UPN, on which "Smackdown!" has aired since its inception last year, is part of Viacom as well.
A Wall Street Journal article said that Viacom also plans a WWF-related drama series on UPN; a film-script development fund; "a publishing venture with (Viacom-owned) Simon & Schuster"; and "syndicated radio programs and theme-park events."
Moreover, reports Electronic Media, the WWF is "exploring how it can develop a show for a younger audience" -- a show that could air on, say, Viacom-owned Nickelodeon. "We are certainly looking at some younger demo(graphics) for a different type of program," said WWF Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon. Younger than what, I'm not sure, since the WWF's current programming already reaches millions of children under twelve.
Prepare yourself for an avalanche of WWF hype to accompany it all. According to Broadcasting & Cable, Linda McMahon claims that Viacom will spend $8 million or more to promote the WWF -- and that doesn't count promos on Viacom's many networks, among which also is CBS. In McMahon's words, MTV Networks president Tom Freston "indicated to me that if you were on this planet -- man, woman or child -- there (will) be no way that you (will) not know that the WWF is moving to TNN and to MTV with our core programming."
Meanwhile, the USA Network, soon to be bereft of the WWF fare that has kept it on top in the cable ratings, hopes to appeal to sex-obsessed teenage male wrestling fans with new series like "Manhattan, AZ."
One promo boasts that it's rated TV-SOB, for Sex on the Brain. Another starts with a label reading, "Viewer Discretion Is Advised. TV-AG. Anything Goes." Cut to a woman holding a platter, who inquires, "Do you want to have sex before or after your leg of lamb?" The screen then reads, "It is intended for immature audiences only."
USA president Stephen Chao told a recent gathering of TV critics that "when I had (the) WWF, I spent time defending (it). Now, I have to defend the fact that it's gone." It's probably gratifying for him that now he gets to defend junk like "Manhattan, AZ." Were Dante alive today he'd have a circle reserved just for these television executives, an eternity to be spent watching reruns of the mindless stupidity they are foisting on the public.
-- Remember the uproar last fall over CBS's "Chicago Hope" airing, unedited, the phrase "s--t happens"? It didn't stop the network from going scatological again on July 13, when one of the housemates on the reality show "Big Brother" said "holy s--t"; once again, the obscenity was completely unobscured. And "Big Brother" airs at 8, in what used to be the family hour.
In the last few months, CBS, not long ago perhaps the least objectionable network, has seemed intent on matching its raunch-driven competitors. Les Moonves and Co. may not quite have caught up, but they're getting close.