On Jan. 11, the most disgusting program on broadcast television, UPN's wrestling sewagefest "WWF Smackdown!," which normally runs from 8 to 10 p.m. Eastern time, ended a half-hour early. Good news? Not really. From 9:30 to 10, UPN viewers were treated not to the usual Thursday fare -- large men bashing one another with metal folding chairs, thousands of fans chanting obscenities, and so on -- but rather to the premiere of an animated foam-puppet show. In terms of stupidity, nastiness, and raunch, it was so offensive it made the WWF look (almost) tame.
And that's not the worst of it. The next night, that puppet show, "Gary & Mike," first aired in its regular time slot of 8 p.m. Friday -- one more step in the transformation of the family hour into the anti-family hour.
"Gary & Mike" concerns two fellows in their early twenties who travel around the United States in their automobile. In the debut, Mike is shown in bed with a woman on her -- but not his -- wedding day. A bit later, he jumps out of her bedroom window, his bare buttocks visible, just ahead of her baseball-bat-wielding father, who's yelling, "Bastard! I'm gonna bash your filthy head in!" There's considerably more gutter language; jokes about oral and anal sex; and Gary and Mike's car running over a rabbit, leaving the animal's innards splattered on the street.
Did I mention that this was at the start of the family hour?
The second episode, besides being as tasteless as the first, resorts to religion-bashing, too. When Gary and Mike patronize a fast-food joint called Baptist Burger, Gary orders a "Born-Again Burger, some Nazareth Nuggets, and a Judas Juice," whereupon the server asks him, "Wanna crucisize (sic) that?" Later, a nun snaps, "For Chrissakes, will you please shut up? ... Go to hell!"
Out of either a bizarre sense of pride or sheer shamelessness, UPN has sent to TV critics a future episode in which Gary and Mike come to Washington, where a female Supreme Court justice is seemingly depicted, in the words of the Los Angeles Times' Howard Rosenberg, "pleasuring herself after watching a porno film as part of a First Amendment case." She then has sex with Mike, who tells her, "I've got a rocket in my pocket, so put me on your docket."
That's mindless trash -- but what follows "Gary & Mike" makes mindless trash appear desirable. At 8:30 Fridays, UPN is running "Celebrity Deathmatch," the infamous MTV series in which claymation figures of celebrities brutally dispatch one another. Bloody doesn't begin to describe it; dismemberment, decapitation, and visible brain tissue and bone are common. All this ultraviolence is brought to you by the media conglomerate Viacom, which owns both UPN and MTV and is the proud sponsor of Howard Stern.
MTV used to show "Deathmatch" at 10 p.m., meaning, presumably, even it realized the show wasn't appropriate for youngsters. But that was then, and this is now, and Viacom/UPN couldn't care less about any standards whatsoever.
Scheduling "Gary & Mike" and "Deathmatch" back to back, according to UPN entertainment president Tom Nunan, "sends a message to viewers and the creative community that Fridays 8 to 9 (on UPN) is home to really off-the-wall alternative comedy." To which I respond that it sends a message that Nunan's network is a toxic-waste dump, and that such programming is indeed an alternative to any semblance of decency -- and taste. UPN is the network for morons.
It's nice to see that concern over inappropriate family-hour content is growing. Twice a year, the weekly Electronic Media surveys several dozen television critics regarding their most and least favorite series. For the poll, whose results ran in the Jan. 1 issue, the critics also were invited, apparently for the first time, to name "which TV shows airing in the family hour were (or are) too risqué for that 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. (Eastern) time slot."
The winner was NBC's now-canceled "Titans." Tied for second were Fox's "Boston Public" and NBC's "Friends"; tied for fourth were "Smackdown!" and NBC's now-canceled "Tucker."
It's gratifying to note that some folks out there in TV Critic Land are seeming to come to their senses. It's almost a knee-jerk reaction to label a show with offensive elements "edgy" or "envelope-pushing" -- quaint, value-neutral labels that say I'm OK, You're OK.
Some are recognizing that when it comes to the first hour of prime time, when children are in the audience, some things just aren't OK.