People who do a lot of business travel find themselves killing time by watching a lot of airline movies. Since the flying public includes a lot of children, the movie studios courteously provide the airlines with the movies edited for sex, language, ultra violence and the like. And here's the curious thing: I've never watched one of these movies and concluded at the end that it was cheapened by a lack of "gritty" (and I'm being kind here) material. Never in my life have I met a fellow passenger who suggested as much.
What these edited movies prove is that when nudity, obscenities and grisly violence are excised, and nothing of significance is lost, what gets removed meets the dictionary definition of "gratuitous" -- uncalled for, unwarranted, unnecessary for the purpose of entertainment.
Many network television shows cry out for the airline-editing treatment. Some shows enthrall, and yet their producers feel the need to dig deep, deep into the muck of shock in search of the acclaim of jaded TV critics and the respect of their race-to-the-bottom Hollywood peers.
One of the most popular new TV programs this fall is "Heroes," an NBC drama about ordinary people discovering they have superheroic powers and a destiny to save the world from imminent destruction. A high school cheerleader can regenerate her body out of any injury. A politician can fly. A policeman can read minds. An excitable Japanese man can stop time and move through time. A painter can predict the future in his paintings. And he sees a future that binds these and other ordinary heroes together.
This sounds like good, fun stuff. With its cinematic feel and heroic appeal, the show has a strong pull on the young audience, with an estimated 750,000 viewers ages 2 to 11, and almost a million viewers ages 12 to 17. It has the ability to attract many more who are older than that. So why do some of the scenes match the definition of gratuitous -- disturbing and utterly unnecessary to a captivating program?
Consider one character, Niki Sanders. She is presented as ... a Webcam stripper living in Las Vegas. We're only five minutes into the "Heroes" season premiere when the audience watches Niki crawl across her bed provocatively in her underwear. Moving to the music, she begins taking off her shirt and bra for a live feed Webcam. Once her bra is off, Niki covers her breasts and runs to the computer to solicit more money from her audience.