'Public' enters the radar screen

Posted: Feb 20, 2001 12:00 AM
A couple of weeks ago, Media Life magazine ran an article on what it called the Dirty Dozen -- the television programs "that media (advertising) buyers (say) are the least appropriate for their clients." It's encouraging that most of the shows on the list inspire skittishness in sponsors, given their putrid nature. "Temptation Island," Jerry Springer, Howard Stern, "Jackass" and, of course, "WWF Smackdown!" can be found on the list. It's nice to see sponsors finally getting religion. But it's beyond my powers of perception to understand why, missing from that list, is the most revolting show on television. "Boston Public" is a Fox network (surprise, surprise) first-year drama set at a high school. If there's any question to whom this show is marketed, it airs at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, smack-dab at the start of the "family hour." It's produced by David Kelley, one of the television industry's most successful -- and sex-obsessed -- auteurs. "Boston Public" is, in a word, jaw-dropping. It is everything any parent east of the 90210 zip code would want kept from his children. It is soft porn for teens -- nothing less. The first episodes contained such delights as a female student running for senior-class president fellating another candidate in a school hallway to get him to drop out of the race and endorse her, and another female student telling a male teacher that she masturbated while fantasizing about him. The suits at Fox must have liked the results, because since then, Kelley has been pouring on the erotic sexual afterburners. -- Nov. 20: A "posse" of senior boys holds a competition in which the boys score points for each girl with whom they sleep. Under their rules, the younger the girl, the higher her point value, so, inevitably, posse members prey on freshman girls. -- Nov. 27: A widowed female teacher becomes aroused when she spanks students, and not only students. Asking a widower on a date, she says, "I could bring my paddle. You might like it. My late husband couldn't get enough of it." -- Dec. 4: A teacher is hit in the head by a thrown object, which is thought to be a water balloon, but turns out to be a breast implant. The vice principal goes out with a woman whom he thinks is a masseuse but turns out to be a call girl; he learns the truth when, as she gives him a massage, she grabs his genitals. On several occasions, as part of a "Nude Olympics," students run naked through the school, their buttocks visible onscreen. (Remember when bare bottoms were shocking on a 10 o'clock show?) -- The Dec. 11 installment begins a multi-episode plotline about an affair between Milton, a thirtyish teacher, and Lisa, who claims to be a student at Harvard. In that episode, there are three scenes in which the two are shown having sex; in each scene, a different Christmas carol (a different (ITAL) religious (ITAL) Christmas carol, e.g., "Angels We Have Heard on High") plays on the soundtrack. At the end of the episode, Lisa informs Milton that she doesn't attend Harvard, but rather that very high school. Is Milton mortified? Heck, no. This is Hollywood, and in Hollywood sexual fulfillment is the highest of ideals. Milton rationalizes that because Lisa's 18, he's covered in legal terms. (See: Clinton, William Jefferson.) Their affair continues, and sometimes the happy couple can't even wait for a bed, as when they have sex in the school's boiler room. -- And the Jan. 22 episode lingers on a cheerleaders' routine in which they rub their breasts and the insides of their thighs; reach between their legs to touch their buttocks; and thrust their hips as they lie on their backs. How "Boston Public" doesn't rate as objectionable to the advertiser community at large is a mystery. That doesn't mean some aren't starting to figure it out. Campbell Soup has advertised on the show but now says it doesn't plan to do so anymore, and Hallmark says it hasn't and won't. Good for them. As for the rest, I hope their CEOs sleep soundly at night knowing their advertising dollars are funding the promotion of child rape, bondage and prostitution -- to children.