Entertainment: A 1996 Scorecard
by L. Brent Bozell III
At this writing, it's December 31, meaning that I have less
than a day to look back at 1996 while it's still going on. Herewith a recap of
the year's entertainment-industry winners and losers. The distinction between
the categories is simple. The winners influenced our culture and society
positively; the losers influenced them negatively.
Winner: Rosie O'Donnell. People watch because she's nice.
Granted, she's a liberal Democrat and occasionally isn't nice to conservatives
and Republicans. Still, her frothy, showbiz-heavy daytime hour clearly is
preferable to the competing slimefests hosted by Jenny Jones, Ricki Lake,
Jerry Springer, and the rest.
Loser: Ellen DeGeneres. The Steve Gunderson of prime time,
slowly inching her way out of the closet. In anticipation of her character's
official unveiling as a lesbian, ABC moved DeGeneres' obnoxious sitcom from 8
to 9:30 p.m.. I'd like to suggest an even later time slot, like 2 a.m.
Winner: Mel Gibson. With what he has going for him -
box-office magnetism, personal and philosophical integrity, and talent on both
sides of the camera -- he has done much, and will do much more, to make
Hollywood a force for traditional morality.
Losers: Sony-owned companies named Columbia, both of which
were forces for immorality in '96. Columbia Records issued "Oh Come All
Ye Faithful," a Christmas album benefiting pro-abortion groups. Columbia
Pictures released "The People vs. Larry Flynt," the original
advertisement for which featured Woody Harrelson, playing the notorious
pornographer, posing as if crucified against the backdrop of a near-naked
Winner: The WB television network. Even though it's on only
three nights per week, it provides as much family programming as any full-time
network, and more than most.
Losers: Fox and NBC. Neither airs even one
family-friendly show. For parents and their young children, racy NBC
"family hour" offerings like "Friends" are Mustn't See TV.
Winners: William Bennett and C. Delores Tucker. They not
only started an anti-gangsta rap campaign, they've followed through.
Loser: The aforementioned Woody Harrelson. Woody qualifies
not only for starring in the Flynt movie, but also for this breathtakingly
asinine statement in an interview with Us magazine: "I do my thing and
I'm pretty good at it, but I'm convinced that the only reason my career has
continually done as well as it has is that I speak for the trees."
Winner: Cable television, which continues to gain viewers at
the expense of ...
Loser: ...broadcast television, whose real problem -
vulgarity - a rating system won't fix.
Winner: Tom Hanks. Aside from the odd curse word, his
upbeat, wholesome "That Thing You Do!" could be aired intact on
broadcast television - something that can be said for almost no other
Loser: Disney, which could use any wholesomeness Hanks can
spare. Its kowtowing to gays culminated this year with the "Ellen"
uproar. (Disney produces the show through its Touchstone Television and airs
it on its ABC network.) Then the Mouse went after the film rights to an absurd
series of newspaper articles alleging that the CIA had introduced crack to the
ghettos of Los Angeles. Whichever executive green-lighted that purchase has a
small mind, after all.
Special mention: NBC's "Today" show, which will
improve as of January 3, when the egregious Bryant Gumbel leaves. As a
baseball general manager once said of a traded player, "It's addition by
And, finally, my Persons of the Year - one a negative
figure, the other positive. The former award is presented posthumously to
Tupac Shakur. This is the holiday season, but there are limits to my goodwill,
and the late rapper/actor/criminal Mr. Shakur remains outside them. At a
recent Washington speech, black intellectual Stanley Crouch told of a friend
who noted the dictum that one should speak only good of the dead. Then, Crouch
said, the friend added, "Tupac Shakur is dead. Good." Well put.
My positive Person of the Year is Martha Williamson,
creator and executive producer of two of prime time's best series,
"Touched By an Angel" and "Promised Land." When
"Angel" premiered in 1994, critics called it hokey and saccharine.
CBS played schedule hide-and-seek with it to such an extent that many didn't
know when it would air. But its popularity increased dramatically last year,
and it is now a top-ten hit.
Hits beget spinoffs, and "Promised Land" debuted
this fall. It is less explicitly religious than "Angel," but faith
is nonetheless at its core. Who knows? Maybe the next prime time powerhouse
will be not an envelope-pusher a la Steven Bochco, but the devoutly religious,
energetic, imaginative Ms. Williamson.
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