Raunchy Like a Fox
by L. Brent Bozell III
Ten years ago this month, the Fox network began
broadcasting, and since then prime time entertainment television hasn't been
the same. Though Fox has almost always trailed NBC, CBS, and ABC in the
overall ratings, it has been the most influential network of the four, blazing
a trail of vulgarity and obnoxiousness that the others, fearful of losing a
large chunk of their audience to the upstart web, soon followed. And that Fox
has aimed its vomit at the young-adult audience makes its impact that much
A March 30 Los Angeles Times article on the
network's anniversary notes that from the very beginning, Fox wanted to be
different. Its guiding force was Fox Inc. chairman Barry Diller, who, wrote
Rick Du Brow of the Times in 1990, "virtually willed [it] into existence
and epitomized its independent tone." Jamie Kellner, Fox's first
president, recalled in the March Times piece that in the network's early days,
he and programming head Garth Ancier told producers, "We'll let you do
the show you want to do that the other networks won't let you do."
The show that Ron Leavitt and Michael Moye
wanted to produce turned out to be Fox's first weekly series, the gross
"Married... With Children," a deliberate lampoon of what Leavitt and
Moye considered saccharine family sitcoms. (Its working title was "Not
the Cosbys.") In terms of popularity, Leavitt and Moye's unsavory stew of
sexual and toilet humor succeeded: a small following of brainless people was
identified, but so loyal is this market that Fox still broadcasts new episodes
of "Married," and syndicated reruns are seen in dozens of cities. It
certainly opened the door for "Roseanne" and other less successful
but equally squalid efforts.
A few of Fox's subsequent shows, such as the
comedies "Martin" and "In Living Color," maintained the
high raunch factor of "Married." "Beverly Hills, 90210"
and "Melrose Place" upped the steam quotient. Instead of sex gags
a la "Married," "90210" and "Melrose" featured
plain sex, sex, and more sex, usually premarital, occasionally adulterous,
hardly ever within marriage. Both of these soaps air during the former family
hour, at 8 o'clock (7 p.m. Central and Mountain), another Fox
"innovation." Fox also introduced the dysfunctional family cartoon
"The Simpsons" and broke new ground, dismissing the concerns of
millions of families with the violent "X-Files." Always the approach
is the same: forget majority sentiment, aim to capture the avant-garde
This fare added up to what was, in effect, a
Fox network personality, usually described with words like
"envelope-pushing," "risk-taking," "edgy,"
"sexy," "innovative." (These are euphemisms for another
word: "tasteless.") "Fox changed the face of television
marketing," according to Peter Chernin, the network's head programmer in
the late '80s and early '90s. "They did an amazing job of creating a
brand image. It's one of the major brands of the last ten years, and it forced
the other networks to do the same. 'Must See TV' on NBC came out of Fox."
Chernin is correct. Look at NBC's schedule for
the fall of 1986, about six months before Fox went on the air. The programming
included "The Cosby Show," "ALF," "Matlock,"
"Highway to Heaven," "Family Ties," "The Facts of
Life," and "227" - all family shows. It was a time when parents
did not live in fear of what television was doing to their children. And
today? NBC offers almost nothing for the family audience, even between 8 and 9
o'clock. Tune in to "Friends," "The Single Guy,"
"Chicago Sons," or any number of other shows, and you'll be floored
by the obscenities, vulgarities, and sexual content. It's "Must See
Garbage," and little more.
Meanwhile, back at the Fox, life is good. Many
of the executives, producers, writers, actors, and actresses are rolling in
millions, the toast of the town at celebrity gigs. But working on the
assumption that these people have a conscience, how must they feel about their
work? Can Barry Diller, who left Fox in 1992, honestly tell himself he's proud
of his accomplishments there? What about actors like David Faustino (Bud Bundy
on "Married?With Children") who's made a living playing a sexual
pervert for ten years? Will he be proud to show these clips to his children?
What of Katey Sagal (Peg Bundy), who has spent the past ten years publicly
begging for sex? Or Ed O'Neill (Al Bundy), who has spent ten years being an
idiot? Or Christina Applegate (Kelly Bundy), a slut?
Maybe it's best that they not have consciences
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