After Tartikoff, the Deluge
by L. Brent Bozell III
Preparing for a trip to the West Coast a few weeks ago, I
called him to see if we could get together. His office was cryptic: they'd get
back to me. They never did. Odd, I thought. We'd met last year and at
the end of an hour-long conversation he'd readily agreed to join the advisory
board of the Parents Television Council, which I head and whose mission is to
restore positive family programming to television.
Three days later, while in Los Angeles, I learned why he'd
not responded. Brandon Tartikoff, at 31 the youngest ever to head the
entertainment division of a television network, the wunderkind who
took NBC from the cellar to the top of the ratings, was dead at age 48 from
In all the tributes that would follow, it seemed that his
artistic acumen came up less often than did his commercial success. That's
unfortunate. In some respects the artistic quality of television is better
than ever, and it was Tartikoff who started that trend a decade and a half
Look at a few of his innumerable hits. He saw the talent in
an artist most considered past his prime; "The Cosby Show" was a
ratings blockbuster, perhaps because it was one of the most deftly written
family comedies ever. He was the driving force behind "Hill Street
Blues," which handled mature, and sometimes disturbing, themes in a
amazingly subtle, affecting manner.
Its early Nielsens were abysmal, but Tartikoff stayed with this gem until the
audience discovered it. Another initial ratings disaster, "Cheers,"
raised the bar in terms of sophisticated wit and ran for eleven seasons.
There was something special about this man. In 1991, he and
his eight-year-old daughter were in a grisly automobile accident. The little
girl's injuries would require a prolonged stay at a Louisiana hospital;
Tartikoff gave up his career and moved to New Orleans to be at her side. He
would return to Hollywood in time and dabble with other projects. When I met
with him last year he was heading New World Entertainment and producing
"Second Noah" (which aired briefly on ABC), a terrific family drama.
Tartikoff. In many respects, it's headed in the opposite
direction. UPN, three years old and already an airwave polluter to be reckoned
with, is a case in point.
The highest-quality series UPN has are "Moesha"
and "Star Trek: Voyager." On the other hand, its stupid, trashy
offerings are many. Its Monday lineup begins at 8 o'clock with one of them,
"In the House." In the first scene of the August 25 season
premiere, the receptionist at a sports medicine clinic tells a caller,
"No, this is not the Chocolate Fantasy Hotline... No, this is not the
Fruity Booty Line, either." The next week, Tonya, one of the clinic's
owners, decides that wearing an outrageously padded bra will effectively
promote the motivational-speaking business she runs on the side. "You
look like you're smuggling footballs" is just the first of the show's
many brilliantly clever quips.
A half hour later, UPN presents another raunchfest,
"Malcolm and Eddie." Here's typical dialogue, from September 1.
Malcolm (awakened in the middle of the night): "What's going on..."
Eddie: "That was Loretta. She works at Federal Express." Malcolm:
"What was she doing here at 2:30 in the morning..." Eddie: "I
told her I absolutely, positively had to have it tonight."
UPN torques up the smut again at 9:30 with
"Sparks." In the September 1 episode, Maxie is watching pornographic
videos in his law office. Meanwhile, his new girlfriend, Wilma, isn't
sure if she should have sex with him yet. She asks a friend, "When's the
best time to sleep with a man?" The friend responds, "There are two
times, daytime and nighttime... This is what you do: put on some Babyface, do
a little baby talk, then bring on the baby oil." Wilma decides to seduce
Maxie, unaware that he's impotent. As she comes down the stairs wearing a
negligee, Maxie looks at his crotch and says, "Where are you when I need
UPN's Tuesday 9 p.m. hour is another repository of trash.
"Hitz" stars pottymouthed "comedian" Andrew Dice Clay as
the president of a record label. Unsurprisingly, jokes about oral sex,
three-way sex, and jiggling breasts are staples. "Head Over Heels,"
set at a Miami dating service, features "humor" about promiscuity,
masturbation, and "ladyquakes" (i.e.., female orgasms).
I miss Brandon Tartikoff, and though millions of viewers may
not realize it, they do too.
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