As I watched Tina Fey promote the season premiere of 30 Rock Wednesday on CBS’ Late Show with David Letterman and Thursday on ABC’s The View I couldn’t help but wonder: Why did NBC see fit to forbid the cast of Fox’s Glee from performing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?
Seriously, what is the issue here? CBS doesn’t seem to have a problem with Fey appearing on its red-hot late night franchise, and ABC seems to be at peace with a little promotion for 30 Rock on its high-profile daytime showpiece. So what’s the harm in NBC letting the kids from Glee sing a song during its annual Thanksgiving holiday special?
This decision on the part of NBC’s management team is, in a word, twitchy. First up, Glee is hardly a ratings behemoth, though its steady performance to date has made it a solid mid-level success. It’s not as if we’re talking about a float featuring the cast of the Fox smash House (though that might be okay, since House is a product of NBC Universal Productions). Second, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the NBC series that is telecast in the same Wednesday time period as Glee, shares almost zero audience with it, so issues of competition aren’t particularly significant. Third, just as an appearance by the very popular Ms. Fey no doubt brought a number of viewers to Late Show or The View who might not otherwise have been watching, an appearance during the parade by the cast of Glee might bring to NBC a host of new eyeballs (especially those 18-49 eyeballs over which it obsesses), and wouldn’t that be a great group for the network to reach with promotions for its struggling lineup? What’s the downside?
Speaking of SVU, which has taken a significant hit since NBC pushed it out of the 10 p.m. time period in which it belongs to make way for the curiously dull Jay Leno Show (which might benefit from an appearance by the lively cast of Glee), I thought the opening sequence of this week’s episode (with guest stars Scott Foley and Christine Lahti) was one of the most disturbing things I have seen on a broadcast network at 9 p.m. in a long time. Foley’s character woke up naked, disoriented and a bit bloodied in the bathroom of his apartment, with blood smeared on the white tiled walls around him. He then stumbled into his living room, where a dead, semi-nude woman lay on the floor in a pool of blood, the side of her skull bashed in, with blood splatters all over the walls. The camera repeatedly returned to and lingered on the goop and guts surrounding the woman’s massive head wound. This is hardly the first time that SVU has presented the awful aftermath of a violent crime (without showing the violence that came first), and such messy displays are par for the course on many of CBS’ hugely popular crime series. But for some reason I found this scene hard to look at.
Just as I was wondering what my problem was, I came upon this article from Britain’s Daily Mail that says the BBC, out of respect for viewer sensitivities, will be making an effort to cut back on graphic violence in its programs. I don’t know if they are talking about CSI-style thrill-kill ultra-violence or Law & Order-type blood and guts, or both, but I like the idea of less repugnant imagery on television. There is much to be said for thoughtful restraint in popular culture, especially where violence (and especially violence against women) is concerned. But I can just imagine the outcry in this country if broadcast networks (and basic cable nets, for that matter) were to cut back on violence. American television viewers have been known to scream at the heavens when surprised by a bared heinie or a flashed boob, but they seem to be good with brain-bashings and disembowelments, which are also popular entertainment elements of the video games their kids are happily playing in the other room. Imagine the horrible howling that would follow a concerted effort on the part of any network to make television entertainment less graphic.
Moving along to something completely different, how cool has it been to see original Monty Python’s Flying Circus members John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones (with a cardboard stand-up of the late Graham Chapman) making the rounds of television talk shows promoting IFC’s six-part documentary Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut), set to run October 18-23 at 9 p.m. ET? Almost the Truth is essential viewing for those of us who grew up running lines about penguins on top of television sets and evil-smelling flocks of soiled budgies flying out of people’s lavatories and singing about cross-dressing lumberjacks and bisected bees. That Cleese and the others have still got it comes as no surprise. What puzzles me is this: Why hasn’t another talented troupe come along in the 40 years since the Pythons made their historic debut and unleashed an equally impressive catalogue of similarly silly and sublimely sophisticated comedy bits and pieces? There are many people making great comedy these days, alone and in groups, but it’s hard to imagine that any of them will have the sheer staying power of the mighty Monty Python.
All this talk about great writing that stands the test of time brings me to another question: Can anyone tell me what an “asshat” is? I have heard this term used in several primetime shows this season (including The CW’s egregiously underappreciated Supernatural and NBC’s steadily improving Mercy) and I’m sure I’ll hear it in several more. I realize it's a substitute for the word "asshole," but wouldn’t a dramatically huffed “ass” suffice? “Asshat” is one of those words one never hears in real life that fill the air in writers rooms, along with similarly foreign phrases, some of which (“my bad,” “find the funny”) seep into mainstream conversation while others (“I’ll eat your dog”) go away fast.
ABC has found much funny this season with The Middle, Modern Family and Cougar Town, three genuinely amusing single-camera comedies that have held up creatively and in the ratings for three consecutive weeks. Coming off a decade in which any network was lucky to introduce even one comedy per season that caught on, this must be a modern record of some kind. ABC hasn’t just launched a comedy; it has launched an actual comedy block. When was the last time that happened? Unfortunately Hank, the Kelsey Grammer vehicle that kicks off ABC’s new night of laughs, has proven to be every bit as funny challenged as many of us feared. This might be the time to revive Better Off Ted and reshuffle the sked, starting with Modern Family at 8 and followed by Middle, Cougar and Ted, in that order.
I have to admit that a full season of Hank would be easier to take than a second episode of E!’s wretched unscripted entry Leave It To Lamas, about the largely dysfunctional family of bad-ass B-movie actor and long-ago Falcon Crest hunk Lorenzo Lamas. What an assault on life! After thirty minutes of listening to sisters Shayne and Dakota prattle on about absolutely nothing of any importance and watching their topless, overheated, menopausal mother chill her breasts in her daughters’ fridge I couldn’t decide what to do first: Boil my eyeballs or shove knitting needles into my ears.