Friday, November 17, 2006

Strip-Mining the Wasteland

Almost 50 years ago, then-FCC Commissioner Newton Minow warned, famously, that television was becoming a "vast wasteland." Cynics would argue that television programming since that time has largely fulfilled Minow's prophecy. Even in a 500-channel cable or satellite universe, I've heard more than a few viewers complain that "there's nothing worth watching on TV."

I won't go that far. Finding something worthwhile on TV is (obviously) a product of your own tastes and an ability to separate those nuggets from everything else on the tube. And, I would never presume to tell you what to watch. If you prefer Dukes of Hazzard re-runs or American Idol over Lost, go for it. But be warned: persistent exposure to TV schlock doesn't exactly enhance higher brain functions or make you a more productive member of society. Paraphrasing Mencken: [TV programmers] will never go broke under-estimating the taste of the American people.

The latest proof of that axiom will air later this month, when the Fox Broadcast Network presents its "exclusive" interview with O.J. Simpson, outlining "how" he might have murdered his ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ron Goldman. The interview is being conducted by publisher Judith Regan, who (coincidentally) is releasing a book by Simpson on the same subject.

There's a running joke among broadcasters that if a human execution is ever televised, it will air on the Fox Broadcast Network. Given that network's reputation (various installments of When Animals Attack come to mind), the notion of Fox airing such a morbid and tasteless event may not be far-fetched. And, if the ratings were high enough, ABC, NBC, CBS and the CW would have their own, competing execution shows in a matter of weeks.

But I digress. Sadly, with the Simpson "special," Fox has somehow exceeded that penultimate benchmark of tackiness and bad taste. Why is it necessary to give Mr. Simpson two hours of broadcast time (and a book contract) to speculate about the Brown-Goldman murders? With the exception of 12 brain-dead people in Los Angeles, Americans agree that Orenthal James Simpson brutally murdered two innocent people in the summer of 1994. He managed to beat the rap two years later by hiring a legal shark who played the race card to the hilt, badgered an over-matched judge, and engaged in some highly effective courtroom theatrics (remember the "glove" demonstration?)

Trying to justify a rehash of those events has already produced some strange gyrations of speech and logic. Sean Hannity--who ought to know better--tried to give the publisher a pass on his show yesterday, saying that Ms. Regan believes that "all voices should be heard." What a crock. Forget about Simpson for a moment; clearly, there are some voices that don't deserve a public hearing. If she truly believes that "all voices should be heard," is Ms. Regan prepared to publish the collected wisdom of, say, the Grand Wizard of the KKK, or the musings of Iran's nut-ball president? And, we can only wonder if she would have snapped up the rights to Mein Kampf in the early 1920s.

Equally weird is Ms. Regan's insistence that "I did not pay O.J." Phul-eeze. If there's one thing we've learned about Mr. Simpson in the post-acquittal era, it's that he won't show up for anything unless a payday is involved. Claims that the money went to Simpson's children (through a third party) may be accurate, but it's nothing more than a legal maneuver to prevent the Brown and Goldman families from collecting any money. You may recall that Mr. Simpson owes the victims' families somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million, the result of a verdict in a civil trial almost ten years ago. To date, O.J. hasn't paid them a penny.

But the strangest explanation for the "event" can be found in Ms. Regan's long, rambling, and slightly incoherent statement, published by Matt Drudge. If I'm reading it correctly, the logic behind Simpson's book (and TV special) can be found in her own, failed marriage. She was physically abused and abandoned by her physician husband, and left alone to raise two young children. Based on those own experiences, Ms. Regan says she wanted to show her children that "there are consequences to grievous acts."

Like a book and a prime time TV interview? Walking around as a free man for the past decade, living off a $250,000 yearly pension, playing golf every day? Grievous consequences, indeed. Regan says she took on the Simpson project with the "belief that O.J.'s life must be a constant torture, a kind of hell." Well, it must be a fairly benign, even comfortable hell, judging from the lifestyle that Simpson now enjoys in Florida. A few tears on camera during a made-for-TV event doesn't equal contrition, let alone a confession.

Sorry, but claims that a book deal and TV special will somehow give the nation (and Ms. Regan) some sense of closure just don't wash. It's actually a bit sad that someone of her stature would be involved in such a sleazy endeavor. At one time, Judith Regan was a gutsy, even courageous publisher, willing to print books by conservative authors that no one else would touch. But with fame and wealth she apparently became another publishing hack, eager for another multi-media deal that will add a few more zeros to her bank account. By publishing the Simpson book and interviewing him on TV, Judith Regan is doing nothing more than strip-mining the cultural wasteland, providing a public forum--and a big-bucks payday--for a man who deserves neither.


Papa Ray said...

I agree with your opinion of the show and Simpson. I also agree that Fox would be the first to televise something such as a live execution.

You see, out in the vast viewer market, there are millions of people who's lives consist of work, sleep, argue over money and other trivial things and then do it all over again.

Day after day, month after month. Year after year.

So, if they can watch something that reminds them of others plight, peril or perdicument and is only slightly entertaining...

Well, they will watch it.

Fox gives them that along with news, weather, pretty girls and weird commercials.

They don't want to be reminded of plain reality, or have to puzzle out a meaning for a telecast or pay too close of attention to understand something, they have more than their share of all that, each and every waking hour.

Let them have a break.

Papa Ray
West Texas

Mike H. said...

Stephen, you and I are watching the same street theater. Judith Regan is phonying up an excuse to make money, period. If her marriage was to an individual of the ilk of simpson, then she would, by any stretch of the imagination, want to stay as far away from the simpson creep as possible. She isn't staying away, she instead is making a pile of money, she hopes, off of the book. High ideals have subsumed integrity once again. /sarc