Lousy television shows may have positive result

October 03, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

IT'S PROBABLY the most ghastly concept to come down the Hollywood pike in some time. That alone should give you some idea of how gruesome it is.

The idea is this: Take a black English nobleman circa the early 1860s and transport him to America, where he becomes the butler for some guy in Washington, D.C., who calls himself Abraham Lincoln. From there, the yuks are supposed to gush forth like the waters over Niagara Falls. Anybody laughing yet?

The show is "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer." It comes to us from UPN -- the same network that gave us "Homeboys in Outer Space." Network officials planned to show the pilot of "Pfeiffer" Monday next week but wimped out after protesters said the show made light of slavery. UPN officials opted to show a later episode of "Pfeiffer" instead and defended the show as being in the hallowed tradition of satire. It would seem these guys need to brush up on their Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce. In fact, they should brush up on their Abraham Lincoln, whose real-life quips are far funnier than any the writers of "Pfeiffer" can cobble together.

On Wednesday, two of the show's critics went on cable television's BET Tonight to express their displeasure with UPN and "Pfeiffer." One was Danny Bakewell of the Brotherhood Crusade, who charged that the show isn't historically accurate and makes light of slavery. At some point during his discourse, Bakewell made reference to Africans who were "clubbed over the head and then kidnapped" into slavery.

Does it do any good to have a man with such a blighted view of history challenging the historical accuracy of "Pfeiffer"? If Bakewell was going to imply that most of the Africans who found themselves on the ships that made the Middle Passage were "clubbed over the head and kidnapped," he should have added who was most likely doing the clubbing and kidnapping: other Africans, who then sold them to Europeans.

Bakewell's partner on the show was one Maulana Ron Karenga, creator of the Kwanzaa holiday, founder of the Kawaida cult and, in a previous incarnation, the head of a black nationalist organization called US. Karenga I've more or less dismissed since that nasty late 1960s incident when two members of US fatally shot two Black Panther Party members in Los Angeles. After sitting in on several of his Kawaida services -- in which his followers daffily proclaimed, "If I have said anything of value or of beauty, all credit is due to the Maulana Ron Karenga and all mistakes have been mine" -- I dismissed him completely, as I do all those who rack up frequent flier miles on Ego Trip Airlines.

Now, I'll have to watch "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer" Monday night, just to let the likes of Bakewell and Ron Mama Lama Ringo Karenga -- as the Panthers fondly called him -- that I don't need them to tell me what television programs I should or should not watch. Guys like Bakewell and Karenga inspire me to do exactly the opposite of what they suggest. They watch a television show or movie about black folks and then conclude that it offended them. Then, they suggest that what offends them should offend every single black man, woman and child on the planet and seek to have it banned.

Such folk are quick to march and picket and criticize anything they feels impugns the sacred image of the black man. Where were they when the Fox network was yanking "413 Hope Street" -- one of the best black dramatic series to hit television in years -- off the airwaves? Busily ferreting out the shows that offend them, no doubt. Tragic, isn't it, that some black folks are motivated only by what offends them, not by what pleases them?

So, I'll be watching "Pfeiffer" Monday night, although from its very description I know the show's a turkey. I can hear it gobbling even as you read this. But that's why I want it on the air. One of the anti-Pfeiffer protesters outside the UPN studios in Los Angeles carried a sign that read "Slavery isn't funny." Neither, judging from the clips, is "Pfeiffer." It's on the right network. Nothing on UPN is funny.

That's what I'm banking on. I want UPN to continue to put out shows like "Pfeiffer." I want UPN -- and WB and ABC and CBS and NBC -- to put out shows so gruesome, so ghastly, so downright gawd-awful that television audiences will throw up their hands and start reading books again.

And it would be nice if this happened while the word "book" is still part of the English language.

Pub Date: 10/03/98

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