ABC's `Secret' weapon an assault on viewers

November 29, 2001

The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune Nov. 24:

IN THE battle of the networks to compete with cable TV's edgy and uncensored fare, a recent special on ABC scored unexpected attention - from the government.

The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show opened more than a few eyelids when its televised lingerie exhibition uncovered body areas seldom seen on network TV. It also prompted about 600 telephone calls and e-mails to the Federal Communications Commission, according to Commissioner Michael Copps. The viewers had their own undies in a knot over the near lack of knickers on the program's fashion models. One of the complainants happened to be Mr. Copps' 27-year-old daughter, who is a new mother.

ABC expressed surprise at the negative reaction. After all, the network heads intoned, viewers were warned. The program was rated "TV-14 D, S, L." In the television ratings code, that means, "This program is not recommended for viewers under age 14 because of its dialogue, sexual content and language."

But to most viewers that's about as meaningful as a license plate number. They're still waiting for a rating system they can understand.

Rating? How about "K" for "ka-ching," the sound of cash registers? This program was essentially a 60-minute infomercial interrupted mostly by commercials for - what else? - Victoria's Secret lingerie. ABC is fending off complaints while celebrating its biggest audience in the 9 p.m. Thursday time period so far this season - 12.4 million viewers.

But then, what were the other network choices during that time slot? You could turn to CBS' CSI, which won its biggest audience ever with a story line about S&M sex. Or you could turn to Fox, where Temptation Island II brought together young, healthy, unmarried and scantily clad couples in a "reality" show that nudges the participants to cheat on their partners.

And network executives wonder why they are losing viewers to cable and other media.

The answer's no secret. For years they have insulted viewers with unimaginative junk, and their only answer now is to copy the prurient material coming from their upstart competitors.

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