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Family-Hour Regression: Simple as ABC

A recent Parents Television Council study found that of the four full-time networks, ABC was the least offensive during the 8 o'clock "family" hour, when children are likeliest to be watching. Moreover, "Roseanne" has at long last emitted its final, foul-smelling breath, so there was reason to think the network might be even more family-oriented next season. That was wishful thinking, it turns out, the main reason being that ABC plans to move "Spin City" from 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays to 8 p.m. Wednesdays. In the race to determine TV's raunchiest sitcom, "Spin City" competes with NBC's "Friends" and "Men Behaving Badly" and CBS's "Cybill" and "The Nanny."

And soon, all save "Cybill" will air in what used to be the family hour.

"Spin City," starring Michael J. Fox as Mike Flaherty, the deputy mayor of New York, hit the ground running in the smut department. In last September's premiere, one of Mike's female underlings, chatting on the phone (with her boyfriend, presumably), remarks, "It was just a run-of-the-mill orgasm. I didn't mean to scare you." When she notices Mike nearby, she tries to cover up, telling him she's talking with her mother. He's overheard too much to believe her, though, and responds, "I'll let you get back to your mom before she loses her erection." Later, Ashley, Mike's live-in girlfriend, her back to the camera, lifts her shirt to show him you-know-what. He removes his pants, and he and she roll around on the bed until he gets a phone call.

The following week, a magazine names Mike Sexiest Man in Manhattan, whereupon he becomes impotent. Likening his plight to that of a rider thrown by his mount, he asserts, "I have to get right back on the horse." Ashley asks, "Does the horse have any say in this?" Mike's answer: "The horse gets no say. If the horse likes, it can whinny. Now, please, just strip and lie back in the bed."

On and on it went for "Spin City." The April 29 episode dealt primarily with?erections. In one scene, the mayor becomes aroused watching a woman give a speech; when she finishes, he's the only one who doesn't stand and applaud. To his still-seated boss, Mike remarks, "People are starting to stare at you, sir. What's the matter, [is] your foot asleep?" The mayor replies, "No, no, there's another part of me that's very, very awake." Later, a woman asks Mike, "Can't you guys control those things?" He answers, "You can scold it. Smack it around a little bit. That only seems to encourage it." And so on, for thirty long minutes.

A character named Carter is the show's contribution to prime time's ongoing effort to legitimize homosexuality. In an October installment, Carter plans to marry Nikki, a female colleague, in order to protest being denied his "rights" because he's gay. Nikki later backs out, opting to save her wedding day for the real man in her life. Carter is understanding: "She deserves to take those vows when they mean something, and so do I. Mark my words, it will happen someday. Someday, [Nikki and I will each] be standing right up there with the man of our dreams." Laugh, laugh, laugh.

Another 8 p.m. ABC offering next fall will be Tuesday's "Soul Man," which premiered last month [note to editors: April] and which continues the industry's assault on the religious community. The series, which features Dan Aykroyd as a widowed minister with four children, is often tasteless, especially in light of the title character's occupation. In the April 29 episode, he hugs a young woman who's obtained tickets to an ice show for him. After he tells her hugging in church is permissible if it's "innocent," she wonders what sort of hug she'd receive if she told him she delivered front-row seats. He responds, "We would have to leave the church." Yuk, yuk, yuk.

And, according to ABC publicity materials, Thursday's 8 o'clock show, the new "Nothing Sacred," focuses on a priest whose college girlfriend "reignites [his] old passions," and whose parish "commits every sin in the book." Oh, brother.

Update: In a recent column, I discussed NBC's move of the gross "Men Behaving Badly" to 8 p.m. Sundays starting in the fall. On May 21, "Men" was given a test run at 8:30, and it was more of the same raunch. At one point, protagonists Jamie and Kevin are sitting in front of the television set. Jamie exults, "She's taking her top off!" A bit later, Kevin muses, "Watching a porno movie with your buddy is kinda weird. You can't really, you know, get fully aroused."

Just when you think entertainment television can't be any more stupid, Hollywood comes through with more surprises. It's called "creative art," I think.