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Yes, It Was Great Fun


       This column may draw comments similar to the kind Tommy Schenck will get over the next few days. I have never met Mr. Schenck---but I am proud one local television executive has the guts to stand up to his network for inflicting such an outrageous piece of trash as Temptation Island.
       In the Research Triangle of North Carolina, Mr. Schenck is likely (or was, by the time some of you read this) being hailed for dropping TI after its premiere on WRAZ. However, suffice to say, some of the mail he will receive will draw a fine line between vitriolic, excoriating and even threatening.
       Possibly even in local newspapers, Mr. Schenck will be assailed as a censor, a violator of the First Amendment, a prude and an obstructionist of the public's right to know and see. Those will be some of the kinder remarks.
       Already, I have read an online column which links Mr. Schenck to the actions of the 53 ABC affiliates which refused to carry the first season of NYPD Blue because of that series' graphic violence, raw street language and partial nudity.
       Baloney! We're dealing with two and possibly three decidedly different elements here. First, Mr. Schenck agreed----though against his better judgment----to allow the first episode to air. If you couldn't see in that one hour where this thing is heading or has the potential to head, you're mentally comatose.
       Second, Mr. Schenck based his decision not squarely on the content but on yet another lapse in Fox's and a production company's background checks of the contestants. True, when one of the couples was discovered to be married with a child, the network disqualified the pair. But how on earth do these production companies and networks continue to be so lackadaisical in their investigations? First, Rick Rockwell. Then, a former hatemonger with the New Black Panthers. Now this. Schenck was uncomfortable with the premise to begin with; however, as he said in a statement Saturday: "We were assured that these couples would not be married (or have) children. We reluctantly agreed to air the program with those assurances."
       Third, Mr. Schenck was acting on something which did not involve fiction. This wasn't Murphy Brown. This wasn't David Caruso and Amy Brenneman as fictional characters. This was a real-life situation. Having been a previous operations manager of a television station, I know from experience (and I had to field a lot of complaint calls in my time) local station managers take enormous criticism in the current culture for not acting with some degree of emotional decency. When they do, the other side of the coin shoots daggers at them for attempting to "impose morality." It's a no-win situation. Review Mr. Schenck's comment one more time and tell me, if at all you believe in the institution of the family, he is off-base: "WRAZ will not support a program that could potentially break up the parents of a young child....we are not going to be part of making light of the family institution in a 'reality' program."
       I've never met Tommy Schenck but I've been in his shoes. If I were in his presence at the moment, I would give him a one-man standing "O." Those parents may be in sore need of deep counseling and perhaps could even be guilty of quasi-child abandonment to even place themselves in this type of scenario. However, local television does not have to be party to this nonsense just because its network potentially will draw huge audiences to this voyeur party from a culture which seemingly can't get enough of human frailities and idiocies.
       Temptation strikes us all every day because we are human beings. We are fallible. However, for a network to exploit that and to be so comatose to any sensibility as to place a child's parental bond in jeopardy---because of its inept investigations---for the love of Nielsens is not just outrageous, it's unforgivable.
       We will irritate some readers by our decision not to report on the week-to-week occurrences of Temptation Island. I'm fully prepared to live with that. We'll report the weekly Nielsen because it's symptomatic of where we are as a society. The 18-34s will flock to this show, no matter what the Tommy Schencks of the world do, because they've been conditioned for 15 years or more to love sleaze. I don't have to be a part of that on this page.
       We don't do reports on most "relationship" shows. Change of Heart does the virtual same as TI, only it doesn't have the budget to show you what happens when couples look astray. We've gone down the road of All New 3's a Crowd more than once. If you want to watch bodily-function humor and 20-year-olds girls brag about the results of their indigestion, watch it on GSN. Even a show I have found funny on many days, Street Smarts has in the past week engaged in overt sexual and anatomical humor which I will simply not include on this page. If you want to read about that kind of thing, go somewhere else, or watch it yourself. Street
is on after 11 o'clock in most of the country but on WGN, which has huge cable/dish coverage, the game airs at 2:30 in the afternoon in my time zone, 3:30 in the East. Highly appropriate stuff for the after-school hours.
       Truth be told, Temptation Island is no game show by most viewers' standards of the genre, unless they are stretching the definition tighter than a banjo string. TI is not even "reality" television because the entire concept is more contrived than even Big Brother. The participants (I won't dignify them by calling them contestants) have even had to be administered STD tests. That, in itself, reveals what the network and this outfit called Rocket Science Productions either fear or hope will happen to these people.
       However, this series has proved one point beyond the shadow of a doubt. Fox Television has executives who do not tell the truth. That is a potentially libelous accusation. However, was it not just last February in the wake of the Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire debacle that the network said it was "through" with "exploitative" reality shows? Short memories, right?
       Tommy Schenck may be the sore thumb of local station managers but I applaud his guts. I'm sure he wishes Fox had felt the "need for Greed" instead. However, isn't it sad? Twenty-five years ago, Mr. Schenck's decision would have been a no-brainer. Today, he'll be (and already is being) labeled as controversial simply for making a decision on the basis of common decency. As I said on Mike Duduit's Crosstalk radio program Friday: "This country has long since lost any sense of shame about virtually anything. Until even a smidgen of it is ever regained, we'll see a ton more Temptation Islands.

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