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TNT Finally Tosses Its Staged Gay-Bashing Spectacle Out of the Ring

By Lisa de Moraes

Tuesday, October 12, 1999; Page C07

Lenny is dead.

The pigtailed, body-glitter-adorned, ultra-fey wrestler on Ted Turner's "World Championship Wrestling" survived a scorpion death lock from Sting, a jackhammer from Goldberg and a big boot to the face by Hulk "Call Me Hollywood" Hogan.

So what did him in? A tersely worded letter from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

"The character of Lenny is presented with the intention to incite the crowd to the most base homophobic behavior," GLAAD entertainment media director Scott Seomin said in the angry letter to Turner Network Television President Brad Siegel.

In response, "WCW has discontinued the Lenny and Lodi characters from any future programming," TNT said yesterday. Lodi was presented as Lenny's gay wrestling partner.

And that's all the talking they were doing for the record when contacted by The TV Column.

For those who aren't WCW aficionados, Lenny was introduced about six months ago--about six months after gay college student Matthew Shepard was bludgeoned to death in Wyoming.

When Lenny entered the arena, the live audience would chant anti-gay slurs that Post editors deemed unsuitable for print. And when he got the stuffing beat out of him by an opponent, the crowd roared.

"The crowd is incited to very base homophobic behavior that's shocking but is unfortunately a reality in 1999, and the audience's reaction gives permission to viewers to do harm to gay people in a very literal way--it's appalling," Seomin told The TV Column yesterday.

Seomin sent WCW President Eric Bischoff a copy of the letter to Siegel. A nice touch since, according to more than one source close to the situation, the complaint from GLAAD was what finally caused Turner bigwigs to remove Bischoff as president of the wrestling organization, whose staged battles appear on TNT and superstation TBS. He still has a job at WCW but will have no creative control over the product, insiders say. He's been replaced by Bill Busch, whose title is executive VP.

After Seomin first wrote to the network in early September, he said, a Turner Entertainment executive immediately called him, vowing that Lenny was no more and that a standards and practices executive had been hired solely to keep an eye on WCW.

But two weeks later, Lenny sashayed into the arena again. And GLAAD fired off another letter, this time to Terri Tingle, head of standards and practices at Turner.

"How many gay bashings and gay murders have to be committed in this country for you to remove such hurtful portrayals from your broadcasts?" Seomin wrote.

He acknowledged to The TV Column that there is an irony to the situation, given that one of GLAAD's stated goals is to see more gay characters in all forms of media.

"GLAAD would love to see a gay wrestler," he said. "It would be great if WCW introduced a wrestler for a given amount of time, a dozen appearances or so, and then revealed that he was gay."

Don't expect that any time soon on WCW, according to a Turner exec who asked not to be named. He claims that the folks at Turner were alarmed by the crowd reaction to Lenny and that in this climate, it's too risky to do gay characters--though maybe not down the road.

"Nobody here is out to do any gay-bashing," he said.

I know, you're wondering why he wouldn't say that on the record. Me, too.

The first thing you are taught when you become a junior TV suit is that every programming idea must be done to death.

Take supermodel guest stints, for example. NBC has just recruited Elle Macpherson to appear in several episodes of "Friends" during the November sweeps derby. NBC is forever having models do guest spots on its shows. Its Burbank studios are fairly overrun with them. If you were an actor, would you be happy knowing that executives at your network felt your audience could be materially improved by adding to the cast a woman whose greatest talent is keeping her weight under 110 pounds? I thought not. And yet, it goes on and on.

There was Christie Brinkley's guest spot on the video reality episode of "Mad About You." And Brooke Shields's guest spot on the post-Super Bowl episode of "Friends"--she was so bad she got her own series. Don't forget the supermodel-studded post-Super Bowl '98 "3rd Rock From the Sun" episode that featured Beverly Johnson as the leader of a band of superbabe aliens, Cindy Crawford as her lieutenant and other SMs, including Irena and Angie Everhart. More recently, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos guest-starred in several episodes of "Just Shoot Me," playing David Spade's wife. Heck, "Just Shoot Me" is just an excuse for NBC to put supermodels on the air--it's set at a tony fashion mag.

All of the above are NBC shows. Though the network has really ground this concept into the ground, it does not have a lock on the supermodel programming trend. Kathy Ireland, for instance, showed up on last week's episode of "Touched by an Angel." Heidi Klum turned up several times on ABC's "Spin City."

Why, ABC even signed a three-year development deal with Cindy Crawford. Of course, that was way back in '97, and you may have noticed that we haven't seen a Cindy Crawford series on the Disney-owned network. That's probably because, after the deal was made, Crawford headlined an ABC special, "Sex With Cindy Crawford," that bombed in a very big way. When it aired in September 1998, right after the premiere of "Sports Night," "Sex With Cindy" drew one of the smallest audiences ABC ever had in that time slot with non-rerun programming, ahead only of a few episodes of the summer burnoff of "Maximum Bob." Imagine, "Sports Night" viewers not sticking around to watch Crawford discuss sex with Jerry Springer, among others--they seem like such compatible programs.

In fact, if you survey the landscape of supermodel stunting, there's no compelling evidence that a thin, overpaid woman with great cheekbones will significantly boost a show's overall rating, according to one network suit who really knows his stuff. Then what's up with all the supermodel stunting? The TV Column asked him.

"They're not generally brought on for their great acting skills--that's for sure," he ventured.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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