Fundamentalist religious groups seemingly concerned more with power than with glory get another once-over lightly tonight in "Eye of the Beholder," a special edition of the PBS series "Inside Story," with Hodding Carter, at 10 on Channel 26. It isn't much of a show, but it does serve as a primer on the right wing's holy war against sex and violence on television -- a war the networks themselves complacently and shamefully provoked.
The subject is a trifle old by now, but in its reportage, "Inside Story" appears to have uncovered a rift between Jerry Falwell, of the Moral Majority, and Donald Wildmon, the Tupelo minister who founded the Coalition for Better Television. In separate interviews, Falwell says there will not be a boycott against sponsors whose ads appear on shows deemed offensive, but Wildmon says a boycott is inevitable.
Falwell says the Moral Majority would put up $2 million to support the boycott, but then essentially rules it out as a coercive device. Without the support of Falwell's group, the boycott would stand little chance of making an appreciable impact; even with Falwell's support, the gambit might prove an embarrassing fizzle, which is probably why, at a joint press conference in April, Falwell and Wildmon announced a temporary kibosh on the option.
Carter sulks his Huckleberry-Hound way through this report as chief correspondent; in reaction shots during interviews, he looks like a grumpy kid applying for a summer job and expecting not to get it. At the end of the hour, Carter's shrug of a summation includes this stale advice to viewers of television: "The choice is up to you . . . you can turn it on, or you can turn it off." What a revelation! Too bad it misses the point of the whole controversy.
The hour opens with a fairly amusing montage tracing TV banality through the ages, from Early Innocuous ("Hello, I'm Mr. Ed") to Latter Day Filth ("Flamingo Road"). This is followed by a medley of great complaints against television, by such prominent complainers of the past as former senator John Pastore and former FCC commissioner Nicholas Johnson, who calls network executives "a vicious, evil influence."
There are two cheap shots taken against Wildmon. Early in the report, Carter "accuses" him of "using television" by appearing on so many TV talk shows. And they aren't using him? Later, "Inside Story" cameras visit a training session for Coalition monitors at which Wildmon is giving lessons on what constitutes "jiggly"; Carter snidely says Wildmon doesn't usually conduct such sessions himself but "because we were there, so was he."
One of those monitors is heard decrying a reference by Walter Cronkite to "the law of evolution" on one of his broadcasts when, says the fundamentalist, there ain't no such a law on the books. Whoa, boy -- we're obviously dealing with single-digit IQ's here, but then, this overproduced "Inside Story" report isn't dazzlingly intelligent, either.