They bounce, they flounce, they float, they gloat, they wriggle, they giggle and, may heaven help us all, they even jiggle.
They are the male bimbos and they've come to take over television.
This is what the sexual revolution, Nielsen demographics and mad-mad Madison Avenue have all gone and wrought.
It seems like only a few years ago -- and indeed it was, since even in an age of illusion, a few things still are what they seem -- that some people were decrying, and others merely feasting their peepers on, an epidemic of female "jiggle" shows on television. Comely lasses in wet bathing suits were the order of the day, de'colletage was de rigeur, and lady detectives were forever going underground as scantily clad hookers. One producer gleefully extolled the extreme marketability of curvaceous cuties in damp T-shirts.
Halcyon days, halcyon days. Though feminists were appalled. And, er, harumph, rightly so! For how degrading to parade women across the image orthicon stage as mere pinups, props and sexual objects! It was time for a change, but what's happened may not be just the remedy right-thinking and farsighted souls had in mind.
First men joined women as part of the mass-media sex-object pageant. Now, it appears, they have replaced them. The pendulum has swung back so far that TV show after TV show features, or is blatantly built around, what are deemed the masculine charms of one beauteous lug or another. The pretty-but-dumb stereotype is now male, and when two new lads were introduced to the cast of "The Dukes of Hazzard" it only took the producers 15 minutes to get the shirts quite literally off their backs. In addition to a chest peek during the opening credits, of course.
Today, women are peddled male pinup calendars, one of which is called "A Woman's Look at Men's Buns." Every TV news and magazine show worth its iodized salt has done a story on nightclubs catering to women who shriek with lust for male strippers. At a private screening of NBC's new "Voyagers!" series in Los Angeles, a female reporter from People magazine could not suppress her delight at the biceptual splendors of Jon-Erik Hexum, the male angel-baby who makes his TV debut starring in the show.
This is what betides: Lee Horsley, the beefy star of ABC's preposterous "Matt Houston," was unveiled to viewers pelvis-first. NBC promoted the hero of its "Powers of Matthew Star" as a "teen-age superhunk." The girls on the CBS sitcom "Square Pegs" spend a little time each week ogling the "cute" boys in high school. Last night's season premiere of "CHiPs" on NBC managed to get Erik Estrada out of his togs for a workout at a health club and a subsequent motorcycle chase in which the chief Chippie roared through town wearing only a pair of black satin shorts.
In the forthcoming NBC movie "Honeyboy," a creation of "Estrada Productions," Estrada flashes not only teeth but biceps as a Puerto Rican boxer who wears bikini underwear to bed and at one point fights off the advances of a wealthy promoter's wife. "I'm my own man. I'm me, me!" he shouts after tearing himself away from the smooches she was planting on his bare pectorals. "You?" scoffs the spurned woman. "You're nothing from now on!" See, nowadays the women make the passes and the men get huffy about being used as mere instruments of pleasure.
Clearly, we have here in this male bimbo business a trend gone wild before the fire. Where once cheesecake reigned supreme there is now beefcake, beefsteak and generous helpings of beef jerky.
Women viewers, though, may see in this flip-flop a banner year for television. Not only do those women so inclined get to man-watch from one end of prime time to another, but feminists and other interested parties also will note more women popping up in authoritative and assertive roles on TV than, conceivably, ever. They're authoritative as can be. They're asserting their brains out.
Gloria Stivic is on her own with an 8-year-old kid, and working for a veterinarian, in the CBS "Gloria." Patty Duke Astin plays a prosecuting attorney who must tame her husband's froggy old male chauvinism in ABC's "It Takes Two." On NBC's "Family Ties," the wife as well as the husband works; she's an architect. ABC's "9 to 5" deals, at its own puerile level, with career women and their office travails (in a future episode, one of them is fired, then rehired when she appears at the office dressed as a man).
In "Farrell for the People," an NBC movie and series pilot airing Monday, Oct. 18, Valerie "Rhoda" Harper plays a tough prosecuting attorney whom the men in the office envy for her deep "feelings" (from a press release: "The actress is no stranger to sensitizing viewers."). Meanwhile, on the CBS movie "Forbidden Love," scheduled for the same night, an "older woman" shocks friends when she seduces a handsome and desirable younger man and he becomes what CBS calls her " 'kept' housemate."
Even popcorn television shows like "Bring 'Em Back Alive" and "Tales of the Gold Monkey" include nods to the '80s and its, ugh, consciousness; both shows feature spunky, at least semi-self-reliant heroines, modeled after the characters played by Carrie Fisher in "Star Wars" and Karen Allen in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Essentially, these are little girls who go along with little boys wanting to play pirate, but at least they do more than stand around screaming because a spider is about to fall on their faces from a tree.
Indeed, before the year is over we may see a man, a grown man, screaming because a spider is about to fall on his face from a tree.
It would be a mistake to say the season's new strain of male bimbos represents the return of the macho hero. Most of these guys are not particularly macho, at least not in the time-honored Clint Eastwood fear-no-evil-nor-any-good-either sense. They avoid fights, they say no to predatory floozies and they appear more interested in the latest issue of Gentleman's Quarterly than in the latest issue of Playboy. Indeed they appear to have walked out of the pages of Gentleman's Quarterly, and several of them have.
The trend may have started with Gregory Harrison of "Trapper John, M.D.," who was packaged and sold from day one as a surrogate plaything for lonely ladies out there in Television Land. On the premiere of the show, Harrison stepped naked from a shower and, told by Trapper John he had a "cute" mind, replied with a twinkle, "My other parts are cute, too." Harrison later starred in a TV movie, produced by himself, in which he played a male stripper.
Simultaneously, CBS made a star of former model Tom Selleck, who leaped off a billboard and into a gold mine called "Magnum, P.I." Male viewers could fancy themselves living Magnum's fantasy tropical life in beautiful Hawaii--red Ferrari, pretty girl entourages and a witty, swish manservant. Women could, and apparently do, appreciate the hirsute pulchritude of the star, who is good-looking in that anonymous, characterless, model-agency way.
Selleck seems to spend quite a bit of screen time in a wet bathing suit himself, come to think of it.
CBS recently trotted him over to one of its ailing shows, the simpering "Simon and Simon," for some cross-plugging. That one stars two male bimbos as well, a blond and a brunet (the "CHiPs" -- "Dukes" formula at work). Selleck may not seem the prototypical male bimbo, but he's typical because he was hired for his looks, specifically his hairy chest and flat stomach, and not his acting ability (little of which, admittedly, is required in the average TV series). When Selleck went from modeling to starring in a TV show, the floodgates were opened and bimbomania burgeoned.
Now, male models overrun the airwaves. NBC publicity for Peter Barton, a.k.a. "Matthew Star," notes his first choice was "a modeling career" and that he previously signed with "a modeling agency in New York City." Jack Scalia, who went from the printed page of the fashion magazine to a costarring role on NBC's 25-watt "Devlin Connection," is quoted by publicists as saying, "A friend suggested I could make a lot of money being a model, so I went to San Francisco to give it a try."
Byron Cherry, now Coy Duke, the blue-eyed blond of "Hazzard," is a former airline flight attendant who got into modeling in Atlanta. Luckily for him, a talent scout moseyed into town and Cherry's looks made him a TV coverboy. Asked on the Cable News Network about being trotted around as a sex object, Cherry's partner Christopher Mayer (Vance Duke, the swarthy one), uttered those four immortal words, "anything for a buck."
Another rich spawning ground for male bimbos is the TV soap opera. For years these daytime shows aimed at women have been showcases for surly young teases in tight Levi's. David Hasselhoff, the bouncing zero of NBC's pathetic "Knight Rider," spent six years on "The Young and the Restless"; publicity photos show him with his legs spread, straddling the supercar that costars with and upstages him. Jameson Parker, of "Simon and Simon," sashayed his boyish way through "Somerset" and "One Life to Live." And Charles Frank of the CBS sitcom "Filthy Rich" spent four years as the "romantic lead" on "All My Children."
Perhaps this entire group could be gathered together for a network special called "All My Bimbos."
Or maybe, "Battle of the Network Tarts."
Now, why is this happening? In part because networks and producers have grown increasingly sensitive to complaints about exploiting women's bodies on television, so they're exploiting men's bodies instead. In part because women ages 18 to 49 are now and have been since Little Ricky was in rompers the chief consumer target group of advertisers. And, probably, in part because if Walter Mondale is going to go after the gay male vote, Madison Avenue is certainly going to go after the gay male consumer, reportedly becoming an increasingly sought-after voice in the wilderness of the marketplace.
Now, when will all this go away? Not until one enterprising producer or another comes forth with something like "Dora's Devils," a weekly show about three buxom boy detectives who trip around in wet bathing suits and go underground as scantily clad male hookers. Male protest groups will arise to decry such pandering, the Moral Majority will fire off its umpty-umpth outraged epistle, and the networks and producers will retreat. The damned old pendulum will get kicked back again and maybe this time it will stop right smack in the middle.
However, it would be the first time in the history of everything that it did.