Two new Fox series--the Hollywood spoof "Action" and the dysfunctional family drama "Get Real"--just hit pay dirt.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and virtue czar William Bennett will announce today that media mogul Rupert Murdoch is receiving their latest Silver Sewer Award, the TV Column has learned. And these two shows, on Murdoch's Fox broadcast network, are the reason.
The Silver Sewer Award was concocted by these guys to identify "the nation's worst cultural polluters" and put "a specific name to a cultural disgrace," according to information sent out when past recipients were named.
Murdoch, says Bennett, "has put more cultural rot into the television mainstream than virtually anyone else, and he's been doing it for years."
He won this year's award because these two new shows "set a new low," Bennett says.
Bennett acknowledges he's not seen a full episode of either show, but he's seen excerpts, and "you can sure get the odor of the whole from a part--and it's foul."
"Action," from hotshot action-movie producer Joel Silver, stars Jay Mohr as a hotshot action-movie producer; Illeana Douglas plays a former child star turned pricey call girl; and Buddy Hackett also stars. "Get Real" follows a family in which the parents are still married and their three teens and grandma live at home. But the oldest son doesn't understand that it's not cool to have his girlfriend spend the night, and the brainy daughter doesn't want to go to college.
Now, if the Fox promotions department sat down for hours and thought real hard, it could not come up with a stunt more likely to draw the network's target audience to both shows. These shows are not designed for old folk like Bennett and Lieberman, they're designed for young viewers, ages 18-34. And if there's one thing that draws young viewers to a TV program, it's being told a show is no good for them by a guy like Bennett, who now heads the conservative think tank Empower America.
It's like throwing raw meat to piranhas.
And since Lieberman and Bennett put out an APB to the media yesterday, promising to name a major media type for the third Silver Sewer, today's announcement is sure to get lots of press play. They certainly got plenty of it when they announced in March 1998 that boozemaker Seagrams was getting the first Sewer--for co-owning "The Jerry Springer Show" and the record company that distributes Marilyn Manson's music--and when last December they gave CBS the second--for airing Howard Stern in late night and the Kevorkian tape on "60 Minutes."
Bennett is particularly irked at Murdoch because he's a "supposedly conservative man" yet "he's contributing to the cultural filth--he's manufacturing it, subsidizing it and sending it out and we're going to call him out."
The former secretary of education and chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities says he's tried a few times in the past to sit down with Murdoch and talk about programming on the Fox network. But, he says, he's never gotten past Murdoch's gatekeepers, who say he does not make programming decisions at that level. That is, not unless the network is contemplating doing an unflattering telefilm about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Bennett notes, citing a news report that detailed how the project, based on the book "Strange Justice," came to be passed on by Fox and picked up over at Showtime, where it recently was telecast.
Bennett isn't falling for the argument that "Action" at 9:30 p.m. and "Get Real" at 9 p.m. are both outside the so-called "family hour," which is conventionally described as 8-9 p.m.
"I didn't say he polluted the cultural mainstream for children," Bennett says. "He's polluted the cultural mainstream. . . . It's bad for adults as well as children.
"It means he's just polluting the minds of adults so they can in turn pollute the minds of their children. . . . A degraded parent has the opportunity to pass it on to two or three kids--it can be a more potent thing."
Murdoch's office issued a no-comment yesterday afternoon, when asked about receiving the Silver Sewer.
But the Fox network did respond. "Nielsen Media Research states that the average American television home now receives more than 57 different television channels," a Fox rep said. "That means when any program airs, the typical viewer commands another 56 choices. We value the freedom of choice, and respect and reinforce every viewer's ability to choose entertainment they believe is most appropriate for themselves."
Sam Donaldson will continue as a correspondent on ABC's newsmagazine "20/20" and will substitute as an anchor, but will drop his regular Wednesday night co-anchoring duties.
Donaldson, who recently ended his second gig as ABC News's daily White House correspondent, will host a thrice-weekly, 15-minute video news program called "Samdonaldsonabcnews.com" on ABC News's Web site. The Internet-only program, which will run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 12:30 p.m., debuts Sept. 27.
Based in Washington, Donaldson will be a national and political reporter for all ABC News programs and he'll produce hour-long specials for the division. But he won't be flying up to New York every Wednesday to co-anchor "20/20."
Instead, Charles Gibson is moving to Wednesday night, to anchor with his "Good Morning America" co-host Diane Sawyer. Jack Ford, newly hired to the network, is moving into Gibson's former Monday "20/20" slot, paired with Connie Chung. And Barbara Walters will be going solo on Fridays, ABC finally announced yesterday. Walters's co-host, Hugh Downs, has retired.
That leaves the Thursday edition of "20/20," which has been renamed--"20/20 Downtown." It will have revolving hosts, including Elizabeth Vargas, John Quinones, Jay Schadler and Cynthia McFadden. ABC News says the broadcast will originate each week from an out-of-studio location--presumably downtown.
"20/20 Downtown" will "weave together compelling narratives, often with strong first-person elements," ABC News said, which will be reported by correspondents John Miller, Anderson Cooper, Jamie Floyd and Bill Ritter. And Joel Siegel will report a regular story from Hollywood.
"We're trying to convey an edgier image," explained an ABC News rep.
"Edgier" is usually network-speak for "younger-skewing" and, given the lineup of anchors for Thursday night, it looks as though ABC News is seeking a younger audience for its Thursday telecast. That's interesting because NBC still has a commanding hold on younger viewers that night, despite its ratings decline this past season. But apparently ABC thinks there are some inroads to be made that night at 10.
CAPTION: Jay Mohr and Illeana Douglas in the new Fox series "Action," which won Fox a Silver Sewer Award.