The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill has issued a news release not objecting to the new NBC sitcom "Stark Raving Mad."
That's right. They've contacted the press to try to drum up publicity for the fact that they are not protesting the series.
"The last thing America needs is any more stereotyped portrayals of persons with mental illness," said NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn in the group's non-news release.
"Stark Raving Mad" is about a horror writer named Ian Stark, played by Tony Shalhoub, who's suffering from writer's block. His new literary agent is a meticulous and obsessive geek named Henry McNeely, played by Neil Patrick Harris. They are polar opposites; hilarity ensues.
In its missive, NAMI says it has learned from the show's creator, Steven Levitan, that "the show doesn't portray characters with mental illness at all."
"Our lead characters are not mentally ill, but merely eccentric, and their eccentricities are not reflections of any mental illness," Levitan told NAMI.
Even so, NAMI promised its "stigmabusters will remain vigilant."
The alliance probed further and found that Levitan's other NBC sitcom, the three-season-old "Just Shoot Me," isn't about someone who wants or expects to be shot at all; instead it "only involves photographers and photo shoots for a women's magazine."
But NAMI's no expert on handguns. So we checked with Sarah and James Brady's Handgun Control organization before pronouncing "Just Shoot Me" fit for non-protest.
Not only has Handgun Control not put out a statement objecting to "Just Shoot Me" and not put out a statement not objecting to "Just Shoot Me," but several people over at Handgun Control are fans of the show, in spite of its shocking title, according to group spokeswoman Nancy Hwa.
So why hasn't Handgun Control put out a news release protesting or not protesting the sitcom? "We've got plenty of other things to do--not to belittle the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill," responded Hwa.
NBC's West Coast rep Shirley Powell said NBC "hopes all its show titles stimulate viewer interest and do not mislead or offend anyone." She added, "Let me state now for the record that our new series 'Cold Feet' is a relationship drama. We don't anticipate any backlash from Dr. Scholl's or any other foot care company."
We hadn't thought of that one. We went back and looked across the broadcast prime-time landscape and, sure enough, NAMI had missed several other show titles that merited not protesting about.
For instance, "Friends"--that sexually promiscuous 8 p.m. NBC sitcom. How does the Religious Society of Friends--better known as the Quakers--feel about that one? The word friends "is special to us but we know it's not special to everyone. . . . And, there has never been any material in the show to imply it had anything to do with the Quakers at all," said Riley Robinson, administrative secretary of the Friends Meeting of Washington.
Yet, with so much not to protest, they've never issued a news release in the show's five seasons on the air.
How about CBS's new sitcom "Love and Money"? Why haven't we heard from Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics, the sex workers' rights organization, on that one? After all, this show is not about a prostitute. "We are not at all concerned about 'Love and Money,' " said COYOTE media representative Carol Leigh. "It's probably the quintessential equation of a relationship."
Actually, it's about the daughter of two boozing New York socialites who takes up again with her childhood sweetheart, now a building superintendent, just minutes before she's supposed to marry a richie who's the man of her dad's dreams. Hilarity ensues.
Then there's our pet peeve, ABC's newsmagazine "20/20" airing four times a week to make us feel that people with "20/20" vision are somehow smarter than the rest of us. Where are those stigmabusters at the American Optometric Association when you need them? We called; their spokesman said they do not plan to write to ABC and protest, nor do they plan to write to ABC and not protest. Why not? Because 20/20 "simply means you can see at a distance of 20 feet what you should see at 20 feet," said an AOA rep.
"We don't think '20/20' is misnamed; television shows are whatever you want to call it; it's up to the creator of the show and the audience they're trying to reach," he said.
CAPTION: Neil Patrick Harris, top, and Tony Shalhoub star in "Stark Raving Mad."