There are a lot of things you can say about the folks at the Fox network. You can call them hypocritical for airing racy stuff designed to attract young viewers and then giving Bill O'Reilly an hour of prime time to rant about the entertainment industry on a special called "The Corruption of the American Child." You might say they're cruel to animals in airing their "When Animals Attack" specials. You might argue they're misogynistic because they air a weekly slice-and-dice-a-chick reality show, "The Swan." But you cannot call them homophobic.
Oh, wait; yes, you can.
Fox issued a stunning news release yesterday for a two-hour reality special to air in June called "Seriously, Dude, I'm Gay" in which, the network said, two heterosexual men will try to convince various people that they are gay. In the news release, Fox described the notion of a straight man "turning gay overnight" as "a heterosexual male's worst nightmare."
For one week, the two straight guys will "immerse themselves in 'the gay lifestyle,' " the network said.
Is that something like "the Hispanic lifestyle" or "the black lifestyle" or the "single mom lifestyle"? See, already we can't wait for this show.
It appears that Fox thinks it means moving into an apartment in West Hollywood with actual gay roommates "to experience what it's like to live life as a gay man."
Each day, the guys will complete a challenge "to test their ability to pass for gay." They will come out of the closet to their best friends, Fox said. They will "mix, mingle and dance in gay nightclubs and they'll even go on a romantic blind date with another man."
If Fox wanted to do a really interesting reality series in which two heterosexual men experience what it is like to be a gay man in America, they ought to also send them someplace like Laramie, Wyo. Of course, that would not be the "outrageously satirical" and "hilarious reality special" that Fox has promised this one will be.
After the two guys are done trying to "pass for gay," they will be put to a "jury of their queers," Fox said. Really, they said that.
The jury, made up of gay men "from all walks of life," will declare which of the two they believe actually is gay.
That lucky guy will win $50,000.
Faster than you can say "what the hell were they thinking?" about 200 times -- which was how a number of The Reporters Who Cover Television spent yesterday morning, via e-mails and phone calls to one another -- the network sent out a second news release with an abject apology.
"Our failed attempt at humor was ill-chosen and inappropriate," the network said.
"We sincerely regret its distribution and have attached an edited version," it added.
The edited version lacks all references to a heterosexual male's worst nightmare and that "jury of their queers." The "gay lifestyle" remains, however, still in quote marks.
Contacted for comment, a Fox rep told The TV Column, "We made an error; we moved to correct it as soon as we could and we're deeply sorry."
Before receiving Fox's revised and apologetic news release, we'd called the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to talk to them about it.
"The press release speaks to a very backward stereotype that raises red flags for GLAAD," said Steve Macias, the organization's entertainment media director. The show itself, he speculated, probably will be either "flattering" or "tiresome in its premise of yet another straight man pretending to be a gay man.
"This is an old premise -- look at 'Three's Company,' for example -- show after show of straight men pretending to be gay men so that they can find something for themselves."
Macias said GLAAD has asked Fox to send a tape of the special and expects it in a day or two.
And speaking of "what the hell were they thinking?" -- an expression used more and more these days by TRWCT in discussing the latest reality-series concept -- there's the incident of the taping of WB's new "Superstar USA."
WB, having noticed -- as has everyone else -- that the episodes of Fox's "American Idol" that feature horrible auditions do huge numbers, decided to take that concept and run with it. The result is a seven-episode singing competition show, debuting Monday, from Mike Fleiss of "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?" and "The Bachelor" fame.
During auditions in various cities, the best singers were told that they weren't right for the show while those with "more guts than pipes" were encouraged by the show's music "experts," Tone-Loc, Vitamin C and TV producer Chris Briggs.
Twelve finalists were taken to Hollywood to compete; the worst singer wins.
WB insists it's a "send-up of the genre" but, honestly, it sounds exactly like how "American Idol 3" is playing out. Just think: If Jasmine Trias wins, the third American Idol could wind up being a worse singer than the winner of "Superstar USA," and then WB would be left with nothing but a really bad show. Bummer for them.
Anyway, for the "Superstar USA" joke to work, the audience had to play along. ("American Idol" solved this problem by wisely having no studio audience during the initial auditions when all the truly lousy singers are front and center.)
Fleiss is quoted in WB's news release saying of the show, "The fact that we are able to perpetrate a hoax of this magnitude with thousands of people for more than a month is absolutely incredible."
Actually, not so incredible, according to the Los Angeles Times, which has reported that during a taping last month one of the producers told the audience the contestants were all terminally ill beneficiaries of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The production company issued a statement about the deception, insisting that the producer had "ad-libbed" that comment, which "may have offended someone in the audience."
"For that we sincerely apologize," Fleiss's Next Entertainment told the L.A. Times.