BetteBack December 30, 1993: The Highs And Lows Of Television

Daily Herald
A look at year’s highs, lows (of which (here were plenty)
By Tom Shales
December 30, 1993

WASHINGTON – Television on trial! Boob tube blasted! Congress in uproar over mayhem on the airwaves! TV driving nation to rack and to ruin, whatever that means!

It happens every year, really, but in 1993, it happened more so. Television was castigated, lambasted and derided, especially for its violent content. The movement to “clean up TV” gained momentum, with congressional committees investigating and Attorney General Janet Reno even threatening “government action.”

Everybody was mad at TV for something, whether it was bare butts and bawdy barbs on ABC’s “NYPD Blue” or the hip stupidity of MTV’s “Beavis and Butt-head” or the faked truck fire that besmirched the reputation of “Dateline NBC” and forced the resignation of NBC News President Michael Gartner.

Here now is a quick look back at the year in television–highs, not so-highs, and bottom-scraping lows:

Guns don’t kill people; TV shows kill pe«ple: Sen. Fritz Rollings (DS.C.) pontificated about the deadly menace of TV violence, then voted against the Brady bill and its minimal restrictions on the purchase of handguns.

Belly up at the bar: “Cheers” ended its 11-year run with class and style on NBC in May, but some of the cast members showed up later the same evening dead drunk on a live “Tonight Show” from Boston.

Fan couples: Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson on Oprah Winfrey‘s ABC interview special (Liz: *’He is the least ‘weird’ man I’ve ever known”); Ross Perot and Al Gore on a “Larry King Live” debate over NAFTA; and Dan Rather and Connie Chung “teamed to bring you the world,” and apparently to bring down the ratings of “The CBS Evening

Noble failures: “The Building” with Bonnie Hunt, on CBS; Oliver Stone’s nutty “Wild Palms” on ABC; and Robert De Niro’s earnest “Tribeca” on Fox.

Failures about which there was nothing even remotely noble: “Key West” on Fox; “Dudley,” with Dudley Moore, on CBS; “Bad Movies We Love,” on TNT; “Moon Over Miami” on ABC; “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” on NBC; and the floppo de tutti floppos, ABC’s instantly infamous “Paula Poundstone Show.”

Third runner-up in the annual sleaze stakes: USA Network’s “Marilyn & Bobby: Her Final Affair.”

We have some good news, Mr. Tisch, and some bad news: On Jan. 14, CBS officially signed the great David Letterman and entered the late-night race big-time. On Dec. 17, CBS lost its contract to televise NFL football games to Fox.

Best new show treated most shabbily by the network that aired it: Barry Levinson’s “Homicide: Life on the Street,” given short shrift and bad time periods by NBC.

Second runner-up in the annual sleaze stakes: ABC’s “Murder in the Heartland,” a ministries that
glamorized homicidal maniac Charles Starkweather’s 1958 killing spree.

Brief encounters: CBS canceled “South of Sunset” after only one episode; Fox canceled “The Chevy Chase Show” after six weeks; CBS killed its new fall series “The Trouble with Larry” before the new fall season officially began.

The handshake that handshook the world: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, live from the White House lawn.

Who says there’s mo creativity in broadcasting?: FCC documents revealed that in filings with the commission, some stations cited such programs as ‘The Jetsons,” “G.I. Joe,” and “Super Mario Brothers IV” as educational and informational” fare.

Weasliest weasels: Bureaucrats at PBS censored England’s “Prime Suspect 2” for American audiences, leaving once-sally heroine Helen Mirren uttering such expletives as “Oh shoot” and “baloney.”

First runner-up in the annual sleaze stakes: Comedy Central’s “Drive-in Reviews,” on which two would-be film critics chuckle over exploding heads, severed limbs, gouged eyes and other atrocities from gory horror movies.

Finest hours and half-hours: “Laurel Avenue,” three-hour saga of a middle-class African-American family, on HBO; “NYPD Blue,” Steven Bochco’s second reinvention of the cop show, on ABC; “The Nanny,” thanks to Fran
Drescher’s brash and witty performance, on CBS; and Bette Midler in “Gypsy” on CBS.

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