- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 24, 2007

Let us imagine that all of the famous fictional TV moms have gathered for

the coffee klatch of the century. Why look, there’s June Cleaver, Harriet Nelson, Jane Jetson, Margaret Anderson, Carol Brady, Florida Evans, Marian Cunningham and Wilma Flintstone.

They’re all wearing spotless housedresses, except for Wilma, who’s wearing a tasteful zebra print; they are enjoying coffee and cake and speaking of civilized things like dinner menus and child rearing. Aw. Such nice ladies. It’s a pity the group can’t appear before the Federal Communications Commission to weigh in on the current state of prime-time programming, or what once was affectionately dubbed “the family hour.”

Yes, Mrs. Cleaver, Mrs. Brady — let’s watch what happens at 8 p.m. The screen flickers with a cavalcade of infidelity, cruel humor, sarcasm, graphic violence, suggestive clothing, salty language and cheap plot devices of the most tawdry kind.

Mrs. Cleaver, Mrs. Brady, et al. — who once monitored the nation’s morality, not to mention its meatloaf — would be at first shocked, then baffled by the America they saw on screen.

Fathers are portrayed as buffoons. Housewives are not only desperate, they are mean, lazy and dishonorable. Children who hit, steal or destroy property are deemed clever, hilarious. News programming is subject to sensationalism in the name of ratings.

It is helpful to know that it has not always been thus. Let us examine the programming roster for, oh, 1950. At 8 p.m. throughout the week, the nation sat before its 12-inch black-and-white Philcos and watched the likes of “Perry Como,” “Toast of the Town,” “Visit With the Armed Forces,” “Dick Tracy,” “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” “We the People,” “Paul Whiteman’s TV Teen Club” and “The Johns Hopkins Science Review.”

Skip ahead a decade, and American viewers favored “Shirley Temple’s Storybook,” “Father Knows Best,” “Perry Mason,” “Leave It to Beaver” and “The Flintstones.” Things got edgy by 1971, when “All in the Family” arrived.

“It brought a sense of harsh reality to a TV world which previously had been populated by homogenized, inoffensive characters and stories that seemed to have been laundered before they ever got on the air,” notes the Complete Guide to Prime Time Network and Cable Shows, 1946-Present.

Archie Bunker had his moments, as did all the other socially conscious programs that followed. Trouble is, using a TV show to moralize about the cause du jour had a limited shelf life. The cause ceased to be a viable addition to the public discourse and became a mere plot device — a predictable one, eventually leaving the boy geniuses of Hollywood and Madison Avenue without a convenient story line.

But wait, they reasoned. Why not get titillating? Why not break taboos, besmirch social mores and go for shock value? Yes, why not foul the family living room?

Producers put the notches in their belts, determined to drop in cuss words, nudity, romantic confabulations, murder, mayhem — with each dubious moment heralded by critics who decreed them to be artistic landmarks. When worried parents cringed, they were told by network bullies, “Well, if you don’t like it, don’t watch it.”

That’s true, of course. But there is something not quite right about producers who use the public airwaves to dumb down and compromise traditional American culture with prurient, mean-spirited, violent and often meaningless programming. The walls of decorum have tumbled. What’s next?

We already know what damage gets done. By the time children reach 18, they have witnessed 16,000 murders and 200,000 violent acts on television, according to statistics assembled by the University of Michigan Health System, which also cautions, “Most violent acts go unpunished on TV and are often accompanied by humor.”

Here at the Old Biddies Desk, we maintain that the nation needs emergency Bland Therapy: Go watch Arthur Godfrey and Perry Como, witness Mrs. Cleaver in gentle action. Recall that TV was not always such a mess and that television’s rude portrayal of contemporary America is far from accurate. Meanwhile, Hollywood offenders need to be spanked, then forced to watch reruns of “Howdy Doody” with a plate of Saltines and milk.

But spanking may be in the air. After three years of wheel-spinning, the FCC finally has gotten around to drafting a report that intimates that Congress can stop destructive broadcast shenanigans without fearing it will be accused of — horrors — violating the freedom of speech of those who produce slasher shows.

“The recommendations are sure to alarm executives in the broadcast and cable industries, members of the creative community and First Amendment rights advocates,” Associated Press noted recently.

Alarm them, after they have alarmed us for so long? Hah. On behalf of Wilma, June, Harriet and the rest, we bid good tidings to those lawmakers who draft legislation to curb TV violence. And to Hollywood, your seat in front of “Howdy Doody” is ready for you.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and Buffalo Bob for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at [email protected]washington times.com or 202/636-3085.

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