Trash TV Is Sordid, Scandelous and Set To Shock Us All
Daily Express 4th March 1989
IF YOU put your foot in garbage, you get garbage on your foot. So says Morton Downey Jr, and .when he opens his it's like a flasher opening his raincoat. Have we got your attention?
That's what trash television is all about— getting viewers to watch and stay tuned in. On the seamy side of the street, the result is what matters and not the method. A revolution is going on in American broadcasting and experts predict an avalanche of trash TV is going to be beamed into Britain soon.
In an increasingly competitive market, the major U.S. networks, independent stations and more and more cable companies are indulging in titillation. And bikinis-on-the-beach specials are not enough.
Here there are investigations into transexual clubs, devil worship, high-class call girls, lesbian mothers, sex surrogates, rape victims, racists and AIDS.
Death row interviews with mass murderers or political assassins are also open season.
David Frost interviewed Sirhan Sirhan, who murdered Robert Kennedy, for Inside Edition , which is one of a growing number of series dwelling on the sensational.
Soon afterwards Frost scampered off, leaving behind a lucrative position. He said he could not stomach Trash TV.
The upper echelons of American broadcasting and critics agree. But not the public or TVs money men who peg their advertising rates on a sliding scale to the number of viewers.
Butchers And Trash attracts. Morton Downey Jr is the shrillest man on American TV, who butchers rather than interviews guests.
His shows are like prize fights with his audience —usually young and male —chanting for blood. He is a late-night ratings winner.
Early evenings are dominated by shows about psychic phenomena and the scandals, sex lives and peculiar penchants of stars.
Every afternoon we can tune in to people talking about their fears, fantasies, tragedies, sex lives, homosexuality, and on and on to Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey—the world's richest television woman.
Oprah disputes the Trash TV label: "I do not put myself in that category. Any criticism of tabloid television is anti-women because the issues that we deal with are geared to female audinences."
Trash TV does not find time for cardigan patterns or new recipes for beef stew.
Instead, it panders to kinky kicks or offers questionable advice to the love-starved. Or finds the California teenager who shot her stepmother to death, but says her father, who was involved with her stepmother's sister, made her do it.
It is known as 'reality programming' or 'non-fiction TV', and the master of it is Geraldo Rivera.He began his career as a hard-hitting investigative reporter for ABC TV. He was always abrasive and controversial.
Geraldo was eased out by them four years ago but bounced back a year later. He was going to solve the mystery of Al Capone's tomb by opening it on 'live' TV. He found nothing, but viewer ratings zoomed. Geraldo was back.
Since then he went undercover and took part in a drug deal. He did a special on devil worship, which led to a nationwide outcry. And stripped off to interview nudists.
"I am a passionate. I try as I've always said to see stories at the level they happen. I'm not afraid to get down and dirty," says Trash TV's biggest star.
And he vainly argues: "Titillation is harmless."
Whether he or anyone else believes that, the TV revolution has had to make room for Trash TV.
And the major networks —ABC, NBC and CBS-have been forced into 'adult' broadcasting by racier cable programming.
"It's going to happen in Britain too—just a lot faster," says Hollywood analyst Charles Grove.
"The broadcasters in this country were very hesitant to change and concerned about advertisers. But when they saw what was happening they were backed into a corner. They had to change to survive.
"With Rupert Murdoch's Sky Cable and others they have over there, they have seen the lesson of America — they can beam the trash in by satellite.
"It's a cut-throat business and whatever brings in the viewers is what will be broadcast."
The critics predict a slippery slide downmarket.
A recent ratings winner was the mini-series Favourite Son, which involved Linda 'Crocodile Dundee' Koslowski and Harry 'L.A. Law' Hamlin. The story involved bondage and masturbation scenes and a dog lapping up a murder victim's blood.
New shows include Crimes of Violence, A Current Affair, and The Reporters, one of whom was brave enough to ask Mike Tyson about totally unfounded rumours that he is gay.
On one show brutal offenders were asked if they had any remorse about their crimes. A rapist said: "I'm not gonna cry on national TV."
Brandon Tartikoff is the boss of the NBC, which screened Geraldo's Satan Worship show, and the Favourite Son says: "Initially it is shocking and whatever is shocking is audience-grabbing."
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