88 Cranky Old Dude: A Mr. Media Essay Classic

HBO, Mr. Media Interviews

Originally published July 28, 1997

I hate getting old.

Oh, it’s not the crow’s feet at the edge of the eyes or the bags under them. It’s not the sagging of some parts, the inner tube effect of others or even the occasional forgetting of details, dates or names.

What I hate about aging is being forced by the media, of all things, to reach opinions that reinforce a creeping conservativism in my Cranky Old Dude view of the world.

The latest example of this is Home Box Office. HBO once the gold standard in pay cable channels, it just keeps on sinking lower and lower. Pretty soon we won’t call the bottom the “gutter,” we’ll refer to it as HBO.

Have you experienced any of HBO’s current late-night summer programming? The grisly, animated violence of “Spawn”? The jaw-dropping atrocities and language of the prison drama “Oz”? The crude, crass and over-the-line sound and video of hookers and their johns in “America Undercover: Hookers at the Point II: Going Out Again”?This isn’t another rant about showing objectionable programming during hours when kids will watch. While I’m sure plenty of teens find ways of watching this stuff even if their parents know to object, I’m just personally offended.

Boundaries — imagined and real — are being crossed every day and not just on HBO, of course. The word “tits” may be uttered in an upcoming episode of ABC’s new drama, “Cracker,” according to Entertainment Weekly. On the other hand, when Penthouse recently trumpeted its boldness in publishing photographs of actual intercourse, nobody blinked. Then again, this is the same magazine whose much ballyhooed “alien autopsy” pictures were swiftly discredited.

The days of seeing bare backsides — even Dennis Franz’s — seems almost quaint now, by comparison.

What I object to is having my generally liberal social views pressed by such issues and finding I’m not as open-minded and likely to say “whatever” as I thought.

Where was the line and when did HBO cross it? I can’t say exactly, but it was somewhere between hidden cameras in its “Taxicab Confessions” series, which I admired, and wiring hookers so we could hear them urging on their clients’ erections in the backseats of parked cars. Or maybe it was the difference between the jokes about certain sex acts on HBO’s award-winning “Larry Sanders Show” and the same acts being carried out behind glass in first episode of “Oz.”

These shows demonstrate the useless news of TV ratings. HBO was warning viewers of potentially offensive program content long before the networks ever felt the need, tipping us off about language, sexual or violent content. But that turned out to be a Trojan horse for slipping all manner of graphic smut into our living rooms.

Ratings only work if you catch them at the very beginning of a telecast and, ironically, if they are as specific as HBO’s. They aren’t repeated — with rare exception — during the course of a program, although networks have no shame in slipping their logs in the corner of the screen.

And please don’t give me the broadcast vs. cable standards argumen, that people choose to pay for cable programming, whereas the free broadcast networks are everywhere. Cable TV is far too prevalent now for that.

I think there’s a place for Time Warner, which owns HBO, to telecast and make money on these programs, just as I know I can always change the channel when I see something that offends my own sensibilities. My own mother-in-law, a Czech-born, card-carrying Republican, has watched every program I’ve mentioned here and has no problem with any of them, unlike myself. I just don’t think good old HBO is the right place. It’s time to split the channel’s wares into two channels, one well-rounded assortment of pedestrian fare that won’t making new Time Warner Vice Chairman Ted Turner — or me — squirm, and the other a clearly labeled, adult-oriented network.

If you’ve seen these shows, you know I’m not being prudish. And let me say, I have always enjoyed much of HBO’s other adult-oriented fare, including “Real Sex,” and “Sex Bytes.” Bad “B” movies with thin plots and gratuitous nudity don’t offend me either. But these new shows cross my personal line — a line I didn’t know I even had until HBO forced it upon me.

The Party AuthorityThe Party Authority in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland!

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