$_- The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, January 27, 1999
Rafkin to speak
to film students
Can television go without sex?'
By Chris Cousino
TV/New Media Editor
What do Opie, Barbara Eden's
navel, "Charles in Charge" and
Brooke Shields have in common?
None other than television and one
of its most prolific Emmy-winning
directors, Alan Rafkin.
Rafkin, a veteran director whose
Angell Hall G115
Tonight at 6 p.m.
been in the tele-
for more than
Today, he visits
to speak about
cled in his
Courtesy o Joan Lauren
The Hartford Courant
Can television go without sex?
Of course not.
TV lost its innocence a long
From the raging hormones that
drive The WB's "Dawson's Creek,"
to the nonchalant bed-hopping of
Fox Broadcasting's "Melrose
Place" to the bare bottoms that
must inevitably pass muster on
ABC's "NYPD Blue," it's clear
that prime time is no place for vir-
True, there are some safe havens
where one can be "Touched by an
Angel" on CBS or take refuge in
"The Wonderful World of Disney"
But those are increasingly the
Sex has cachet in TV. It's traded
like currency for ratings. It no
longer merely suggests itself into
sitcoms and dramas with innuendo
and double entendre. It is an insis-
tent, central and relentless force in
the medium, one heavily influ-
enced by the red-light district of
cable and the anything-goes pres-
sures of the video market.
There's no turning back now -
not if you're running a major
broadcast network trying to stem
the tide of audience erosion.
A little sex on TV? That's like
being a little pregnant.
That may explain why Scott
Sassa, the new president of NBC
Entertainment, called for "less of
an emphasis on sex" rather than
outright abstinence when he out-
lined his "aspirational" vision for
NBC in an address to TV critics at
the 1999 Winter Press Tour.
Even "less sex" seemed a bold
proposal given the state of the TV
It certainly got the attention of
"Think about 'Cheers,' of the
unresolved sexual tension you had
in that show," said Sassa, referring
to that classic sitcom's Sam-and-
OK. We're thinking.
But NBC is the network that
brings us "Friends," "Veronica's
Closet" and "Just Shoot Me," three
sexually active and, more signifi-
cantly, three top-rated shows.
As a result, Sassa, good inten-
tions or not, found himself imme-
diately qualifying his remarks, if
not backing away from them alto-
"I want to be clear," he said.
"I'm not saying 'no sex.' OK? I am
saying 'less sex,' and it depends on
the type of show it is. 'Friends' is a
show that's targeted for 18- to 49-
year-olds. It's about single people
that live in New York. They will
come into situations where they
meet people and they have sex
There's a place for "Friends,"
said Sassa. But, he said, too:
"What I don't want to do is to give
notes to producers of shows we
have in this kind of forum. It's
really about - in some cases -
(how) we use sex to get an easy
laugh or sex as an easy promotion-
al hook, and we need to be careful
So was he promoting restraint as
opposed to chastity? Hard to tell.
"Sex in situation comedies and
things like that is a device that's
important and, for the most part,
when sex is used in a smart way, it
works out OK," he said.
In some cases, however, it's
clear, "We could use a few more
words in between 'Hello' and
'Would you sleep with me?"'
"Balance," the NBC executive
went on. It's all about balance,
Courtesy of Fox Broadcasting
The characters of "Melrose Place" are known for their bed-hopping antics.
recent autobiography, "Cue the
B3unny on the Rainbow"
In "Cue the Bunny," Rafkin hops
through numerous backdrop stories
from the sets he worked on and
describes his disgruntled childhood
to his beginnings in live television,
pitfalls in film direction, to the pre-
sent day in which he currently
directs episodes for "Suddenly
Susan" and "Veronica's Closet."
The autobiography actually began
as an idea ushered in by Rafkin's
family after he retired from the
industry in 1996. As he wrote the
book, Rafkin feels, "It did take me
on a different path. I just was doing
it. Its taken on a life of its own."
By the end of the book, Rafkin
explains that it isn't time for him to
retire, which has currently led him
to working with actress Brooke
Shields and her NBC sitcom
"Suddenly Susan." Shields, Rafkin
said, "is a fabulous young lady.
She's a great boss and a great kid."
"Suddenly Susan" isn't the first
show with a headline actor or
actress that Rafkin has beenat the
helm of. Since the '60s, Rafkin
directed the likes of such poignant
Hollywood talent as Dick Van Dyke,
Mary Tyler Moore, Donna Reed,
Patty Duke, Bob Newhart, Gary
Shandling and Andy Griffith.
Working with such a multi-
faceted combination of performers
has given Rafkin a high respect for
the talent. "I think acting is a very
noble profession," Rafkin said.
"The Andy Griffith Show," one of
the high points of Rafkin's career,
boasted a strong ensemble with the
likes of Andy Griffith, Ron Howard,
Jim Nabors and Don Knotts. Rafkin
said Knotts is "what you see is what
you get. He's just a very sweet
Knotts and Rafkin also worked
together in the feature films, "The
Ghost and Mr. Chicken" and "The
Shakiest Gun in the West."
However, Rafkin's feature film
career never took off, though his
films did fairly well at the box
office. "I have no gripes about it,"
Rafkin flourished in the medium
of television, winning an Emmy in
1982 for an episode of "One Day at
a Time." In the '90s, he has worked
on "Coach," "Friends" and "The
Jeff Foxworthy Show," along with
"Suddenly Susan," which he will
continue to direct next season.
As he so aptly put it, Rafkin said,
"I'm having a lot of fun doing it."
"We're not trying to create a
Family Channel here," Sassa said.
But in an era of immediate grat-
ification, the scales have tipped so
far in favor of sex, it's difficult to
believe that sex will somehow pull
itself back under the covers in
Hollywood even if many viewers
around the country long for the
days of "Father Knows Best."
"We do not live in a three- or
four-channel environment as we
did in the '60s and '70s"' said
Sassa. "We have to have
But at the very least, he said,
"Within shows that are supposed to
be family shows, we need to be
Of course, NBC's new family
drama series "Providence," broad-
cast Fridays at 8 p.m. EST, man-
aged to have its lovely lead, Melina
Kanakaredes, strip down to her
panties and bra for all to see as she
stepped into a shower - where she
caught her boyfriend soaping up
with another man.
And the other broadcast net-
works don't seem inclined to fol-
low Sassa's lead - modest though
Fox's "Ally McBeal" is all but
obsessed with sex - right down to
erotic finger-sucking. The lead
character on The WB's "Felicity"
got a graphic how-to lesson on
condoms in a recent episode.
And every season, it seems, more
and more shows find a reason to
shoot a scene or two in a strip club.
So maybe Sassa was sassing us.
Or kidding himself.
It's difficult to believe sex will
pull itself back under the covers in
Sundance is obsessed with Obsession
Read Weekend, etc. Magazine.
Los Angeles Times
PARK CITY, Utah - Like God's
pure snow, which traditionally
arrives in this skiing town just in
time to delight nature-starved movie-
goers, obsessive behavior in general
and sexual obsessiveness in particu-
lar have blanketed the Sundance
Film Festival. And don't think that
hasn't been noticed.
The first screening of "American
Pimp," the Hughes Brothers' candid
and dispiriting documentary look at
what they call "the most mythical
figure in black culture," created a
scene of such bedlam that festival-
goer/heart throb Ben Affleck, among
others, was nearly trampled in the
uncaring crush to get in.
The scene was only marginally
calmer at "Sex: The Annabel Chong
Story," an erratic documentary look
at the life and career of someone
schlockmeister Jerry Springer eager-
ly introduced to his TV audience by
trumpeting, "This woman had sex
with 251 men in 10 hours." Dressed
in a severe black tunic and jeans, the
self-possessed Chong told the post-
screening audience that her career in
pornography was partly motivated by
a desire to "break down gender
stereotypes, stereotypes of the porn
chick as a bimbo, a coke-addicted
Master documentarian Errol
Morris ("Fast, Cheap and Out of
Control," "The Thin Blue Line") is
no stranger to obsession, or to
Sundance, for that matter, a place he
says he prepares for by "spending 72
hours in a meat locker with people I
don't like, and all of them have cell
Morris was in Park City before
Sundance was Sundance, debuting
his first feature, the pet cemetery-
themed "Gates of Heaven," at the
Egyptian Theater back in 1978.
"There was a snowstorm, I was
staying in a Godforsaken condo and I
only had a small idea of where it was
located," Morris remembers. "I had
to hitchhike back there, and I was
picked up by people who'd been in
the theater and had hated the movie.
They asked me what I thought, and
since I had no alternative means of
transportation, I said I, too, was
Morris' new documentary, "Mr.
Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A.
Leuchter, Jr.," underlines that when
it comes to depicting obsessive
behavior, Morris has no peer. This
strange, disturbing but never less
than compelling film is sure to be
one of the most provocative he has
made - and for Morris, that's saying
Leuchter first came to Morris'
attention as a kind of engineering
Mr. Fixit for the nation's means of
legal execution, someone who
believed in what the director calls
"one of my favorite oxymorons,
Once he interviewed him, howev-
er, Morris became aware that there
were two Fred Leuchters: "Fred the
self-styled execution technologist
and Fred the Holocaust denier. The
combination seemed overwhelming,
so much so that though there were
many articles written about Fred,
nothing combined these two ele-
ments. It was if they could not be
addressed in one place, a crazy
kosher idea of separating milk and
A self-described "obsessive char-
acter in my own right," Morris was
attracted to Leuchter in part, as he's
been to other obsessives, because of
"seeing the Everyman in them,
which is a very frightening thought."
Describing how Leuchter came to
believe that no one was gassed at
Auschwitz also fascinated the direc-
tor because of his own long-standing
desire to make a Holocaust film, to
"find a different way into that sub-
ject matter. The struggle about
whether the Holocaust happened is
at its heart about something very
deep and disturbing, a struggle over
good and evil. It's struck me many
times: If history is up for grabs,
what meaning do good and evil
A documentarian who believes if
you let people alone to talk long
enough, they will reveal who they
really are by how they use ran=
guage," Morris says that one of the
themes of "Mr. Death" is "how we
can convince ourselves of anything.
One person I know contrasted this
film to 'Schindler's List.' If that
film's thesis is 'Anyone can be a
hero,' mine has the far more distuo
ing thesis that 'Anyone can think
they're a hero."'
By contrast, and even though their
subject matter has an undeniable
amount of intrinsic interest and at
times dazzling talkers as subjects,
neither "American Pimp" nor "Sex"
can completely overcome the numb-
ing effect of the sleazy and exploita-
tive worlds in which they are set -
worlds in which a complete and ter.
rifying contempt for women is
Interestingly enough, the work of
exceptional actresses has been the
main pleasure of the festival's fiction
films so far.
Tony Award winner Janet McTeer
is vibrant and sassy as a free-spirited
mom in Gavin O'Connor's
"Tumbleweeds," and young
Canadian actress Sarah Polley, mej,
orable in "The Sweet Hereaft J
reveals herself to be a performer of
enormous skill and poise in Audrey
Wells' "Guinevere." Blessed with an
alive, luminous quality and the abili-
ty to bring truth to every kind of
scene, Polley does wonders with
what might in other hands be a stan-
dard transition from a socially awk-
ward to a completely self-possessed
Philosophers Computer Scientists Anthropologists
The National Center for Geographic Information & Analysis
State University of New York at Buffalo
invites applications for doctoral fellowships in a new
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Fellowships are funded by National Science Foundation grant DGE 9870668
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