22A - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, September 7,.2000
ime to face reali :etworks grasping or ideas
'e Associated Press
A confluence of television trends and issues
- the presidential campaign, the Summer
Olympics, corporate takeovers, reality TV fallout
and a looming writers strike - could make the
200-2001 season one of the most volatile and
unpredictable in history.
Even scheduling the start of the season has
been subject to more than the usual debate. With
NBC carrying the 2000 Olympic Games (Sept.
13 through Oct. 1) and, with it, the potential for
huge ratings rewards, its network competitors
convinced Nielsen Media Research to delay the
start of the fall season until Oct. 2.
This way, they won't have to serve their new
series up into the maw ofthe Sumier Games.
The result? A staggered introduction of new
shows, which is sure to confuse and frustrate an
already fragmented audience with splintered
viewing habits. And it doesn't end there.
One network, ABC, as of this writing hasn't
even set its debut dates because Republican pres-
idential candidate George W Bush has not com-
mitted to an October debate schedule set by the
Commission on Presidential Debates, which
would be carried live by the networks. Program-
ming and counter-programming plans also are
affected by baseball. New sitcoms and dramas
try to make their mark in October, right in the
middle of the baseball playoffs and the crescendo
of the political campaign. So when series are oth-
erwise supposed to be hitting their stride, many
barely will have made their debuts.
That could turn out to be a lost opportunity of
the first order. According a recent front-page
story in the industry trade paper Daily Variety,
the considerable buzz created by CBS's record-
setting "Survivor" and
ABC's "Who Wants to
Be a Millionaire" have
put viewers in a height-
ened state of awareness
b about new network fare
-- about twice as high
for CBS and ABC, but
with almost every net-
After the ratings for
the Aug. 23 "Survivor"
finale came in, CBS
"Network TV is back."
But what kind of tele-
vision - on the net-
works, cable, PBS and
syndication - are view-
crs in for? And who or
what will have the great-
Photo courtesyo fCS est impact?
edly doomed creative pro- "Survivor" mania
might be history for now
(the next million-dollar challenge in Australia
begins in January, following the Super Bowl),
but the ripple effect on the industry has been sub-
Despite a full slate of sitcoms and dramas
with big names - including Bette Midler, bad
boys Charlie Sheen and Robert Downey Jr.
joining the casts of established shows such as
"Spin City" and "Ally McBeal" and big pro-
jects such as the revival of "The Fugitive"
series - reporters at the annual industry pre-
view meetings stuck almost exclusively to real-
ity, wondering whether so-called real TV
would take over television.
"We have said over and over again," said
Moonves, "we are broadcasters, and we are corn-
mitted to that, But at the same time we want to
experiment. We want to try new things. At.the
end of the day, our goal is to live up to our slo-
gan, which is,'It's all here."'
Lloyd Braun, ABC Entertainment "television
Group co-chairman, went further, saying, "We
don't believe everybody in America is clamor-
ing to see reality televisionw These two shows,
Survivor' and (Regis Philbin's) Who Wants to
Be a Millionaire?', have something unique and
special about them, and people embrace them"
(ABC, does, however, have reality shows in the
By comparison, Scott Sassa, president of NBC
West Coast, found himself fighting off rumors of
his own professional demise because his netw'ork
had failed to jump on the reality TV gravy train.
Many writers were prepared to praise him for
what they thought might be high-road self-
restraint, but Sassa offered a mea culpa.
"It's a whole, new, world out there," he said.
"One of the things that's happened in our busi-
ness is that the boundaries have changed and
reality programming is definitely here (and) this
is not just a fad, it's a trend. People are very inter-
ested in reality programming. It's going to be
around for a while.
"Quite frankly," he concluded, "we weren't as
aggressive as we should have been in this area."
In the end, events might overwhelm creative
With talk of a strike by the Writers Guild of
America in the near future, one network insider
says, "If that happens, it'll be wall-to-wall reality
Network television still has sonic long-stand-
ing issues to deal with, too.
While Paramount Television's syndicated "Dr.
Laura," with controversial host Laura Sch-
lessinger, is attracting some of the most intense
heat because of her condemnation of homosexu-
ality, there will be plenty of controversy to go
This time last year, National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People President
Kweisi Mfume lambasted the four major net-
works, calling their prime-time schedule a
"whitewash" that failed miserably to represint
people of color.
Looking at ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox's new
series for 2000-2001, there's evidence that an
effort has been made to address those concerns.
"Change is happening, but it's not enough,"
said Mfume in a statement. "Television is
showing more people of color on-screen, but
most important is off-screen, where very little
has changed. While there is more diversity in
the upcoming fall TV season, we still really
have a long, long way to go. We are not going
to be like the circus on this issue: Here today,
gone tomorrow. We are resolute about our
goal to bring real and meaningful change in
the way the television industry conducts busi-
Meanwhile, at UPN, which has had far
more blacks in its series than its competitors,
with shows such as "Moesha" (on which
Mfume will appear in an episode on voting
this season), the very viability of the network
continues to be an open question. (It's the
result of a bid by Rupert Murdoch's News
Corp. to buy TV station group Chris-Craft,
Big pimpin': Regis is making G's for ABC.
upon which UPN depends for exposure in
major markets such as New York and Los
This season, expect to hear from Latinos. A
recent report, "Still Missing: Latinos in and
Out of Hollywood," by the Tomas Rivera Poli-
cy Institute and sponsored by the Screen
Actors Guild, argued that, "Oid stereotypes and
lack of understanding of Hispanic social, eco-
nomic and cultural diversity are key reason-
why Latinos remain one of the most under-rep-
resented groups in television, movies and otha"
And then there is Sen. Joseph I. Lieber-
man of Connecticut, the Democratic vice
presidential candidate and high-profile crit
ic of' Hollywood.
Although Lieberman soft-pedaled the
industry-bashing when he accepted the
nomination in Los Angeles a couple of
weeks ago, there's little doubt he will renew
his attacks as the fall season kicks in and*
Election Day draws near.
And if that's not enough reality to keep
the networks defending themselves, there's
always cable to worry about.
'Survivor" winner Richard Hatch has almost singlehande
MAKE IT YO' HOMEPAGE, HOMEBOY.
Robbins: Ridiculous, pervers
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Made possible by QFifth Third Bank'
Tom Robbins has been called
"the most dangerous writer in the
His plots are ridiculous, his prose
is obscenely colorful, and his ideas
This is his seventh novel. His
past stories have tracked the jour-
neys of a hitchhiker with abnormal-
ly large thumbs ("Even Cowgirls
Get the Blues"), a modern shaman
who finds all the answers to life's
big questions by studying frogs
("Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas")
and a gang of cross-country travel-
ers consisting of a spoon, a soup
can, a stick and a shell. Yet Rob-
bins weaves these respective novels
in such a way that the reader under-
stands his grander purlpose, even
believes in these nonsensical char-
In "Fierce Invalids Home From
Hot Climates," Robbins takes on
the matter of religion through the
eves of vet another interestm char-
acter. Switters fits the formula of
the odd hero as a CIA agent so
obsessed with innocence that he
falls in love with li s16 vear-old
stepsister and, later, a nun ten years
his senior. lie is. in many other
ways, a walking contradiction. He
is an anarchist who works for- the
government and an atheist preoccu-
pied by the Virgin Mary.
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e, a gem
here, in'"South too-goddamn-vivid
America," that Switters undergoes a
spell from a tribal leader with a
pyramid-shaped head and universal
knowledge that leaves Switters con-
fined to a wheelchair.Switters, after
blowing things with his young step-
sister Suzy, contemplates life sit-
ting in his wheelchair, with his feet
"two inches above ground,' in S-
t, acting like a bum in a lo
park. fhe makes friends with a band
of brooding, beatnik outcasts called
the Art Girls and scares passers-by.
His next CIA assignment is in
Turkey, which eventually leads him
to a convent in Syria, where he
stays to learn about the lost prophe-
cy of the Virgin of Fatini and the
found virginity of a dynamic
French nun named Domino. Mi
cles of many kinds happen he,
including the discovery of the
model of Matisse's famous paint-
ings of the Blue Nude.
But to simplify any Robbins plot
to its bare bones is a veritable
crime. The nuances, analogies and
manner in which Robbins tells the
tale make the ridiculous story cred-
ible to the reader. Though the plot
in Fierce Invalids tends to go astray
at times, it is still creative, flowg
and completely captivating. A a
like P.T. Anderson's "Magnolia"
and in true Robbins style, it all
comes together in the end. Swit-
ters's quick tongue and witty
insights make his character a
strength of the book. He glides,.on
his wheelchair and with his tongue,
from one situation to the next. And
he commentates all the while. l
says to the lovely nun Domino: "u
just that I come from a country
where there are prudes on the left,
prigs on the right, and hypocrites
down the middle, so sometimes I
feel obligated to push in the'other
direction just to keep things hon-
Any Tom Robbins book is worth
reading for its style alone, and
Fierce Invalids is no different. His
tone is light and sarcastic, his lan-
guage is readable and his signat
analogies are top-notch. For exam-
ple: "It was a smile that could raise
roadkill from the dead or turn a
lead mine into a Mexican restau-
In the book, however, Switters
tends to rant more than the reader
would care to know (although it is
impressive how much obscure
information the character kno'
such as the word for "vaina" in
languages). These diatribes can be
distracting, especially given the
complicated plot that the reader has
to follow. And the copious religious
philosophizing is not nearly as well
- It takes less than four years for the world
to add another U.S. in population.'
* Last year, astonishingly, the U.S. grew at
a faster rate than China'-largely
because of immigration, the majority of
which is legal.2
" Ninety percent of the growth rate in U.S.
population in this century will be driven
by the current record-breaking wave of