- DROPPED CALL: 'Rescue Me.'
Over the past few seasons, one of the consistently fine television shows — an island in a seemingly endless sea of swill — has been FX Network’s “Rescue Me.” A gritty, funny, pull-no-punches look into the life of a thoroughly screwed-up New York City firefighter (played by comedian Denis Leary), the show has been a standout since the first episode. Sure, it’s a bit profane, but — STOP THE PRESSES! — life is a bit profane, folks.
Standout or not, that didn’t stop Little Rock telecom giant Alltel from caving to the demands of a bunch of puritano-fascists. In June, it was recently announced, the company pulled their ads from “Rescue Me” at the urging of a right-wing outfit called the Parents Television Council. On their website, parentstv.org, the Parents Television Council praises Alltel, Dairy Queen, tire maker Bridgestone/Firestone, and cell phone provider T-Mobile for yanking their advertising from the show, while hammering companies like Staples, Toyota, Chrysler, Wendy’s and Visa in repeated press releases for not doing the same. Sheesh.
If you’ll remember, the PTC is one of the groups that raised such a ruckus over the Janet Jackson Superboob incident. Billing itself as an organization founded “to ensure that children are not constantly assaulted by the sex, violence and profanity on television and in other media,” the PTC has vowed to clean up your TV, whether you want them to or not. Now that they’ve helped turn broadcast television into a bleak and blow-dried wasteland where happy-go-lucky crap like “Dancing with the Stars” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” can flourish, they’re turning their guns on cable — you know: the channels we pay for in order to escape the constant, slow rain of network drivel.
Because “Rescue Me” is on cable, the PTC can’t use their favorite tactic, having their glassy-eyed minions (they claim a flock of over a million “concerned parents”) write and e-mail complaints to the FCC. Instead, they’ve targeted the show’s financial underpinnings, sending out lurid descriptions of the show’s juicy parts to advertisers: Rape! Sex! Foul language!
It’s a funny thing about the lily white among us. Ever notice that those who claim to want the least to do with sex and profanity are the ones most likely to end up looking for it? Cruising the back streets, marking every dirty bookstore and strip club on a map; flipping through popular novels and highlighting every “fart” and “fuck”; or — in this case — sitting in a dark room somewhere, sweat-varnished face reflecting the blue glow of the boob tube while they jot down every flash of thong and naughty word.
What I’m saying is: Why do the horny rage?
Listen, friends: Because I’m an avid viewer, I know that “Rescue Me” is on at 9 p.m. Tuesday nights in Little Rock — 10 p.m. in some time zones (FX is Comcast Ch. 59, in case you’re interested). First, if your little darlings are still awake enough to be corrupted at that hour on a school night, I feel sorry for them. They’ll be the kids with their heads down in a puddle of drool on their desks the next morning. Second, as folks like me have said until we’re blue in the face, if they do happen to be awake, there is an amazing invention called the remote control. Slap in a couple of batteries, point it in the right direction, and it can even change the channel from “Murder She Wrote” to “Touched by an Angel” from all the way across the room! In lieu of that, you can always shuffle across the rug and jab that little black button on the front of the television marked “OFF.” That way, the Devil can’t get in to show little Johnny that his ding-ding is useful for something more than slamming in the toy box lid.
In the end, Alltel’s ball-challenged behavior in pulling their ads at the urging of these nincompoops is less concerning to me than the fact that victory only emboldens a group like the PTC. They’ll surely redouble their efforts against other advertisers, which will inevitably cause other cable networks to consent to sanitized programming, lest their shows get targeted. (It’s a trend you can already see happening, even on cable. The other night on Bravo! — a network that used to show uncut cinema after 10 p.m. — I sat through as much as I could stand of the expurgated version of “Casino.” You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Joe Pesci call somebody a “motherloving son of a gun” while stabbing him in the neck with a fountain pen.) Once advertisers and networks start caving in — once we start letting the delicate sensibilities of Baptist preachers, octogenarian shut-ins and 8-year-olds determine what gets shown on television and what doesn’t — it’s just a short slide down the slippery slope before we’ve got nothing to watch but “The 700 Club” and “Spongebob Squarepants.”
Oh wait — Spongebob’s gay, right? Scratch that last one.