Tuesday 23 January 1996
Ricki Lake (left), the talk show host, has seen a big increase in viewers this year, but that makes her unique. Most such programmes in the US are suffering a ratings collapse, under attack for their tawdry themes and pretend guests - one couple has appeared at least 10 times in the last year in guises as varied as a transvestite and daughter, as people unable to have children and as victims of blackmail. Gerry Springer, a British import, was censored last week by the Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole. Springer paraded a group of teenage girls on stage with their parents in a show called "My Daughter Just Wants to Have Sex". Little wonder then that Phil Donahue (left), who invented the modern talk show, is hanging up his microphone after 29 years. The man who has presented his programme in drag and who once had a panel of six nude males says he has grown "sickened" by the public's appetite for smut. Of course, the 30 per cent decline in his audience ratings since their peak in 1991 has nothing to do with the decision.
Friends can be funny, but they can't be gay - at least that's how it seems as one of America's most successful sitcoms (below) runs into political trouble. Those who watch the twentysomething show know that Ross used to be married until his wife realised she was a lesbian and moved in with a woman. In the latest episode, the former Mrs Ross marries her lover in a ceremony conducted by Candace Gingrich, the half-sister of Newt. Outraged TV stations in Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Mississippi and Iowa pulled the episode and wrote letters of protest to NBC's parent company, General Electric. In Texas, Friends was replaced by a special on American football - a nice dose of hard masculinity to drive out all those unclean thoughts.
Next season Roseanne Barr (left) will front her hit show as a single parent. Her co-star John Goodman wants to leave the eight-year-old show to pursue a movie career. There had been rumours that Roseanne wanted out as well, but her agent, Nicole David, says that the forceful actress wants to do a ninth season and is excited by the kinds of stories she could do as a single mum. ABC will be relieved, as Roseanne is still a Top 10 show. "There have been too many shows that copied the Friends and Seinfeld format," says ABC's programming chief, Ted Harbert. "Roseanne still offers something unique." Who could argue with that?
John Pike, head of late-night programming at CBS, is under fire for allegedly saying that blacks are a dependable source of late-night audience share because they don't have jobs to wake up for in the morning. Pike has also been accused of saying that comedy sketches appeal to blacks because it is too difficult for them to follow more complicated dramas. Network executives are investigating Pike's alleged remarks and promise to take "appropriate action".
The gorgeous, pouting John F Kennedy Jnr (left) is finding it tough running his new political magazine, George. After just three issues, the respected editor Eric Etheridge has quit and the Kennedy hunkmeister will take sole control of the publication, which has more glossy ads for perfume and jeans than the average issue of Cosmopolitan. George sources say that Etheridge, brought in from the New York Observer, was tired of Kennedy's interference and horrified by some of the facile features. The January edition, for example, had a piece in which Americans with the same names as the Republican presidential candidates were asked to comment on the policies of their alter egos.
A survey conducted by the Federal Communications Commission is causing alarm at the American TV networks. In extensive research, the FCC found that most children aged 12 to 16 believe that television encourages them to have sex, lie and indulge in aggressive behaviour. FCC insiders say the survey will be used to put even more pressure on the networks to clean up their programmes.
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