To Steve Allen, TV is good and bad
Entertainer wants parents to protest

Tuesday, December 15, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

In those full-page newspaper ads, Steve Allen says TV is “Leading Children Down A Moral Sewer”

On the phone, he says some TV today is “really admirable, educational, informative, uplifting and inspirational.”

Uh-oh, Steve-o. Which is it?

“There are plenty of examples today — as there always have been — of the superb peaks to which television can aspire and can reach,” says Mr. Allen, citing programs on the Learning Channel, A&E, American Movie Classics, Turner Classic Movies and the History Channel.

“There are so many good examples of the possibility — of what used to be the habit — of doing good programs.

“And that is why it is all the more disgusting that now we have Jerry Springer and Howard Stern,” says Mr. Allen, 76, the comedian, composer, author, musician and creator of The Tonight Show.

Mr. Allen, who signs his new book, Dumbth: The Lost Art of Thinking, today at Borders Books & Music in Springdale, is mad as hell and not going to take it any more.

What: Steve Allen signs his book, Dumbth: The Lost Art of Thinking.
When: 6:30 p.m. today.
Where: Borders Books & Music, 11711 Princeton Pike, Springdale.
•Information: 671-5852.
He and actress Shirley Jones are honorary co-chairs of the Parents Television Council, which has placed full-page ads in more than 100 newspapers urging parents to protest the “filth, vulgarity, sex and violence” on TV.

“Are you as outraged as I am at how TV is undermining the morals of children, encouraging them to have premarital sex, encouraging lack of respect for authority and crime, and shaping our country down to the lowest standards of decency?” asks Mr. Allen in the ads, part of a $500,000 campaign by the non-profit conservative group.

He sees smut around the dial, around the clock. On sitcoms, dramas, soap operas, movies, tabloid news magazines, even the sex-oriented jokes in Jay Leno's monologue.

And it's on the after-school talk shows that glamorize deviant, or violent behavior, which is seen as the norm by impressionable young viewers.

“I wished they thought it was normal. That would be horrible enough,” says Mr. Allen, who has written more than 50 books and some 6,000 songs.

“But they (young viewers) think this is how you get rich and famous. And the sad part is: They're right!

“What does this say about society? It says some very depressing and alarming things.”

The TV trendsetter who introduced American TV viewers to Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Lenny Bruce and the Smothers Brothers has a long list of TV complaints. It's like he's preparing a Fox TV show that could be called When Good TV Goes Bad.

“I guess I could,” he says with a laugh.

Then he turns serious. This is no laughing matter, even to the funny man who once quipped, when asked if they got his show in Boston: “Well, they watch it — but they don't get it.”

The TV landscape could change instantly, he contends, if advertisers refused to support what he considers offensive material. That's why the full-page newspaper ads are called “A Parents' Appeal to TV Sponsors.”

“The advertising community could literally all by themselves solve the problem just about overnight. All they have to say is: If you're interested in our money, clean up your act.

“There was never a dirty joke on TV or radio in the 1950s. That shows it can be done.”

Letters to support the “Family-Safe TV” campaign may be sent to:
Steve Allen
c/o Parents Television Council
Dept. 6, 600 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 700
Los Angeles, Calif. 90017.
While in Cincinnati today, Mr. Allen will meet Bob Wehling, a senior vice president at Procter & Gamble Co., one of the world's biggest advertisers. The comedian has received three letters in recent months from Mr. Wehling.

“He's alerted me to the fact that a number of the world's leading sponsors, major corporations, realize we're corrupting the minds of children, as well as offending people who would rather see talent than smut.”

This could be the start of something big, to quote one of Mr. Allen's musical compositions.

So how does Mr. Allen reconcile TV today being so bad — and so good? How can we have ER, Promised Land, Cosby, 60 Minutes and Touched by an Angel, while so many others to him are smothered by the devil?

Viewers could always find quality programming, “if you were selective,” since the birth of TV 50 years ago, he says.

“But most people sort of just use television, as the saying goes, as a voice in the house. It's like turning on the heat in the morning. You turn on the television.”

When Mr. Allen flips on his TV, it's usually for news magazines. His favorite is 60 Minutes.

“That is a marvelous use of television. It's an hour during which you can actually learn something! I find more morality on a show like 60 Minutes than I do in the average Sunday-morning lecture,” he says.

“As is the case now — and it's always been so — some of television is better than we deserve.”

And a lot is much, much worse.

John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. Write: 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: 768-8330.