Saturday, October 11, 2003

'Married ... With Children' - not as seen on TV

Peter Bronson

Here's a scene you won't see on a sitcom, but it's playing in living rooms all over Cincinnati nearly every night.

Mom, dad and the kids in front of the TV. They're chuckling on cue with the laugh track. Suddenly a chilly shadow falls over the Norman Rockwell scene: Everybody Loves King of Friends takes a sharp turn into the gutter and "family hour'' turns into an "Adults Only" Comedy Club.

The kids' eyelids stretch wide; they giggle uncertainly. Mom and dad are speechless, as if they just caught a trusted friend leering at their 6-year-old daughter.

They think: Do we make a scene and change the channel - or just sit there and pretend we didn't see the TV stars climb into bed together and joke about specific body parts in detail that would make an NFL referee blush?

We all wonder: Why do they constantly "push the envelope'' for smut? Why does the family hour pump more crude than Exxon? Profanity on TV has never been higher, and standards have dipped so low they're just a short reach away from Larry Flynt.

I asked Claudia Reilly of Clifton.

In the mid-1980s, she was a writer for that pioneer of intellectual pork rinds, Married... With Children - which now looks about as racy as Elmer Fudd.

On Married ... her boss often referred to women with an obscene four-letter word. When she went to the producer to discuss it, she was stunned to see a large picture on his wall of a naked woman lying suggestively in a pile of money.

"He told me, 'That's my wife.' "

Obviously, she had come to the wrong office to complain. She requested a transfer and wound up writing witty dialogue for Facts of Life.

Her Seinfeldian story says a lot about the facts of life in TV Land.

"You rarely have any parents writing for shows," Reilly said. "They are mostly in their 20s, childless. It doesn't cross your mind until you have kids how some of this stuff sounds."

Now she is married, with children.

"I'm shocked," she says, "at what they call 'family viewing.' "

While writers sit around long tables, doing nips and tucks on the script, "They have to push the envelope to see if this is funny."

But too often, they take the lazy way out, and stoop to picking the low-hanging jokes any 13-year-old could write.

"It's terribly easy to slide into the (rude) joke when you can't come up with anything better," Reilly said. "I'd like to tell them, 'Hey, you're funnier than that.' "

She would also like to go back and produce a decent, high-quality show for kids. She still has the wit and talent for it.

How about a high-quality show for families? How about a sitcom about a grownup writer who tells Hollywood to grow up and quit peddling smut?

Nah. Reilly believes producers just don't get it.

They see the success of the Sopranos, and completely miss the good writing and acting, she said. "Instead, they decide we need more swearing and more people chopping off heads and hands on TV."

There are many good writers, even a few Christian conservatives in Hollywood, she said. But that picture on the producer's wall sticks with her.

"Naked in the money is a good description of what exists there."

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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