The once-great Columbia Broadcasting System mined a lot of gold during television's Golden Age with such talents and shows as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, CBS Playhouse, and Ed Sullivan. More recently it has presented the highly rated Touched by an Angel and the family-oriented Promised Land, but now it is about to grant legitimacy to Howard Stern, the king of all filth.
Mr. Stern has signed a deal to begin televising his radio program on 12 of the 14 CBS-owned television stations in August. It will be similar to the show he produces for the cable network E! Entertainment Television.
In commenting on the deal, Mr. Stern correctly observed: "Television is ready for someone like me ... standards have gone to an all-time low, and I'm here to represent the change."
Mr. Stern has read the polls that people don't care if the president of the United States is harassing women or having sex in the Oval Office. He figures if they'll tolerate outrageous sexual behavior there, they'll support such behavior on television. He may be right.
While Mr. Stern's appearance on CBS stations may be an acknowledgment of society's lower standards, it is also an indication that CBS is a co-conspirator in the decline.
One person who has refused to lend her name and reputation to CBS is nationally syndicated radio talk-show host Laura Schlessinger. A source close to her program told me that "Dr. Laura" was ready to accept a lucrative offer from CBS to do her own show on morals and values until she heard the network had signed Mr. Stern. Then, the source said, she immediately rejected the contract offer for an Oprah-like show on the same stations on which Mr. Stern will now appear. To Laura Schlessinger's way of thinking, accepting the CBS deal would be akin to "going to bed with the devil."
In our me-first culture, one rarely sees such commitment to principle demonstrated, though a case could be made that she should have done the show anyway to counter Mr. Stern and let the best ratings win. But Ms. Schlessinger isn't like that. She reportedly "has no intention of getting into a spitting contest with a skunk."
So the message is that Howard Stern, who recently "auditioned" porno actors by having them drop their drawers and showed it on the E! channel, will now be delivering his social effluent to a wider audience on CBS.
Perhaps goodness has become offensive to some CBS executives, who must socialize with people who undoubtedly mock shows like Touched by an Angel and Promised Land. Hollywood critic Michael Medved has written that most producers and executives prefer the approval of their peers to that of critics and audiences. If that is true, the Howard Stern show will be a hit among the elite and the perverted.
I'm thankful for Laura Schlessinger, who has higher standards than CBS's toothless Office of Standards and Practices. By hiring Howard Stern, CBS wins the race to the sewer.
© 1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate