Culture

Television

Culture | The top 5 TV shows in popularity as measured by Neilsen

Issue: "Tax man's terror," April 14, 2001
1
ER NBC, 6th season
STARRING
Anthony Edwards, Laura Innes, Noah Wyle

PREMISE
Doctors balance medical emergencies and interpersonal relationships.

MESSAGE
Doctors are noble but flawed, dedicated to their patients but also recovering from suicide attempts, fighting custody battles, and, more recently, "coming out." The show's ethics mix sanctity of life with "whatever's right for you." Thus, life-saving doctors also endorse abortion, safe sex, and euthanasia.

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EXAMPLE
When a homosexual AIDS patient warns he won't stop sleeping with his partner because he loves him, the doctors "compassionately" preach safe sex.

2
Friends NBC, 7th season
STARRING
Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Courtney Cox

PREMISE
Six twenty-something friends live and work in New York City.

MESSAGE
Friends (with both good looks and good punchlines) are all that really matter in life. The friends are quirky and genuinely funny, but the show finds humor in promiscuity, drunkenness, or homosexuality: As long as the "Friends" are all together in the end, everybody is happy.

EXAMPLE
It's "funny" when Rachel and Monica flip a coin for the last condom while their boyfriends wait in the bedrooms. It's "funny" when Rachel and Ross get drunk and get married in a Vegas casino.

3
Law & Order NBC, 11th season
STARRING
Jerry Orbach, Sam Waterston, Angie Harmon

PREMISE
A team of detectives and assistant DAs pursues criminal justice on the streets and through the legal system.

MESSAGE
Rule of law is intended to protect citizens, but man is finite and sometimes justice is illusive. The plot twists that often arise in the last moments of the show sometimes send the message that playing by the rules doesn't always amount to winning the game.

EXAMPLE
A man convicted in one case turns out to have been used by the real perpetrator, who now cannot be touched.

4
Frasier NBC, 8th season
STARRING
Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, Jane Leeves

PREMISE
A psychiatrist/ radio talk show host tries to deal with his eccentric family and his own neuroses.

MESSAGE
The futility of modern psychiatry: Self-help doesn't help, but fulfilling relationships do. Dr. Crane counsels the emotionally infirm, and the physician continually tries to heal himself by repairing (or ignoring) the faulty relationships that surround him.

EXAMPLE
Married Niles's crush on single Daphne finally results in her mutual affection, and the audience is supposed to cheer as he wiggles out of his marriage.

5
Everybody Loves Raymond CBS, 4th season
STARRING
Ray Romano, Patricia Heaton

PREMISE
A Long Island sportswriter and family man deals with his offbeat and sometimes annoying extended family.

MESSAGE
Even grown men can act like children; the usual plot revolves around Ray doing something stupid, childish, or insensitive and then squirming as he tries to fix the situation. Life is a lot smoother if you listen to the wife and ignore the parents.

EXAMPLE
After Ray convinces his wife to go camping with the kids without him so that he can supposedly work on his latest book, he gets caught, golf bag in tow, when she returns early.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT
NBC's Will and Grace picks up where the show Ellen left off. Only this time, a male character's homosexuality is neither new nor shocking, merely commonplace, and promiscuity is no big deal. Both gay Will and straight Grace are looking for that "special someone," and the audience is supposed to hope that they both find a nice young man. Supporting character Jack is the outrageous, in-your-face homosexual guy. His every sentence is a crude, usually sexual joke. He's effeminate, he lisps, and he does cabaret acts. We're supposed to laugh at him but he's more annoying than funny. NBC is betting TV audiences want to watch more homosexual humor. The broadcaster moved the show to its most coveted time slot, Thursday nights at 9:00, once occupied by ratings-giants Cheers and Seinfeld. When it comes to normalizing homosexuality, Will and Grace is much more dangerous than Ellen ever was. It doesn't preach that homosexuality is right; it assumes it.

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