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HOWARD ROSENBERG

Tv Hucksters On A Roll

May 24, 1985|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Television never stops selling.

One of last week's showcases was "The CBS Morning News," where the inexplicable Phyllis George was interviewing three chic gray-haired women about their regimens for staying young while growing old.

Good topic. The arts--from age-maligning TV to such obnoxious movies as "Moving Violations"--do more than their share of age stereotyping.

TV's entertainment programs generally ignore the elderly or portray them either as universally helpless or senile. So bring on more women like these three, stereotype-smashing females, well past 50, who are sharp and energetic and proud of their age.

Yet there was this:

"Jane, in your book, you say there are certain myths about aging," George said to one of the three interviewees, Jane Ogle, author of "Ageproofing."

"Most of the things you think of as true aging changes, think of as inevitable, aren't," Ogle said. She ticked off a list: Wrinkles, loss of teeth, failing eyesight, sore joints, memory loss.

"These are things you can prevent," Ogle said.

Not a flicker from George, who bought Ogle's rosy Shangri La thesis as if it were inscribed in stone. Prevent wrinkles and so on? It's one thing to advocate a realistic view of aging, celebrate longevity, acknowledge the positive and encourage the elderly to live productively. But it's quite another to deny some of the unpleasant realities that accompany advanced age.

Ogle, a former Harper's Bazaar health and beauty editor, was joined on the panel by Ruth Woolard, wife of the president of Revlon U.S.A., and Catherine di Montezemolo, former vice president and fashion director for Lord & Taylor.

"Let's give some advice to women in your age range," George said. And what age range is that? No one said.

All three women several times mentioned the gym where they work out and keep in shape. Free commercial.

Ogle said she began exercising and taking dance lessons when she was 60. "At 60?" repeated George, apparently incredulous to hear that the young-looking Ogle had passed that age.

How old is Ogle now, though? Is she 86? 112? How old were her two companions, who also looked smashing? Alas, George didn't bother to ask, or if she did know, didn't bother to say. Perhaps she's an old-fashioned girl who feels it's impolite to ask a female her age.

As for Ogle's age, viewers could find that out by reading her book. Which, after all, was the point.

Just about everyone on TV is selling something: Their products. Their labors. Themselves.

Peter Boyer, the observant media critic for "The CBS Morning News," last week took an indirect swipe at his own program when noting the hype attached to joint appearances on all three network morning shows by freed convicted rapist Gary Dotson and his alleged victim, Cathleen Webb, who now contends she fabricated the rape.

And Ted Koppel asked on a recent "Nightline" segment devoted to contemporary celebrityhood: "Have we raised banality to a level of achievement?"

Perhaps. Where does fame end and notoriety begin? Dotson and Webb are now whopper box office, coveted and celebrated by the media, asked last week by Phyllis George to hug each other on national TV.

She strikes again, right?

Maybe not. In her uniquely oafish way, George may have stumbled onto the right track. She merely had asked Dotson and Webb to do what they were already doing. They had already begun embracing in a sense, making the TV rounds together to promote themselves and their future joint ventures, much as former foes G. Gordon Liddy and Timothy Leary teamed on the lecture circuit after finding they had a common cause--money!--that far overshadowed their differences.

You needn't be a swami to foresee some books and a TV movie in the futures of Dotson and Webb. The bizarre couple. Perhaps they'll even become U.S. senators. Or co-hosts of "The CBS Morning News."

What Boyer didn't mention on CBS, though, is that Dotson and Webb are variations on a familiar theme, not much different, really, from the myriad of hucksters who are allowed to use TV to sell their wares.

They are no different from the author bequeathed four minutes on a talk show to sell his latest book, or the actress who does the same for her newest movie. They are no different than the candidate who manipulates TV for personal publicity under the guise of news.

The famous and infamous alike are cradled by the media because they are titillating and serve the media's purpose. The book, the movie, the candidate, Dotson and Webb and Phyllis George's references to "Ageproofing" are the unpaid commercials that come between the breaks.

So are a network's self-hypes and talk-show guests it books for no other purpose than to promote its own programs. And so are the local news cut-ins during prime time, oral headlines that purport to give information while promoting the late night newscast.

Occasionally, a station is perceived as going too far. That happened not long ago when KABC-TV understandably infuriated producer Aaron Spelling by promoting its 11 p.m. news with a printed "crawl" across the bottom of the screen during "Dynasty."

Time to make up, though. How about a hug?

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