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HOWARD ROSENBERG

The Bare Truths Of Tv Sex Wars

March 04, 1987|HOWARD ROSENBERG

What is some of TV selling? Female flesh.

Even the pork chops on Julia Childs' cooking show, Johnny Carson said, are "wearing see-through panties."

Actually, Carson's joke about TV's sex-and-flesh peddling frenzy in ratings sweeps periods came during an old "Tonight Show" that was rerun on NBC Monday night. The message is even more applicable today.

Welcome to the Girlie Show Wars.

Network shows like the CBS miniseries "I'll Take Manhattan" pitch sex in a big way. For a close-up of peep-showing hucksterism, though, catch the see-through ads dominating the current edition of TV Guide; Television Times, the Sunday TV-listings magazine of the Los Angeles Times; and other TV supplements.

Hubba hubba! Woooooooo-whoooooooo!

We begin with a half-page ad for a Monday night "news" story on KNBC Channel 4. "How would you like to photograph beautiful high-fashion models, shop for other people or test drive the latest cars and get paid for it?" the ad copy asks. "Doug Kriegel shows you what it's like to 'work' a dream job!"

And what does the ad feature? A photo of a shopper? Nohhhhhhhh ! A photo of a test driver? Nohhhhhhhh ! Background: a leering male photographer. Foreground: a gorgeous blond female, alluringly sprawled across the bottom of the ad in her black-lace bra and panties.

You can't beat in-depth reporting.

Thumbing through the magazine, we find those worse skin peddlers, KABC-TV Channel 7 and KCBS-TV Channel 2.

Ad duels between 7:30 p.m. foes "Eye on L.A." on Channel 7 and Channel 2's "2 on the Town" have always been something to behold. They've gotten even slimier, though, with former Channel 7 General Manager Tom Van Amburg now heading Channel 2.

Channel 7 is Channel 7. And now, so is Channel 2. At least that's the impression left as both stations hit frantic lows in these final days of the present ratings sweep.

Yes, their ads are no more revealing than the lingerie ads run in newspapers. Lingerie ads sell articles of clothing, however, while TV sells articles of flesh.

Yes, the female body is a temple of beauty and all of that. These ads and the dreams and programs they sell aren't for admirers, though;they're for oglers. They're titillating, exploitative come-ons planned by male TV executives who seem to regard the female body as a centerfold of sales and a temple of profit.

The marketplace is the beach.

"2 on the Town" bought ads in this week's Television Times for three programs: "The Most Beautiful Women in the World," "Beauty & the Beach" and "Bikini I," each featuring photos of the traditional bevy of beauties--in skimpy swimsuits.

"Eye on L.A." also bought ads for three programs, including "Women of the Waves" and "Playmate Swimwear," each with photos of lovelies in revealing swimsuits so tight they look almost painted on.

And what did "Eye on L.A." eye Monday? The headline on the half-page ad was "The Glamour Trap." Then came a subhead: "They said you'd go far . . . but how far?"

The bigger question was how far Channel 7 would go to sell "Eye on L.A."

Too far. Beneath the subhead were three photos assembled like a strip of film. The first was a rear view of a blond woman shaking hands with an oily guy behind a desk. In the second, she'd removed her jacket. In the third, she had her blouse half off and was giving this guy a panoramic view of her, uh, endowments.

Suckers who tuned in expecting to see what the ad promised must have been disappointed. It lied, giving a false impression of the actual program, which skimmed the futile quest of most models and others for Hollywood success. "And now their displaced dreams are part of the rubble that never leaves Hollywood," co-host Jann Carl said. Oh nohhhhhhhh !

Speaking of rubble, the program's only direct reference to sex came late in the half-hour when a fashion photographer warned about his dishonorable colleagues who want to "get the girls' clothes off and jump on 'em."

Imagine how shocking that was to prim Channel 7.

"Tomorrow night at 7:30," announced co-host Chuck Henry at the end of the program, "it's an all-new show from Hawaii as we meet some women who love the sea." And there were the spectacular sea lovers themselves, on the screen, cavorting on the beach, almost wearing their bikinis.

If "Eye on L.A." was typically shallow and trivial that night, it was also a heavyweight documentary compared with its Channel 2 competitor.

At least "2 on the Town" believes in truth in advertising, though. Big, buxom beauties in tiny swimsuits are what the ad promised; big, buxom beauties in tiny swimsuits are what the show delivered. That is, when it wasn't parading them in lingerie.

David Leisure made an amusing appearance as his fibbing alter ego, Joe Isuzu, doing a modified Hugh Hefner, surrounded by former Playboy centerfolds. Otherwise, this was strictly another of those girlie shows typifying the ratings clash between "2 on the Town" and "Eye on L.A."

Impersonating the "vacuous couple" in Woody Allen's "Annie Hall," co-hosts Bob Chandler and Melody Rogers mostly narrated clips of skimpily clad women from past shows, including Rogers herself walking on a beach in a suit so brief that it was merely brf . No wonder this show proudly bills itself as the program of "hot coastlines and tanlines."

The war drags on. When "2 on the Town" first premiered in 1978, who would have thought the title would end up referring to breasts?

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