The people responsible for KABC-TV's "Eye on L.A." have heard the comments: "Sleazy." "Exploitative." "Demeaning to women."
The executives behind the popular magazine show--and they are mostly men--have heard the rap so long and so often that they slip into auto-pilot when they are asked, yet again, why they so frequently focus their cameras on the tanned and oiled T & A of the world.
As the weeknight show's producers and the head of Channel 7's programming department tell it, T & A to them means "travel and adventure." They insist that the show, which they describe as a program that travels the globe in search of the "L.A. life style," simply gives Southern California audiences an exotic taste of their own backyard.
"Go to Malibu, and you'll see surfe r g u ys and girls," says Don Corsini, KABC director of programming. "And likewise there are beautiful girls in bikinis on beaches all over the world. That's what the camera sees when you go to these places. That's part of the Southern California life style, but it's certainly not the only part."
"If the show were just 'T & A,' it wouldn't have the success that it has," says John Severino, KABC general manager. " People are more perceptive than that. The viewers vote, and if they thought it was overdone, they wouldn't watch it."
During the first three weeks of this month's ratings sweeps, "Eye on L.A." crushed all of its competition, garnering an average 12 rating while KCBS Channel 2's "Two on the Town" scored an 8.2 and the 7:30 p.m. sitcoms on KNBC Channel 4 received a 7.2. (Each rating point represents 46,527 households in the L.A. market.)
But many critics of the show disagree with Severino, arguing that "Eye on L.A." is popular precisely because it overdoes the sexy and provocative. And it's during the sweeps in November, February and May--when the ratings help set local advertising rates and the station's promotion of the show's beaches, bikinis and miniskirts is at its most aggressive--that "Eye on L.A." solidifies its reputation for "flesh and flash."
During this month's sweeps, "Eye on L.A." featured the world's best beaches, the French Riviera, three "topless" shows (from Australia, Hawaii and Los Angeles--where "topless" means exploring those locations in the show's trademark red Corvette convertible) and the resurgence of the miniskirt.
All of these shows offered more than shots of what Corsini euphemistically calls "bathing suit fashion." The "topless" Hawaii program, for example, featured host Chuck Henry surfing on the back of a killer whale, as well as a bikini contest on Waikiki Beach. And the best-beaches episode profiled a man who earns a decent living spraying Australian beachgoers with suntan lotion from an electric paint gun.
Eric Schotz, 30, "Eye on L.A.'s" executive producer and the president of Triple Crown Productions, the independent company that has produced the show for KABC since January, concedes that perhaps as much as 20% of the show could be classified as sexy or sleazy, depending on your point of view. (Ironically, the chief executive officer and founder of Triple Crown is a woman--Carol Sherman. Her responsibilities are primarily in the financial end of the company, and she does not have an active day-to-day involvement in the nuts and bolts of production.)
But Schotz also points out that although his company retains complete autonomy over the content of each show, it is still the station--which prior to this year had produced the local magazine show itself, starting as "Eyewitness Los Angeles" in 1975--that determines which programs will air during sweeps and which will be heavily promoted.
KABC management believes that "Eye on L.A.'s" exotic travel shows are more appropriate for sweeps than its programs on firemen and adoption, and, Schotz says, the station generally chooses to promote them "for ratings." A print ad for the miniskirt segment, for example, featured a leggy woman wearing a very short skirt being leered at by an elevator full of businessmen.
While Bob Burris, the director of Channel 7's promotion department, insists that the station only promotes what they see in the show, Schotz believes that, while they help attract large audiences, the ads probably serve to exacerbate the show's randy reputation.
But this whole discussion of sex and sleaze is irrelevant, says Jeff Androsky, 29, the show's producer, because the real appeal of the program, even the beach and bikini segments, stems from its reputation for innovative and slick "production values."
The "Eye on L.A." team contends that it consistently churns out the most beautifully photographed and best-edited program in the country. People watch and imitate the show, they say, because of its hip, fast and flashy look.
"We created a style and a type of television long before MTV was even on the air," Schotz boasts.