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Can They Really Make Love at 8? : Television: If they're the stars of 'Mad About You,' they can, even if they're not thrilled with their earlier slot. NBC is using the show to counterprogram 'The Simpsons.'

September 16, 1993|STEVE WEINSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the first episode of "Mad About You" a year ago, Paul and Jamie Buchman made love on their kitchen table while a handful of dinner guests milled about uncomfortably in the adjoining room. The show aired on NBC at 9:30 p.m.

In the second season premiere tonight, the married couple again attempts to make love in spite of the myriad distractions of daily life, prompting Jamie (Helen Hunt) to demand of her husband (Paul Reiser): "Let's do it."

Paul: "Just like that. Bing. Bang. Boom."

Jamie: "At this point, I'd settle for the Boom."

Paul: "You don't want the Bing and the Bang?"

Jamie: "I did when we started. (Now) I'm over it. . . . Don't you want the Boom?"

Paul: "Of course I want the Boom. Men always want the Boom. We only made up the Bing and the Bang to get to the Boom."

Jamie: "I thought you like the Bing and the Bang."

Paul: "I love it. I just don't always need it."

Jamie: "Well, neither do I."

Such repartee may seem tame compared to the masturbation episode on "Seinfeld" last season or the playfully lewd gags on "Married . . . With Children." But what is surprising even to the producers of the critically praised series is that the episode will be broadcast at 8 p.m.--a time period traditionally reserved for shows aimed at children and families, and occupied on NBC just two seasons ago by "The Cosby Show."

"It's not dirty, it's light," said Danny Jacobson, the series' executive producer, when asked whether the content of his show might be inappropriate for what the networks once regarded as the "children's hour" of prime time. "It's adult, but we're not talking about (sexual organs) or orgasms or lubricating gels.

"I can only go by my own conscience," Jacobson continued. "If I had a 14-year-old daughter or son, I might sit here and say, OK, we're not going to do this or that. But I also might say I want to include all of this because I want kids to see what a good loving relationship is. This is a show about a loving family and it says to young couples, 'Hey, marriage is not just a big party and a honeymoon, it's tough. It's a commitment you make and it's problematic, but it's nice to go through life with someone else in your corner.' This show totally comes from a place of love, and I think that is not an irresponsible message to put out there."

NBC, for its part, says it isn't looking for children to watch the show. Programmers figure most of them are already committed to "The Simpsons" on Fox--and, in fact, "Mad About You" is intended as counterprogramming.

"We're not idiots and we do respect and acknowledge the strength of 'The Simpsons,' especially among kids," said Preston Beckman, NBC's vice president for program planning and scheduling. "We felt that the one audience not being served at that time period were women 18-54. So our intent is not to challenge 'The Simpsons' for kids or teens, although we'll probably get some, especially female teens, but we are trying to surround 'Seinfeld' with shows that include that same sensibility."

If there were no shows anywhere else that appealed to children, Beckman conceded that it might be inappropriate to program a show as adult as "Mad About You" at 8 p.m.

"But that's why God created thumbs and remote controls," he said. "And it's the parents' responsibility to pick the show and supervise their children's viewing."

Reiser, who not only stars in the series but also created it with Jacobson and is one of the producers, is not thrilled about the move to 8 p.m. He said he'd prefer to be on at 9 or 9:30 simply because more of the show's target audience is available later in the evening.

Reiser said that he went along with the switch to 8 p.m. because he was assured by NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield that he would not have to change the show to accommodate the traditions of the earlier time slot and that if the series floundered there, NBC would move it.

"We won't change it and I don't think we should have to anyway because it's very narrow-minded to say that our show is just about sex or offensive in any way," Reiser said. "And if something strikes you that way, I'd say watch a little deeper and you will see there is a lot of good stuff in the show. If some of it is too adult for someone watching with their kid, then watch it by yourself. But I can't fathom that it's going to bother people, especially if you consider the sexual content of commercials with women in bikinis at 3 in the afternoon. It's sort of a double standard we're talking about."

Jacobson added that the show is more about letting viewers in on the intimate details of young married life and not about pushing the edges of what you can get away with on television. But, he said, when it works, they will continue to pepper the series with risque humor.

Last season, for example, one of the Hunt character's friends was dating one of her old boyfriends. When Jamie said, "Doesn't he have a beautiful chest?," her friend replied: "Who noticed? Most of the time I was facing the pillow."

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