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From King of All Media to Sultan of the Shore

Television * The Howard Stern-produced 'Son of the Beach' is riding the raunch wave to a second season.

March 13, 2001|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Almost exactly one year ago today, Howard Stern--shock jock, relentless inquisitor of celebrities about their sex lives, self-proclaimed King of All Media, worshiper of strippers--was worried sick.

The confrontational Stern was about to launch the first series from his production company. "Son of the Beach" was to be a "Baywatch"-inspired spoof crammed with bikinis, bathroom humor, bikinis, crude sexual innuendo, an irreverent slapstick spirit reminiscent of shows like "F Troop" and "Gilligan's Island"--and more bikinis.

The personality who regularly bashes everyone ranging from family members and his colleagues to movie stars and top politicians was braced to receive some bashing himself.

"I really was concerned," Stern recalled last week during a phone interview from his New York offices. "I knew since this had my name on it, there would just be a whole lot of attention on the show. I tend to over-worry, I feel like my whole life is on the line when I do something like this. It's so important for me not to feel embarrassed and humiliated."

Fast-forward one year, and Stern is enjoying his day in the sun. No more worries--at least about "Son of the Beach."

The series not only survived its first season, it received several positive reviews and has become the cornerstone series for FX, Fox's flagship general-entertainment basic-cable network that is in 60 million households. As the comedy returns tonight for its second season, the alternately brooding and outlandish Stern is downright celebratory--and a lot more relaxed than he was last season.

"I couldn't be more pleased," Stern said. "I have loved this show from the day I got the pitch from [series co-creator] Tim [Stack]. Now we're seeing the best scripts we've ever had."

Moreover, Stern, who is an executive producer of the series along with Stack and his fellow creators David Morgasen and James R. Stein, has had free rein with the show's formula, which includes scantily clad females, a continuous onslaught of sex jokes and double-entendres teetering on the edge of bad taste and an adults-only rating.

"Son of the Beach" revolves around the world's greatest lifeguard, Notch Johnson (Stack), as he battles crime and other nemeses of the free world with his lifeguard unit, which includes buxom dumber-than-dumb blond B.J. Cummings (Jaime Bergman), ebonics-spouting Jamaica St. Croix (Leila Arcieri), muscular Arnold Schwarzenegger clone Chip Rommel (Roland Kickinger), lustful Mayor Anita Massengil (Lisa Banes) and strait-laced Kimberlee Clark (Kimberly Oja).

The nature of the humor is reflected in the titles of the episodes, which include "Remember Her Titans," "Booger Nights," "It's a Nude, Nude, Nude, Nude World" and "The Sexorcist."

Jokes and innuendo about sex and bodily functions fill the season opener, which starts out with a cast production number. Johnson experiences what Stack calls "premature orgasms." An Asian American villainess is called Rucy Riu. An oil-wrestling match between B.J. and Jamaica helps round out the shenanigans.

Even with jokes and suggestive humor that push the envelope, Stern says the series is not nearly as outrageous as his radio show, heard locally on KLSX-FM (97.1) weekday mornings from 3 to about 11. "The TV show is less crude," he said. "When I say things on the radio, I just blurt it out, saying what most people think. On 'Son of the Beach,' we think of how we can accomplish the humor without hitting people over the head."

He also believes that the standards of taste and sensibilities have been loosened, thanks in no small part to his radio program.

"I've seen a definite shift in the last few years about how we communicate," said Stern. "I think 'Son of the Beach' benefits from that relaxation of standards."

Stack added, "We pride ourselves on developing the pun and the innuendo. We like to think of it as being rather clever. There are people who may argue with us, but there isn't anything [else] like this on TV. We want the jokes to be character-generated. The head of the network told us, 'Just go for it. We'll let you know if it goes too far.' And they never spoke up."

He said the jokes on the show are less extreme than those on the animated "South Park": "We all seem to be in sync with where to draw the line. It's boys locker room humor. I think it's appropriate for teens."

Peter Liguori, president of FX and Fox Movie Channel, said he is proud of the series: "Every network hopes to find a show like 'Son of the Beach,' which raises its profile. It's filled with belly laughs, and the audience clearly identifies with its good-natured humor. The show is an equal-opportunity offender. We wouldn't put it on the air if we thought it went too far." He added that he has not received any complaints about content from viewers.

"We put this on at 10 p.m., and we clearly advertise this in a way that the audience is exactly sure what they're getting," Liguori said.

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