BOSTON (CBS) – I give credit where it is due—to my better half, my loving bride who coined the new name for a cable TV network undergoing an obvious identity crisis. TLC, on its official company stationery known as The Learning Channel, has been faithfully re-dubbed by my co-producer in this life Wendy as… drum roll please… The Lunatic Channel. I applaud her for conjuring up the appropriate new name before I got the chance. Those who hesitate lose out on a cheap laugh.
So the other night we settled down like millions of our fellow Americans for some late evening TV fun. Granted, outside of a few nifty dramas and even fewer comedies, much of the programming across the dial doesn’t get me too excited. How many times do I need to eavesdrop on Alaskan truckers, pawn shop owners or Gypsy brides to feel the glorious gestalt of it all? Much of television viewing is fleeting, uninteresting and dull these days. Amazingly, they were saying the same thing about the tube back in the fifties, sixties, seventies and so on.
Noted, but what we stumbled upon this past week was perhaps the most disturbing, unwatchable program yet seen. I’ll admit that we found ourselves watching (in horror) for far too long, nearly 20 minutes. The show in question happens to be the runaway hit for TLC, the aforementioned channel where learning takes place. The program has a memorable title that doesn’t exactly bespeak sophistication. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. The concept is as high as low lying flooding. We find ourselves observing (in horror) a family of tried and true red necks (seemingly on steroids) whose smallest member of the litter (and size here in the Boo Boo Brood is relative) competes successfully in toddler beauty pageants. Toddler pageants, now that ought to be a tip-off. Snippets of the show we saw featured a discussion of and a contest involving flatulation with their delightful multi-chinned mother squaring off against her adorably unappealing children. The show presents a generous sampling of junk food, cursing, screaming, crying, embarrassing weigh-ins, and a household that any hoarder worth her trash might admire. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (HCHBB) is no mere car wreck. What we have here, to quote a friend from my chain gang days, is a total failure to communicate. Gone is any inkling of educational, inspiring television and in its place? An eighteen-wheeler semi, chemical spilling freight train of an overloaded ferry of a disaster signaling the end of western civilization as we know it. (Hyperbole intended).
It’s programming of the lowest common denominator, which isn’t a knock on any of you out there who know a thing or two about cipherin’ and them thar multiplyin’ tables.
You know you’re in trouble when subtitles are required for this family of fellow Americans speaking in tongues, a bizarre form of mumbled broken English similar at times to Boston City Hall speeches.
TLC lived up to its calling as The Learning Channel when it premiered a few decades ago, a noble venture offering quality programming as an alternative to the commercial networks and PBS. Over the years however, it has morphed into a new form of MTV (mindless television) with a lineup of stimulating fare that proves my point. The program guide has something for everyone who wants to learn about the world around us… My Strange Addiction, My Crazy Obsession, Tattoo School, Long Island Medium, DC Cupcakes, Hoarding: Buried Alive, Strange Sex, and that which begat Honey Boo Boo, the previously most pain inducing televised moment known as Toddlers and Tiaras.
“We are merely giving the people what they want,” so sayeth the suits at this and other networks. Ah, bread and circuses and all too many carbohydrates at that. Sadly, ratings seem to bear the television executives out. HCHBB has rocketed to the top of the TLC ratings chart. Maybe I’m just an envious fool. Nobodies from the Jersey Shore to the Kardashians to the Boo Boo family are now famous, rich and getting richer. Missing are the Lucy Ricardos, James T. Kirks and Ben Cartwrights. Where are you Alistair Cook or Charles Kuralt or Rod Serling? Wait. They are not gone. They are merely tucked away in their cozy little corner of the video world now known as Netflix. Thank goodness for the technology and growing archives of tried and true TV shows that keep me from losing it. Take heed, if you watch too many minutes of Honey Boo Boo you’ll risk losing more than simply your self respect—you could very well lose your faculties. Learn that lesson well before you venture into a dangerous, mind numbing zone, before you fall prey to the aptly renamed TLC– The Lunatic Channel.