TV is losing what little class it has

TV is losing what little class it has

From the Feb. 9, 2001, Deseret News

Jay Leno has been the star of the "Tonight Show" for nearly nine years. And when he was given the job, it was thought that, while he might have trouble living up to the legacy left by Johnny Carson, he would at least bring a bit of class to late-night TV.

Why? Because he performed clean.

In fact, during his many years of doing stand-up comedy, Leno was touted as one of the few circuit comics who never stooped to "blue," or sexual and profane, gags.

My, how things have changed.

Did Leno simply adjust with the times in which we live? Or has he contributed to lowering the level of blue humor that has become an acceptable staple of late-night — and primetime — television?

That, of course, is a debatable point. But one thing is not debatable — Leno not only stoops to the lowest sexual humor these days, he seems obsessed with it.

And not just during his monologue.

His male guest stars are not immune from such comments, but Leno is especially crass during banter with an attractive actress or model, making the kind of leering, debasing remarks that adolescent boys might whisper to each other while watching cheerleading practice at school.

Carson was not immune to the lure; he would occasionally offer up some off-handed innuendo when he had certain women on his show — Dolly Parton or Angie Dickinson, for example. But then he would take on an embarrassed demeanor that would help the audience identify with him, as if to say, "Oops, did that slightly risque remark come out of my mouth?"

Leno, on the other hand, makes graphic, disgusting jokes and then looks smug and self-satisfied — and giggles — as the audience roars.

It's the way of the entertainment world, of course. Profanity and lewd humor permeate everything from movies and music to TV and theater.

Last weekend, my wife and I went to see comedian Steven Wright in Kingsbury Hall, someone we have considered one of the last of the clean comics. Wright has always peppered his rapid-fire non sequiturs with some mild profanity, but not very much. We were looking forward to an evening of laughter without vulgarity or the tiresome use of the worst profanities over and over.

So it was a bit startling to hear Wright unleash the notorious f-word.

To be fair, he did so only three or four times during a two-hour set, and the rest of the time, his humor was business as usual — off-kilter, bizarre, zany, hysterically funny and generally bereft of profane language.

Still, it was disconcerting to hear him go that far at all. And, frankly, I am weary of such language.

In fact, I have noticed that my tolerance level for R-rated talk has dropped considerably since I quit being the movie critic and stopped going to all the movies, and since I have become more picky about what I watch on TV.

This trend toward profane language and vulgar gags is even more distressing with primetime television programs on the major networks, of course, because so many impressionable youngsters are watching.

And it hasn't been helped with the advent of the XFL.

During last Saturday's premiere game on NBC (broadcast locally on KSL-Channel 5), the football players wore microphones. And though we were assured that the program was using a four-second delay and that no profane words would be heard, I must say, au contraire. (Pardon my French.)

True, we didn't hear the worst R-rated language (although some of my colleagues tell me that they could hear muffled F-words from the fans in the stands), but we did hear, loud and clear, some profanities that are not normally a part of prime-time network television.

And, trust me, if history is any indication, it's obvious that this will lower the bar one more notch.

So if you hear Sipowicz on "NYPD Blue" or the Thursday night "Saturday Night Live" gang or Joey on "Friends" or even Deborah on "Everybody Loves Raymond" utter any four-letter words you haven't heard before on primetime television, you can thank the XFL and NBC.

And, of course, Jay Leno.