Far Cry from the CBS of Old
John Herbert
December 3, 2003
Hernando Today

I almost feel sorry for the boys and girls at CBS (Channel 10 around here). The key word is "almost." You'd think that if they were big enough and experienced enough run a TV network, they could avoid putting their foot in it.

No. First they drew fire for producing four hours of television on the Reagans' eight White House years. The show, possibly slanted and in poor taste when the defenseless former president lies terminally ill, was finally relegated to a small cable channel. Lack of advertising support for trash apparently scared off CBS. Surprise, surprise.

What CBS did get away with recently was broadcasting a fleshy show of scantily-clad models in the undergarments of a known fashion house. Say what you want about that show; it was just an hour of free advertising in my book.

And they got away with canceling "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" a few years ago. OK, the show was somewhat syrupy, but it was popular. CBS's number one viewer comment is "Bring back Dr. Quinn," even though the show has been gone for five years.

The network today is a far cry from the CBS of old, of the uncomplicated days of Jack Benny, Ed Sullivan, Arthur Godfrey and "I Love Lucy." And 17 years in the safety and security of news anchorman Walter Cronkite.
Instead, we're served a steady diet of half-hour sitcoms with double-meaning zingers, or an hour of some "Survivor-like" reality show.

Oh, and a night with foul-mouthed "shock jock" Howard Stern. We Americans deserve better. No wonder the "Discovery" channel is grabbing more viewers.

The decision-makers at CBS seem to have forgotten their major Middle American audience, opting instead for the liberal whims of New York and California. Middle Americans may be largely unionized but they are culturally conservatives. And they have long memories. When the show was in the making a few years ago, CBS was warned the writers were anti-Reagan.

CBS has neglected too, the fact that Ronald Reagan, as host for the old General Electric Theater for eight years, was responsible for boosting the TV network to first place in annual ratings. The Reagan TV special is allegedly full of historical inaccuracies and political innuendo. What a way to thank a public figure who is still alive, even if barely.

The network can take freedoms with history, certainly. As long as they're sold as fiction. And make sure the subject has been dead for 200 years, like George Washington, or at least 40 years, like JFK.
Playing Ronald Reagan in the CBS movie was James Brolin, the husband of leftist actress Barbara Streisand. Brolin was in hot water with conservatives himself when he told the press that Nancy Reagan and her alleged fortune-tellers had assumed control of the White House.

CBS cast an Australian actress named Judy Davis as Nancy Reagan. Davis's claim to fame is that she "deplores the ugly specter of patriotism" that has seized American since 9-11. Even the liberal New York Times reported that gem. I thought the only Australians with their heads in the sand were ostriches.

I don't own any stock in CBS or parent Viacom, but as an average viewer I assume heads will eventually roll at the TV network. The powers at CBS may have been burned, but their selections have cost millions of dollars that can't be recovered by commercials. Ratings at the network are plunging year by year. There goes even more commercial revenue.

CBS could control damage and save a lot of dough by taking a made-for-TV movie whose manuscript has already been written -- and it's all true and up-to-date. It has lots of sex, financial scandals and even an alleged suicide. The setting? The 1990s White House.

Herbert writes regularly for Hernando Today. He lives in Spring Hill.