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Shark Attack or Indecency Attack?

By Steve Ramos · March 30th, 2005 · Arts Beat
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CBS programming executives know that men love NCAA Tournament basketball games. They also know that men enjoy watching pretty young women in bikinis. Match the two spectator sports with beer and chips, and you have an evening of entertainment bliss.

Whoever at CBS -- home of longtime favorites like 60 Minutes and Everybody Loves Raymond and recent hits like the CSI franchise of forensic detective shows -- came up with the idea of airing the campy horror movie Spring Break Shark Attack immediately following the March 20 basketball games is undoubtedly headquarters hero for the week.

Spring Break Shark Attack, described by a CBS spokesperson as an inexpensive TV movie, attracted 11.5 million viewers, most of them sticking around from the games. The two-hour bikini film was tops in the key 18-to-34 age demographic and second in the 18-to-49 age category, outperforming soap opera favorite Desperate Housewives.

Lots of people, especially hoops fans, were happy -- except for those unlucky enough to live in Cincinnati. Instead of bare-chested frat boys and curvy sorority girls battling sharks, a show promoted aggressively throughout the basketball games, WKRC-TV Channel 12 viewers watched hunk Kevin Costner in his 1987 hit film No Way Out.

Spring Break Shark Attack was nowhere to be found. Of course, the immediate response was a cry of censorship. In President Bush's America, a PBS children's show comes under attack for portraying a child with lesbian parents and many PBS stations air an edited version of an Iraqi War news program to avoid the uglier aspects of the continuing conflict. Censorship in the guise of homeland security and promoting family values is Bush policy.

Janet Jackson flashing a bare breast at the 2004 Super Bowl continues to be a major issue. Rock star Bono swearing at a recent Golden Globe Awards generates controversy.

Led by Kevin J. Martin, new head of the Federal Communications Commission, indecency rules keep getting tougher. TV and radio are under attack for sex, violence, profanity and anything else anti-decency groups consider inappropriate.

If the Bush-supported indecency hunt is enough to keep a cartoon bunny named Buster Baxter from visiting children with lesbian parents, well, it's enough to keep bikini-clad girls off the air in Cincinnati.

Numerous boys cried "censorship" at WKRC and shared their disgust at Spring Break Shark Attack being yanked with everyone willing to listen, including CityBeat. It's not as if they lost sleep over missing the show. It's more that they shouldn't have to miss the show due to someone else deciding that coeds in bikinis are in poor taste.

Rick Wagar, WKRC's director of program operations, explains his decision to pre-empt Spring Break Shark Attack in dollars and cents. NCAA basketball took away local ad revenue in the early evening hours from WKRC, so Wagar followed CBS policy and cancelled network programming with a local movie to recover the revenue. (Shark Attack did air on local cable channels as an option.)

Wagar says no parenting or community values groups contacted him requesting that Spring Break Shark Attack not be aired. It was a money decision, he says. In hindsight, given the success of the bikini movie and CBS' aggressive promotion, Wagar says he'd think twice about pulling a network show the next time.

Still, beneath the ad revenue explanation, content remains the issue. A Bush news conference would never have been pulled, nor some family-friendly show.

Yet bikini-clad babes -- much like profanity-spewing U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq or a cartoon lesbian couple -- come under fire in the indecency wars. This time, the boys who cried censor might have been slightly off-base, but they know the indecency attacks aren't going away any time soon. .

 
 
 
 

 

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