One cool thing about working in TV and having the initials “WB” is that I can tell people I have my own network. Well, not people exactly, but my kids, and at least the little one bought it for a while. I convinced him the giant water tower at the Warner Brothers studio lot in Burbank had been painted with my initials, that the hats and jackets I got as freebies when I worked for the WB had been made just for me, and that at the beginning of every Bugs Bunny cartoon they were just trying to get my attention. (There should be some benefits to having the initials “WB” and working for NRO, but they have not, as yet, accrued.)
Sadly, I shall now have to disown my network, as they recently announced plans to begin advertising Trojan condoms in prime time. NBC is up for the prophylactic pitches as well, but I don’t own them (and my kids don’t think I do), so I won’t be getting involved. And frankly, given some of NBC’s shows over the past decade, a condom ad would represent a shift towards less sexually explicit programming. No, WB network, you must find a new name, as I shan’t be associated with your common condom-mongering, because it’s… Well, it’s an outrage, isn’t it? One that’s bound to lead to more of something, or possibly worse, less.
Hmm. Let’s take a moment. Why do I care? Maybe I don’t. Is it possible that this Trojan horse has no soldiers inside, and is in fact harmless? Are those on the Right who rail against it in danger of borrowing a reflex from the Left and becoming “knee-jerk conservatives”?
As I see it, there are two arguments to be made against primetime condom ads. One concerns the coarsening of the culture, and the other is the default setting of most causes, to protect the children. (The children!)
With all due respect to those who opine “Pop culture is filth,” I can’t be bothered. For one thing, creating pop culture has been the focus of my adult life, just as consuming it was the focus of my youth. So I kind of have to stick up for the whole idea of my 42 years being not completely pointless. Besides, I’m pretty sure that moments after some caveman in Lascaux dashed off “Me and Guys Chase Thing,” some other caveman came in and sniffed, “What crap!” In 1856, Gustave Flaubert wrote Madame Bovary in part as a indictment of the promulgation of lending libraries, which were causing Emma-types to read the mass-culture novels of the day, and thereafter dream of romance and lovers. So, too, Sex and the City 140 years later, with the additional pernicious effect of promoting the Cosmopolitan as a suitable cocktail for people who are not holding poodles or smoking through a long black cigarette holder. So while condom ads aren’t going to enrich our world, something tells me that a return to Poppin’ Fresh Dough and Mr. Whipple wouldn’t really help, either.
I am somewhat more animated by the argument about the children. (The children!) My kids are 11 and 6. We watch a lot of TV. They have never seen a Cialis commercial, not even the one where the couple sits in side-by-side tubs holding hands and watching the sunset. (And maybe I don’t know what Cialis does exactly, but don’t they need to get in the same tub?) My boys will not be seeing a condom commercial. Why? Because you can fight the technology with technology. Get out those instruction manuals that came with your cable box and block a few channels. Start with the condom-peddling WB and NBC, but certainly not ABC, which I think everyone agrees is just fine, especially Tuesdays this Fall at 8 Eastern, 7 Central. (Full disclosure: ABC is awesome, just like Disney, which owns ABC.) Get a TiVo, set a season pass for Spongebob Squarepants or something called One Piece (it’s about crazy pirates and airs while we sleep) and control your kids’ viewing. My kids both know how to work the TiVo remote (all kids do–they’re born that way) and zoom through the commercials with the 30-second skip feature (a TiVo hack). My guys only back up and watch a commercial if they see something Star Wars related, and I suspect that’s because they need things to talk to me about on our ride to school every morning.
If we’re watching live TV, which is only with a parent in the room–a parent named Daddy who likes sports–the grown-up holds the remote and pauses if anything objectionable comes onscreen, like a promo for American Idol. (Since when are we all so excited about singing? Wasn’t the talent portion of Miss America the boring part?) During the pause, we chat for a minute about Star Wars, build up a little TiVo juice, and move on. (TiVo juice is the amount of unwatched program that builds up as you pause, and the phrase is my wife’s greatest addition to the language.) A little vigilance is all it takes–well, that and a couple hundred bucks for a TiVo. Sorry, poor people, your kids are going to be asking you awkward questions about condoms–it could be worse. Some cable and satellite providers offer a digital video recorder (or DVR, the generic form of TiVo) as part of your converter equipment. TiVo really does change the way you and your kids watch TV, because you never again have to hope there’s something good on–there’s always something good on.
And by the way, I provide this wholehearted endorsement of the technology knowing full well that as a writer-producer of commercially sponsored television shows, I am cutting my own throat. A 100-percent TiVo-fied nation means no one watches the ads. This naturally decimates my income stream and puts me into early retirement. A man cannot live on TiVo juice alone. But I haven’t done much self-sacrificing in my life, so I’ll roll the dice on this one. Who knows, maybe they’ll paint my initials on a water tower somewhere.
Come on, people. Do it for the children. (All together now: The children!)
–Warren Bell is a 15-year veteran of the sitcom business (currently working on ABC’s According to Jim and a not-so-secret conservative. He lives just outside Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, two amazing sons, and adorable puppy. He is barely even noticed anymore.