Thou shalt sham.
That's the hypocrite's oath that TV follows in rejecting tasteful commercials that sell condoms. When you compare those rejections with what's accepted in the area of sexually oriented programs, the double standard becomes clear.
A few commercial stations had a brief fling with condom ads in 1975 before being scared off by their critics. Public attitudes have since shifted, though. Now condom ads are airing on some cable TV systems and again gradually getting some play on a handful of the nation's over-the-air stations (soon to include KCOP Channel 13 in Los Angeles).
That's intelligent and responsible, considering pleas by health professionals for "safer sex" to help stem teen pregnancies and the spread of AIDS.
Yet most of TV is still resisting.
That includes CBS and NBC, which say contraceptive ads would offend the "moral or religious" sensitivities of many viewers, and ABC, which labels such ads "inappropriate" for many viewers.
Yes, and AIDS is inappropriate for its victims.
Look. There are many of us who welcome TV's increased sexual candor as an overdue maturation of a medium that too long has wallowed in Victorianism. But you can't have that without flipping the coin to see what's on the other side.
You need an ax to hack through the industry double talk. How many stations rejecting condom ads on grounds of taste, for example, are airing "Ask Dr. Ruth," the nightly syndicated sex-talk show that KABC-TV Channel 7 carries at midnight? Last Wednesday's and Thursday's segments were devoted to AIDS.
Wee sex therapist Ruth Westheimer delivered a whopper of a message.
She told her studio audience: "I would like all of you to shout out loud here, CONDOMS !" And everyone did.
Condom ads don't shout.
Dr. Ruth and researcher Dr. Mathilde Krim filled these 2 1/2 hours with a valuable clinical dialogue about AIDS and its possible prevention. Krim advocated use of condoms as a prime method.
They were also very graphic.
Krim said the AIDS virus "cannot cross a latex membrane." Dr. Ruth, who tapes commercial pitches for condoms, said females should carry them and that "they come in all colors to match your pocketbook." She even advised males how to remove condoms "to avoid leakage."
Well done, and aired in an adult time slot. But can anyone in TV claim with a straight face that a LifeStyles condom ad soft-selling safer sex ("I'll do a lot for love. But I'm not ready to die for it") would be offensive to more viewers than a graphic discussion on "Ask Dr. Ruth"?
Isn't Channel 7 feeding that double standard?
ABC-owned KABC-TV can set its own policy about contraceptive spots regardless of the network, but "we have not determined what our policy is yet," said Vice President and General Manager John Severino. He said he expected to screen condom ads soon and make a decision on running them within two weeks.
However, Channel 7 has not aired condom ads and has not said it will.
It--and scores of other stations--did air a sexually explicit "Oprah Winfrey" segment last week on which a panel of sex therapist spoke in detail about such topics as orgasm and the "G spot." As one advised the audience: "If you want your knee rubbed, well, get it under there, baby. . . ."
Again, the hour was responsible. But so are condom ads.
The networks do have a declared policy, one that often doesn't square with the programs they run.
Is it possible that ABC finds condom ads more "inappropriate" than the greasy singles-bar movie it aired last week, "Tonight's the Night"?
Ed Marinaro played a swinging sportscaster who used and discarded female sexual partners like tissues. "Have to leave already?" the blond asked him. "I'll call you later," he replied. Waiting for him at home was his live-in lover.
Cut to Max Gail as a divorced airline pilot returning home with a stewardess, only to find his ex-wife there. Later, he and a friend tried their luck at a singles bar, where he attempted to pick up a girl who turned out to be a friend of his daughter, who was also cruising the bar.
Another would-be swinger was turned away by a female who noticed his wedding ring. "Lose the wedding ring!" the male proprietor advised him. Later the guy tried covering his ring with tape.
Back to Marinaro, sitting in bed watching his latest one-nighter get dressed. "I'll call you," she said. "What does that mean?" he protested. "It means that was great, that's all," she replied.
But condom ads are inappropriate?
The next night, frustrated Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) spent most of ABC's "Moonlighting" in a singles bar seeking a one-night fling. The hour included a sequence implying oral sex and ended with David Addison (Bruce Willis) dropping by Maddie's to express his love, only to be greeted by a handsome stud who said she was sleeping. She'd scored, apparently.
ABC makes a distinction between TV programming and commercials, Alan Wurtzel, the network's vice president of broadcasting and practices, told The Times recently. ABC can use an "advisory" to alert viewers to sexually candid material in programming, he said, but a commercial advertising contraceptives can appear "without warning."
But where was the concern during a commercial break in "Moonlighting" when--without warning--there appeared an excerpt from a new movie called "From the Hip." The setting was a courtroom, where one attorney produced what looked like a vibrating sex device and put it on the table as evidence. The opposing attorney objected and the female judge declared: "Don't look at me. It ain't mine!"
But condom commercials are inappropriate?
It's also inspiring to learn of NBC's concern for the "moral and religious" sensitivities of its viewers. Can't risk running those condom ads, no sir.
But where were NBC's guardians of morality and religion when two female attorneys in Thursday night's "L.A. Law" joshed about the sexual organ of a bull? ("Are we talking about bigger than a bread box?")
And where were NBC's starched collars during Sunday's first episode of "The Two Mrs. Grenvilles," when lovers played by Ann-Margret and Stephen Collins took at least 10 minutes to get acquainted before rolling in the sack?
NBC did take a constructive step Sunday in allowing an episode of "Valerie" to depict the contraceptive dilemma of two teen-agers who were aching to make love. The 17-year-old boy (Jason Bateman) refused to have sex without protection--good--and backed off even after buying a box of condoms. But the episode wasn't very realistic and ignored the possibility of sex other than intercourse.
ABC is shooting a movie ("Daddy") about teen sexuality and birth control, and various network series have mentioned contraceptives. Which makes this rigid anti-condom ad policy all the more baffling.
Especially during a ratings sweeps month like February, when TV goes all out in using sex to inflate the ratings that set advertising rates. That is hypocrisy.
KCBS-TV last week launched a brutal five-part probe of office romances on its 11 p.m. newscast. KNBC Channel 4 kept the pressure on at 11 p.m. last week with a mesmerizing five-parter on therapists who seduce their patients. About time. That story hadn't been told since the November sweeps.
Flipping through last week's Television Times, moreover, you found four ads for Channel 7's "Eye on L.A." featuring barely clad women and another for Channel 2's "2 on the Town" showing a woman nearly toppling out of her bikini.
Of course, "Oprah" began the week with an hour on singles, KTTV-TV Channel 11 featured that blockbuster movie "Policewoman Centerfold" and Channel 4 gave a "Donahue" segment on pedophiles the tasteful title of "Men Who Love Boys."
"Oprah" is back in this week's Television Times with "All About Love," "Eye on L.A." has a sizzling ad for its show on nude beaches and "2 on the Town" promotes its segment on the Canary Islands by showing a beached couple who look positively orgasmic.
On the hard news side, Channel 2 mercilessly explores infidelity at 11 p.m. and in the irony of ironies, Channel 7 counters with its own 11 p.m. five-parter on sex education in schools. The ad is a cartoon depicting children hanging around a machine selling birth control devices.
But thank goodness, we won't be seeing any of those tasteless ads for condoms.