Thank goodness MTV has shifted its two most controversial characters to a later time slot. That means viewers will no longer have to make an agonizing choice at 7 p.m. between "Beavis and Butt-head" and the second half of "The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour."
MTV announced Monday that the 7 p.m. weeknight edition of "Beavis and Butt-Head," its fabulously absurd cartoon about two destructive brain-dead teen-agers, would relocate to 10:30, with a second installment continuing to air at 11 p.m.
The move--a needed one--comes in response to the latest criticism of "Beavis and Butt-head" as being especially improper for young children, who have access to it at 7 p.m. For example, an Ohio mother blamed "Beavis and Butt-Head" two weeks ago for stimulating her 5-year-old son's interest in fire, which led to his setting a blaze that killed his 2-year-old sister. And earlier, an Ohio fire chief blamed "Beavis and Butt-head" for a fire set by three girls.
Why children are allowed to watch "Beavis and Butt-head" is a secondary question. Like it or not, the U.S. reality is that many, many children watch television unsupervised, for a variety of reasons. And TV programmers must address that reality, not hide behind that idealistic old saw about every set having an off switch.
Whether the Ohio fires were actually inspired by these fire-worshiping MTV characters ("Fire is good") is not really very germane. The point is that they could have been. The potential existed as long as "Beavis and Butt-head" came into homes as early as 7 p.m. A 10:30 time slot at least diminishes the risk.
It's virtually impossible to program against the occasional deranged viewer who can find a motivation for destructive behavior in even the most benign television. It is possible, however, to limit damage to malleable young minds unable to see idiocy in the aberrational behavior (including violence toward animals, for example) depicted in "Beavis and Butt-head."
Beavis and Butt-head are absolute zeros, darkly funny characters that you laugh at, not with. They're for adults, not children.
In addition to being the new chic of talk shows and news programs, "Beavis and Butt-head" may get lambasted at today's Senate Commerce Committee hearings on TV violence. But anti-Clinton members of the committee may want to applaud the cartoon for Monday's hilarious 7 p.m. finale, which featured the President holding a televised town-hall meeting at the high school that Beavis and Butt-head attend. Sort of attend.
Of course, the pair disrupted everything, but the oblivious Clinton, calling them "hormonally challenged," awarded the lads a trophy.
Even Rush Limbaugh would have loved it.
Garner Deleted: I reported in a column last week that James Garner had redone his expletive-laden dialogue for the cleaned-up, syndicated version of HBO's Emmy Award-winning "Barbarians at the Gate." I'd been told that by the movie's writer, Larry Gelbart.
"That's not true," Garner's publicist, Jennifer Allen, called to say last week. "I spoke with him on the phone, and he said he didn't do it."
I called my original source. "He did do it," Gelbart insisted. "He did it . . . unless Glenn Jordan (the movie's director) was lying to me."
I called Jordan. "Oh, sure, he did it all," Jordan said. "He didn't want to do it, but I urged him to do it, and he did it. I was there when he did it."
Was Jordan sure it was Garner and not an impostor? "I'm sure," he said.
I called Allen to update her. "That's very strange," she said.
Meanwhile, production continues on a new "Maverick" movie starring Garner . . . or someone impersonating him.
Back to You: Local newscasts covered Monday's suspenseful Damian Williams/Henry Watson verdicts live across the board. And they deserve praise for doing so with the calm and restraint that viewers should be able to expect from them as a matter of routine in such cases. Obviously, it could have been different.
For a glimpse of their potential for goofiness, for example, flash back to Friday, when some stations--led by KNBC-TV Channel 4's especially ludicrous and drawn-out "live team coverage"--went absolutely berserk when a construction worker got stuck in a trench and was not freed for several hours.
It was the classic picture-driven big fuss over very little. A Channel 4 reporter interviewed another construction worker who had taped the incident with his own camcorder: "What were you doing and what were you thinking as the accident occurred?" Follow-up question: "What were you thinking of as you covered this?"
More specifically, what was Channel 4 thinking when it went forward with this farce, which included deploying a reporter at a hospital to evaluate the construction worker's condition when she arrived. "She was gritty and grimy and in a great deal of pain."
You wanted to know what she was thinking when she was gritty and grimy and in a great deal of pain? Channel 4 promised to keep us "posted." A few minutes later, the station went live to its chopper man, Bob Pettee, who was above Burbank, where police had encircled a building where a woman was reportedly "distraught." Details--such as exactly what the story was supposed to be--were a little sketchy, so Pettee threw it back to anchor Kelly Lange.
"Thanks very much, Bob," she said. "More information on that as it comes to hand, of course."
Brain Sucked: I'm an infrequent viewer of the syndicated beachfront drama series "Baywatch," but after watching Monday night's episode (on KCOP-TV Channel 13), that may change. This show is funny!
One of the plot lines involved an underwater cave occupied by a giant human-hunting octopus, like something out of Cecil B. DeMille's "Reap the Wild Wind." Now, it was one thing for a science-fiction series like NBC's "seaQuest" to have some hokum a couple of weeks ago with a tentacled underwater monster, but quite another for "Baywatch"--a series purporting to deal with real situations--to advance the myth of these gargantuan octopi.
The high jinks came when three young characters--two guys and a girl--were attacked and almost drowned or hugged to death by this multiarmed sucker. After escaping, you'd have thought they'd run screaming to authorities, or at least to the Enquirer. But instead they were seen strolling on the beach as calmly as if they'd escaped from a tuna.
And in one of the most inventive pieces of scripting in years, the show used this near-fatal encounter with a predatory monster to seemingly cure the girl of her bulimia.
"Almost being that octopus's meal," she told her boyfriend, "made me look at food in such a different way."
But remember, kids, wrestling an octopus is unconventional treatment for eating disorders, so don't try this at home.