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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Programming the Deadly Sins

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer

The television industry is not noted for its honesty, so I (for one) applaud the newest trend in TV programming in which shows are pretty frank about what they're offering. First came "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" on ABC, appealing in a not-too-subtle way to the audience's avarice. Then came the Fox program honestly-titled simply "Greed." Truth in programming, finally.

Envy's old hat. It's been done before - in "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" and shows like that.

Anyway, I think it's a great idea to create programming around the seven deadly sins. It's not only honest, but it clearly works.

Greed and Envy appear already to be covered. And Lust, of course, has been a programming staple ever since programmers discovered that the ratings of "Charley's Angels" soared every time Farah Fawcett had to run through a sprinkler or car wash to catch a crook. It's an idea which led to the hit "Baywatch", a show in which youthful buxom female types have a skin-tight swimsuit as their only costume and have to get wet as part of their jobs.

I'm working on a pilot for a program based upon Pride - its working title is simply "Ego," a game show which features guests who are a legend in their own minds.

"And now, to join the Vice-President of the United States, here's the author of the best-selling book "I Never Met a Camera I Didn't Like," the Reverend Al Sharpton! (applause). Rounding out our celebrity panel tonight is the self-proclaimed moral compass of our nation, author of "Ask Me What You Should Do and I'll Tell You," radio personality Dr. Laura Schlessinger! (applause)."

"Our first question for tonight's contestants is this: Who invented the Internet?"

"I did."

"I did."

"I did, Chuck!"

A show based on Anger would be a big hit, too. It could be a series of celebrity boxing matches, which would have the added benefit of pandering to violence and revenge. Let's see . . . we could have Rosie O'Donnell and Tom Selleck, Howard Stern versus Andy Rooney, me against Richard Nixon, Jerry Falwell fighting Tinky Winky, or any Massachusetts 10th grader battling MCAS supporter John Silber.

Or maybe we could have a program based on Sloth - laziness. Although it would be difficult to make inactivity interesting for TV (it'd be something akin to watching the coverage of the Massachusetts House of Representatives on public television), I suppose it could be done. Contestants could be seated in padded reclining chairs and offered various prizes. The prizes - appliances, cars, furniture, vacations - could be inched towards them very slowly. Whoever actually reached out to grab a prize would win that item, but would be disqualified from the Grand Prize of a ton of money and a life of ease, to be awarded to whomever avoided any exertion at all.

Or Gluttony. Contestants could be let loose in a restaurant of their choice. They would win one dollar for every calorie they consumed. Points would be deducted for anything with actual nutritional value. This could be a huge ratings winner.

The more I think about it, this new programming trend opens up a whole world of entertaining possibilities. A show based on Stupidity. Or Brazenness - remember the TV show "Beat the Clock"? This one could be called "Beat the System," about committing a criminal act and actually getting away with it. Bill Clinton and OJ Simpson are obvious contestants. I'm sure you can provide other examples.

If programmers continue to pair human failings with honest TV show titles, the result will be a ratings bonanza, I wager.

I've got to go. "Plummeting to Perdition" is on, and it's my favorite show on the TV industry and American culture.