We watch... so you don't have to.

Girls! Girls! Girls!

The other night, I got a good look at myself in the ol' mirror, and let me tell you, I didn't like what I saw one bit. Behind my charming exterior, my boyish good looks and my abnormally sized ass lurks a dark, evil soul with a cold, empty heart. Which is surprising because I didn't know that souls had asses, let alone abnormally-sized ones.

What caused this revelation? TV, naturally. "Must See" TV in particular.

I was watching the brand-spankin' new sitcom The Naked Truth, if a show cancelled by ABC a year ago and picked up by NBC in more of a show of bravado then sound programming sense can be truly described as brand-spankin' new. The retooled Naked Truth asks the age-old question, "What do you get when you take George Wendt and have him work at a sleazy tabloid alongside Bosom Buddies' Ruth Dunbar?" The answer being TV that is anything but "must see."

And yet, here I was, must seeing it. And why? Why was I wasting my valuable waking hours on yet another bland sitcom when I could be reading a book or improving my mind or even watching a slightly less bland sitcom?

Simple answer. Téa Leoni. Oh, sweet Téa.

For those of you who don't know, Téa Leoni is the tall drink of water who stars in The Naked Truth, whose breathy voice has warmed the cockles of my heart and whose unkempt hair has swept me off my feet. I find myself glued to the set, drinking in every close-up of Téa, chronicling Téa's every move, discovering to my chagrin that in Téa's case, The Naked Truth has little to do with "naked," less to do with "truth" and everything to do with "banality."

I don't think that last point can be underscored enough. Here I was watching a truly mediocre sitcom... and why? Because it features a pretty girl.

Oh, I am a sad, desperate little man.

And yet, I am not alone. In the darkened hallways at work, in the badly lit basketball courts of the local rec center and in the shady areas of places of worship, my fellow men have turned to me when they believe the judging eyes of society are looking elsewhere to confess that they, too, have wasted valuable hours watching bad TV featuring lovely, lovely actresses -- if not the aforementioned Téa, then the delightful Laura Leighton (Melrose Place), the splendiforous Carla Gugino (Spin City), the yummy Lea Thompson (Caroline in the City) or the almost-lifelike Pamela Anderson-Lee-Anderson (Baywatch).

Male TeeVee viewers have found themselves under assault as never before. Now more than ever, our nation's airwaves are clogged with drop-dead gorgeous women on drop-dead awful programs, leaving us menfolk in a quandary. Do we listen to our brains when they gently but firmly say, "Gee, Phil, Unhappily Ever After is an appallingly unfunny program and it's on The WB to boot... shouldn't you switch over to PBS or Bravo or one of them Ted Turner channels before you kill off even more of my cells?" Or do we listen to our baser, more southerly organs when they sagely observe, "Gosh, that Nikki Cox is purty!"

And even if we were to turn away from the auburn-tressed Ms. Cox, there waiting on the next channel is the spunkily alluring Crystal Bernard, yukking it up on the interminable Wings or the lovely Farrah Forke almost, though not quite, offsetting the presence of Tom Rhodes on Mr. Rhodes or that nymphette Brandy as the sassy Moesha!

There is a common trend at work here -- all of the above shows are programs I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot remote. If they were being taped before a live studio audience smack dab in the middle of my living room, I wouldn't even bother to turn my head to watch. Yet, all of these shows are lousy with good-looking women, dames, skirts, femmes and Fraus. And so, as Milhouse once observed on The Simpsons, I am appalled, but cannot turn away.

It wasn't always thus. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the closest thing you got to sex appeal was Sally Field as Gidget or Julie Newmar as the Catwoman or Edward R. Murrow. Thus, TeeVee programs -- without fabulous young lovelies to lure in unsuspecting viewers -- were forced to rely on well-written scripts and strong performances. Not coincidentally, this is commonly thought of as television's Golden Age. And not just because Eartha Kitt replaced Julie Newmar as Batman's feminine arch-nemesis.

But by the 1970s, things had changed. TeeVee executives were finding it harder and harder to come up with well-written scripts and strong performances. Sally Field was now making motion pictures. And Edward Murrow no longer conveyed the unspoken but undeniable raw sexuality of his youth. It was the end of the Golden Age of television... and the beginning of the Dark Times.

Like most forms of pestilence and woe that afflict the world nowadays, the problem can be traced to Aaron Spelling. Back before America's second-favorite jug-eared Texan was creating acting jobs for his lantern-jawed spawn through his own private WPA program otherwise known as Beverly Hills 90210, Aaron Spelling was making TeeVee shows that prominently featured women's breasts. Like the title character in Charlie's Angels, Spelling introduced three young ladies -- Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith -- and took them away from all this, in the process making them stars and the subject of masturbatory fantasies for teenaged boys from coast to coast. Part of the promotion for Charlie's Angels featured the now-famous publicity still of Farrah Fawcett in a bikini which was apparently shot just as a stiff breeze was blowing through the studio.

I don't want this to seem like I'm complaining...

But just like Hollywood takes every reasonably good idea and milks it beyond the last limits of the endurable, so too did dim-witted TeeVee executives go overboard with the breasts. Before you could say, "I hope Farrah Fawcett didn't catch cold in that bikini," we had Lynda Carter thwarting Nazi agents in her skivvies on Wonder Woman, Heather Thomas cavorting with an aging Lee Majors on The Fall Guy and Suzanne Somers in her pre-Thighmaster days alongside the underrated Joyce DeWitt on Three's Company.

A nadir of sorts was reached in the fall of 1983 when a pre-Warren Littlefield NBC unleashed We Got It Maid upon a tired and weary public. The show centered around two yay-hoo bachelors who happened to have a maid with tremendous snoobs, played by the lachrymose Teri Copley. Most of the shows dealt with the sensitive and hard-hitting issue of the two yay-hoo bachelors leering at their stacked maid while trying not to arouse the suspicions of their respective girlfriends, who were understandably displeased by the sudden appearance of a well-endowed domestic in their heretofore uneventful lives. We Got It Maid ran for one season on NBC before the sense returned to the noggins of TeeVee executives, who promptly shuffled the show off to the hinterlands of syndication where it presumably died a peaceful death.

But by then, the damage had been done, and our generation is only now beginning to reap the horrible seeds that the likes of Aaron Spelling and Teri Copley have sown. In 1989, NBC proudly introduced the vast North American viewing public to Baywatch or, as we in the business prefer to call it, David Hasselhoff Presents: Hooters! By stumbling across the stunningly creative idea of sticking women in bathing suits and having them run in slow motion, the makers of Baywatch added to our cultural firmament by launching the careers of the enhanced Erika Eleniak, the ersatz Nicole Eggert, the plasticine Jasmine Bleeth and the synthetic Pamela Lee. While this is certainly admirable, Baywatch has also increased the chances that members of Motley Crüe will reproduce, and for this reason, David Hasselhoff's place in Hell has been assured.

(NBC cancelled Baywatch after one season, though the show promptly caught on in syndication, thanks in part to the fervid devotion of its German fans. Germans, you may recall, also plunged humanity into two bloody global conflicts.)

Other programming executives apparently hope to catch Baywatch's lightning in a bottle. Nowadays, you can't throw a rock at your TeeVee without hitting some flaxen-haired beauty square in her pretty little bean. TNT, for instance, is now airing a program called The New Adventures of Robin Hood, with the caveat that the character of Maid Marian is no longer a shy wallflower idly standing by while Robin and his merry men do all the fighting. No, this Maid Marian is a butt-kicking warrior princess. And the producers have taken that conceit one courageous step further by dressing the butt kicking Maid Marian in a low cut red dress and casting the statuesque Anna Galvin in this very critical role. Now we know why Robin's men were so merry.

Of course, not all casting decisions are such innocent re-workings of history like Robin Hood or Xena: Warrior Princess. In fact, casting beautiful women in piss-poor TeeVee programs carries with it a tragic human cost that borders on the incomprehensible. Case in point: two weeks ago, I found myself so taken with the brassy Liz Vassey that I watched an entire episode of Brotherly Love, the one-time NBC sitcom sent off to The WB, where it is well known all crap goes off to die. This is the same Brotherly Love that features all three Lawrence brothers, or to put it another way, three more Lawrence brothers than I'm comfortable watching. I was so sickened, I almost didn't tune in to watch the show the next week. Almost.

My research of this vexing issue has turned up more than just a few trends.

  • Many bad shows that feature beautiful actresses got their start on NBC before being shunted off to syndication or The WB

  • Many bad shows that feature beautiful actresses include characters that play maids.

  • Germans, when not plunging humanity into bloody global conflicts, apparently have a thing for breast augmentation.

But more importantly, what I learned is that this problem isn't going to go away soon, not without prompt and zealous government intervention, anyhow. Already, our nation's legislators are talking about passing regulations to toughen up the TeeVee networks' limp noodle rating system. And more power to them, I say, so long as Newt and Dick and Trent and all the kids on Capitol Hill realize the threat that a high starlet-to-crappy-show ratio poses to our national sanity.

That's why I propose the new TV-B rating, which will tell discriminating viewers, "Warning: This program features unlikable characters, trite plots and obvious jokes. But more importantly, it stars a leggy actresses whose sole purpose for existence is to sucker you into watching. For the love of the God, turn off the TeeVee and put on a KISS record or something."

Because I'll be damned if I have to watch another episode of Unhappily Ever After. Even if that Nikki Cox is purty.


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