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And Baby Makes Crap

When I finally decide to run for office, I'm going to revolutionize politics across the country by being the first "anti-family" candidate on record.

"Vote for Wrenn," the ads will trumpet, "Because children are annoying and marriages are boring!"

At least that's what TV says. And if you can't believe TV, who can you believe?

Think about it: When do families ever help a TV show? The best programs on television today are The X-Files, Homicide, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Frasier, The Simpsons and Law and Order. How many of them regularly feature children? Just one, and The Simpsons is animated, giving Bart, Lisa and Maggie free reign to act like short adults.

Meanwhile, trite, banal and warmed-over shows such as Home Improvement, Soul Man and The Nanny all feature kids. Kids who for the most part do nothing but annoy the audience and try to look cute, so they can secure themselves a cover on Seventeen or Tiger Beat in a couple years.

When a show is in the ratings dump, what tried and true method do the writers always manage to dredge up? That's right, a baby. Who can forget the touching Mad About You that featured Jamie giving birth and Paul kissing Bruce Willis? Just a couple months ago, the same sitcom tried a "bold experiment" in a Very Special Episode that featured 22 commercial-free minutes of parents listening to a baby cry. Can you believe this kind of entertainment is free?

And to think I'm shelling out hundreds of dollars for plane tickets just so I can be trapped with infants who won't shut up.

The most famous baby dust-up of all was the notorious Murphy Brown incident. Knowing that the show was already getting stale, the sitcom's producers flipped to chapter three of the TV-writing manual: "So Your Show is Stale and You Don't Want to Try Anything Creative to Rescue It." Voila! Murphy's pregnant.

Vice President Dan Quayle, not knowing a desperate sitcom's cry for help when he heard it, decided that Murphy Brown, fictional character or not, shouldn't be having babies without a marriage license. The fracas over Murphy's baby generated such momentum that even now, seven years later, the show's not quite off the air.

Yet for all the newsprint on the subject of young Avery Brown, Candace Bergen's video progeny went AWOL about two months after he was welcomed into the world by the likes of Joe Regalbuto and Faith Ford. Maybe the producers realized that they'd maxed out on cheap publicity, so it was time to jettison the baby and get on with more important matters, like making fun of Dan Quayle's spelling.

Be honest. When was the last time you saw an original, creative, forward-thinking television program that prominently featured a (non-animated) child? I'll tell you when. Never. Or at least not since Eight is Enough. (That, my friends, is what we in the business like to call sarcasm.)

In addition to being obnoxious, tedious, scene-stealing little brats, children also give a show a far greater number of Very Special Episode possibilities. Your common crappy sitcom -- oh, let's say Suddenly Susan -- has to get by with a limited VSE playbook: death or injury of someone close to the characters, weddings, relationship breakups, Judd Nelson's poor driving habits.

But if kids are part of the equation, things can get Very Special very fast. Among the possibilities: Kid gets caught stealing something; kid gets the crap kicked out of them at school; kid does drugs; kid goes to school for the first time; kid finds daddy's collection of Penthouse magazines; daddy finds kid's collection of Penthouse magazines; kid stays up all night crying in an unending, self-absorbed attempt to display parents as sensitive without so much as the sweet relief of those slightly-less-irritating Eddie the Echo commercials.

Hell, Home Improvement has covered every one of those topics in just the past two years.

It's not just sitcoms, either. Perhaps the most loathsomely wholesome show on TV is 7th Heaven. The WB has managed to create the ultimate monster: a Very Special Series. One week, the middle daughter's friend gets killed in a car crash. The next, a 12-year old kid grapples with a terminal illness.

I'm not making fun of terminal illness or car crashes here (well, except for Judd Nelson's auto vs. cable car grudge match on Suddenly Susan), but rather the TV world's complete lack of originality when it comes to making shows featuring kids, or as the programming geniuses like to call it, "family programming."

Family shows are cop-outs. They don't have to be, but it seems no sitcom writer -- or, more likely, TV network marketing weasel -- can resist falling into the Very Special Episode trap when it's sweeps month. The presence of kids on a TV series is a big red warning flag.

So let me be blunt: Families suck.

Just because a show doesn't feature kids, does not mean it's a good show, of course. But children are a huge step in the wrong direction, one that makes it awfully difficult for a show to get back on good creative footing.

Of course, I just mentioned Frasier as one of the best shows on TV, but it's now teetering on the edge of the Family list. That's because Frasier's producer Roz is now pregnant.

You have no idea how much this worries me. There have already been too many morning sickness and fat jokes for my taste. Could this be the beginning of the end for one of the best written shows in television history? Could the birth of an innocent babe transform the show that's won the Best Comedy Series Emmy every year in its existence (not to mention the first TeeVee Award for Best Comedy) into a cavalcade of diaper-changing jokes punctuated by a Very Special 22-minute episode when Frasier and Niles have to perform tag-team therapy to soothe Roz's post-partum depression?

You bet it could. And if it does, it's because the producers of Frasier have forgotten the golden rule: Children are meant to be neither seen nor heard, just mentioned offhandedly on rare occasions.


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