INTERNATIONAL TV BUYERS have been in L.A. in recent weeks deciding which U.S. programs to export home, sifting through a crop of shows that, based on the upfront presentations, are all being produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.
OK, that’s an exaggeration, but Bruckheimer’s shingle has become near ubiquitous, having adapted his slick feature techniques to primetime with remarkable precision and striking commercial success. Led by the “CSI” troika, the producer now has seven programs on CBS’ schedule alone, plus the new NBC drama “E-Ring” and a pair of series for the WB, which doesn’t account for sundry imitators.
So what conclusions might an overseas TV viewer — or even space aliens tired of “I Love Lucy” reruns — draw from a trip through Jerry Bruckheimer’s America — a place where people regularly disappear without a trace, and forensic criminologists vastly outnumber retail clerks and postal employees?
Granted, nobody should get carried away extrapolating from TV to real life (a cautionary advisory that never seems to dissuade most advocacy groups, especially around fund-raising time), but there’s nevertheless something fascinating about the cumulative image this body of work reveals. Here, then, based on a sampling of series under the producer’s aegis, are some patterns that emerge regarding residents of Bruckheimer-land:
- Those living in Las Vegas, Miami and New York have a one in four chance of being the victim of a violent crime, although their deaths will at least be interesting and wildly creative.
- Any crime, however heinous or complex, is solved in approximately 42 minutes.
- The only people likely to die of old age or natural causes are those who oversee forensic crime-solving units.
- Roughly 70% of residents are white, and all the minorities are smokin’ hot.
- The average woman is a size 2 and weighs no more than 120 pounds dripping wet, which is significant, because they are dripping wet or provocatively sweaty approximately 23% of the time. The average male, meanwhile, has body fat of 6%, unless he heads a forensic crime-solving unit.
- Intercourse is usually followed by a grisly death, which makes you wonder how the population replenishes itself.
- Although occupations for women generally fall into starkly divided camps — criminologist/detective/FBI agent or model/stripper/kept mistress — the visual distinctions between the two are negligible.
- Roughly 60% of adults work in law enforcement. They are committed to their jobs — so much so that their private lives appear nonexistent — and generally speak in sentences steeped in technical jargon that consist of a dozen words or less.
- The average attorney is under 30 and could moonlight as a triathlete or model, depending on his or her gender.
- The children are still our future, but in the interim, they make for adorable and extra compelling kidnapping victims and hostages.
A DUAL MEMORIAL: “Nightline” aired its second tribute to “the fallen” in Iraq and Afghanistan on Monday, but with Ted Koppel’s tenure as the venerable broadcast’s anchor approaching its conclusion, the memorial took on a dual meaning.
Koppel’s sober reflection on lives lost — in which he pointed out that the war has become “background noise” for many not directly affected by it — follows a stretch in which ABC News has engaged in a series of questionable ratings stunts. The excesses range from puffing up the net’s Paula Abdul “expose” to an hour to “20/20” offering the equivalent of a “Lost” infomercial, both in service of the May sweeps.
ABC is currently exulting over a ratings surge that has seen “Good Morning America” gain ground on NBC’s “Today,” though how much of that stems from the networks’ disparate primetime fortunes, as opposed to any grand achievement on “GMA’s” part, is difficult to measure. Yet the larger picture is that with Koppel departing and Peter Jennings’ status clouded by treatment for lung cancer, ABC News risks dismantling the prestigious pillars of the house Roone Arledge built in pursuit of short-term gains.
By this time next year, we’ll know what form the “Nightline” slot has assumed and have a clearer sense whether the backbone that inspired its initial memorial to U.S. war dead, weathering intense criticism, has survived that process. As with the war, though, erosion of news standards is too easily dismissed as background noise, until something forces you to focus on what’s been lost.