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Tube’s flaps require willful amnesia

'2 Broke Girls' controversy triggers strange epiphany

The flap over stereotypes and crass language in CBS’ “2 Broke Girls” — which became an unexpected controversy during the TV Critics Assn. tour — triggered a strange epiphany.

Hollywood folk and the journalists covering them often (though probably not often enough) find themselves in conflict, assailing the cool kids with nagging questions from what amounts to the yearbook staff. Yet in entertainment reporting, as in developing TV or movies, selling the product is helped by a case of willful amnesia.

Because so little is ever truly “new,” trumpeting fresh projects in development requires trying to forget all the programs and movies that paved the way. That impulse is mirrored by journalists who write about such stuff, creating a strange symbiosis — one conducive to those willing to pretend a modest wrinkle on what’s transpired before is really a brave new frontier.

An additional reminder of this came from producer-director Tim O’Donnell, who pointed out the hand-wringing over “2 Broke Girls” sounded eerily familiar to the flogging he received in 1990, when the same network introduced a sitcom adaptation of the movie “Uncle Buck.” The sin there? A child saying “You suck” to her brother, which, as dissected by an eager press, was quickly recast as a threat to the moral fiber of the republic.

Such republics and standards fall in increments, however, not one great seismic slide. So it’s taken this long, somewhat reassuringly, to drift from “Buck’s” suck to “Girls'” vaginas — or rather, their irritating habit of referencing them.

This isn’t to suggest every flare-up along these lines is a tempest in a teapot. It’s just to magnify some of the molehills into mountains, you have to forget about all the other teapots you’ve collected through the years.

Either way, a short memory — or better, no memory at all — is clearly an asset when mining (or ginning up) controversies.

Not to be a complete killjoy, but it’s also worth noting the networks haven’t bothered adhering to content restrictions in the 8 p.m. hour, when “Girls” airs, since the 1990s, when shows like “Roseanne” and “Friends” moved there. At that point broadcast honchos and — having determined advertisers cared only about programming to young adults — dispensed with even the pretext of a “family hour” or any concern about scheduling with children in mind.

To make note of these things isn’t about clinging to the past like some crotchety old fart (although there’s an element of that perhaps), but really providing necessary context to grasp what’s genuinely new, as opposed to the latest variation on persistent or recurring themes. In the crush to sell a story, such history tends to get overlooked, either by young reporters who honestly don’t know any better or shrewd ones who realize bogging down their work in “This isn’t all that new” disclaimers is no way to satisfy editors or make a front-page splash.

It’s interesting, for example, the quickly jettisoned ABC cross-dressing comedy “Work It” — a virtual do-over of “Bosom Buddies” — was denounced by gay and lesbian groups. Still, heat surrounding the protest largely eclipsed questions about what the reaction might say (or not) about evolving transgender acceptance and advocacy a generation later.

In order to sound novel, showbiz types mostly ignore when they’re rehashing (and in some instances, pretty close to remaking) “The Fugitive,” “Twin Peaks” or “Friends” again. And to avoid the appearance of recycling stories, ink-stained wretches frequently approach something like NBC’s upcoming musical-drama “Smash” as if there never was a “Cop Rock.”

Web headlines and culture — driven by the relatively newfangled tyranny of traffic — haven’t helped, subjecting print to the same ratings-driven parameters as broadcast journalists to whom we once felt so superior.

Ultimately, it behooves no one to remind consumers there’s really nothing new to see here, or that we’ll likely be engaging in the same dance — heatedly debating another ethnic slur or body part — before this eruption has even fully cooled.

Content development and reporting aren’t arenas that always smile upon those bathed in the milk of human kindness. Increasingly, though — with so little truly new under the sun, much less the tube or Web — each endeavor favors those willing to drink freely from the milk of amnesia.

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