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A Hard Case for RJ Berger

Immediately following its 2010 Movie Awards – which drew the highest number of preteen viewers since 2004 – MTV premiered a new series that by all accounts was inspired by the HBO series Hung. The HBO show stars Thomas Jane, a well-endowed coach and schoolteacher who moonlights as a male prostitute. Like Hung, MTV’s The Hard Times of R.J. Berger is set in a high-school, and features a similarly well-endowed but socially awkward teen who becomes wildly popular after inadvertently exposing himself to the entire school. MTV viewers are treated to new episodes from this summer series every Monday at 10 pm Eastern/9 pm Central.


Just how irresponsible and depraved is this new show? In the first few minutes of the program, the title character is shown masturbating in bed. When he is interrupted by his mother, her innocent touch makes him climax. At school, his sex-crazed classmate, Lily, masturbates to his yearbook photo while seated in the school library wearing a shirt bearing his photo and the words “I want U inside me.” During a flashback sequence, a Japanese exchange student is shown trying to perform oral sex on him, saying, “This terrifying Godzilla penis presents a challenge, but Natsumi will prevail!”


Clearly, there is some kind of motivation for putting this tasteless and insipid trash on the air, but it’s not profit, and it’s not ratings.


In an interview with the New York Times, MTV Senior Vice President for Series Development, Liz Gateley, crowed, “We want to do stuff that’s rebellious and noisy,” while RJ Berger’s creator/writer/producer David Katzenberg said, “We definitely want to be that show that younger kids have to sneak into their TV room or their parents’ room when they’re not supposed to.” And actor Adam Cagley (who plays Kevin on the show) recently boasted on his Twitter feed, “Hard Times has been named Worst Cable Show of the Week by the Parents Television Council. YES! We piss off parents!”


This immature approach to programming espoused by RJ Berger and its creative team is not unique. Unfortunately, the desire to shock and provoke – rather than deliver what audiences are really looking for – can be seen throughout the entertainment industry.


Author of The Walking Dead, Frank Darabont, gloated last month to New York Magazine that AMC is going to show new levels of gore when his comic book is adapted for TV this fall: “AMC is actually enthusiastic about pushing the limits of what can’t be shown on cable. A good rule of thumb is, anything they’ve done in Breaking Bad, we can do every five minutes, because there’s no limit to how much violence you can do per episode.”


This isn’t a new trend. Speaking at the 2007 Television Critics Association tour in Los Angeles, Nip/Tuck star Julian McMahon said, "I don't think the show is kinky enough...I've kind of pushed for that kind of stuff consistently...I just want to push things even further."


Cable isn’t the only offender either. Just ask CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler who discussed CBS' open-marriage series Swingtown with TV Guide, saying, “I hope there are concerns about it, I really do. We're going to push the envelope with that show." The CEO of CBS, Les Moonves, showed his agreement when he said, “We will vigorously defend our right to produce such content as some may deem too controversial.” The examples go on and on.

It’s a childish game of one-upmanship, with TV writers, executives, and producers inserting increasingly risqué content just because they can. One TV executive likened the media’s slide into the sewer to an “arms race.”


Hollywood has been telling us for years that they are merely interested in the bottom line – that they are just delivering what audiences want. However, this is clearly and demonstrably untrue. Though the gap is closing, family audiences are still vastly underserved by the entertainment industry. The lie betrays another agenda – a desire to be deliberately provocative, to shock TV viewers and filmgoers to the point of numbness where they will accept anything – everything.


In reality, the hoary cliché that “sex-sells” is little more than a self-serving justification employed by Hollywood writers, directors and producers who want to push the envelope. These so-called “taste-makers” don’t really want to deliver what audiences are looking for. They would have us believe that because something is profane it must also be profound, that traditional values and morality are outmoded and that we must look to them for enlightenment. Like schoolyard bullies, they mostly just want bragging rights at the next industry cocktail party. If they were truly motivated by profit and profit alone, they wouldn’t be pushing explicit fare, they’d be trying to take on the extremely profitable Disney and Pixar studios.


Pat Boone has been a top-selling recording artist, the star of his own hit TV series, a movie star, a Broadway headliner, and a best-selling author in a career that has spanned half a century. During the classic rock & roll era of the 1950s, he sold more records than any artist except Elvis Presley. He currently serves as an Advisory Board Member for the Parents Television Council. To learn more about Pat, please visit his website (www.patboone.com).

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