A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


I thought I had seen everything in six years as a daily newspaper television critic.

It was, after all, during the 1980s, and "Dallas," "Dynasty," "Knots Landing" and "Falcon Crest" dominated prime time in all their soapy glory. J.R. Ewing and Alexis Carrington led a telekinetic assault on values that glorified the tawdry and celebrated sleaze. Together with an assortment of sitcom excesses and a hefty dose of made-for-TV mediocrity, they eventually wore me down and drove me to the relative moral safety of public relations.

Since that time, I have been an interested-but-distant observer as television's producers and network executives have continued their steady descent. I have heard them boast of "pushing the edge of the envelope" with naked backsides, coarse language and ever-increasing levels of violence and "reality"-based weirdness, and I have wondered what all of that means for television as a medium and for us as a people. But to tell you the truth, I haven't actually watched most of it. I've never seen an entire episode of Jerry Springer, "The Real World" or Howard Stern, although I've seen enough to be grateful I relinquished my professional couch potato status. After six years of having to watch everything, I have savored the privilege of selectivity.

But every once in a while a program comes along that makes me wish I could reclaim my "bully pulpit" in the newspaper's entertainment section -- even if only for a day. Take the Fox Network's "Temptation Island," for example (or, with a tip of the ol' rabbit ears to Rodney Dangerfield, take "Temptation Island" PLEASE!). According to Fox press materials, "Temptation Island" is "a provocative new reality-based show" in which "four unmarried, but seriously committed, couples . . . and 30 singles who are looking for love, travel to an exotic location to test the waters of temptation."

Of course, I haven't seen the program, and I have no intention of doing so. But I am outraged by the concept, and insulted by the implied suggestion that America's viewing sensibilities have sunk to this extraordinary level. While I'm sure there are those who are interested in this kind of titillation, I am confident that most reasonable people are unwilling to allow themselves to be assaulted by their television sets in this way.

If you would like to take a stand against this kind of exploitation on the public airwaves, please allow me to remind you of three things I learned on the TV beat:

Some years ago, prominent journalist Edward R. Murrow had this to say about television: "This instrument can teach, it can entertain and yes, it can inspire. But only to the extent that humans are prepared to use it for those purposes. Otherwise, it is only tubes and lights in a box."

I think that applies to us as viewers as well as those who work within the medium. Like any tool, from the hammer to the computer, television can be used for our benefit or our destruction. It all depends on how we choose to use it.

Whether or not we succumb to "Temptation."

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and