MTV’s 16 And Pregnant Is Sad, Cautionary And Important

The concept has trainwreck written all over it, yet this is probably the best advertisement possible against getting pregnant while you’re still a kid yourself.

When I came home tonight Stef was on the couch. The lights were low. The TV was on. She looked a little better, but I know she’ll be flu’ish for a while.

The show on the TV was compelling–MTV’s “16 and Pregnant.” The concept has trainwreck written all over it, yet this is probably the best advertisement possible against getting pregnant while you’re still a kid yourself.

Tonight’s show features Leah and her boyfriend Corey, high school students from West Virginia. Every part of their young lives has been turned upside down after the birth of their twins. Beyond that none of the usual high school conflicts, like an ex-boyfriend still in Leah’s life, have disappeared.

Most reality shows are anything but. This show is raw and gritty. It’s full of emotion and lots of sadness. Actually it’s overloaded with sadness and people living their lives on the edge of tragedy.

“16 and Pregnant” is on MTV, a channel I usually associate with promoting society’s shortcomings. On the other hand this show is a long form public service announcement–albeit a very sad one.

“16 and Pregnant” should be required viewing for those who are 16 and dating.

Ken Ober From MTV’s Remote Control Has Died

MTV, the Peter Pan of TV networks, never grew older. People like Ken Ober did and were tossed aside.

ken ober remote control.jpgBack when they played music on MTV… back when I had the hots for Martha Quinn… there was an MTV game show: Remote Control. Ken Ober, Remote Control’s host, died today. He was 52–too old for MTV but way too young to die.

Remote Control was more skit comedy show than game show. Along with Ober there was Colin Quinn and, at various times, Adam Sandler, Denis Leary and Kari Wührer (who I also had the hots for).

MTV, the Peter Pan of TV networks, never grew older. People like Ken Ober did and were tossed aside. Too old to rock and roll–or at least too old to rock and roll with today’s viewers. That’s a shame.

I ran into him at an ice show in Hartford many years ago. I just wanted to say hello and tell him how much I enjoyed the show. As I began to introduce myself he said he was from Hartford and already knew who I was. I liked that more than a little.

Remote Control and it’s cast were witty. Witty was an acceptable MTV component then. Not any more.

True Life: I’m A Staten Island Girl

As a pre-reality guy this whole genre is a little strange to me. It’s cinema-vérité (cinema of truth) but we’re not talking Don’t Look Back or Woodstock.

Say what you will having Stef live at home has broadened my cultural horizons. For instance, as I type this entry MTV is on the TV. It’s “True Life: I’m a Staten Island Girl.”

The listing says, “Three Staten Island girls want to leave the island to achieve their dreams. Documentary.”

“You always said you wanted to watch documentaries with me,” Stef offered up.

This is not what had in mind!

I asked how many times she’s seen this particular episode. “More than five, less than ten.”

As a pre-reality guy this whole genre is a little strange to me. It’s cinema-vérité (cinema of truth) but we’re not talking Don’t Look Back or Woodstock.

The real difference is MTV is covering a socioeconomic subset totally ignored when I was Stef’s age. The majority of Americans never saw anyone like themselves in the media. If you were middle class (what TV portrayed as middle class was decidedly much more well to do) or working poor you were invisible on TV.

I began to write this with the intention of slamming the show, but I can’t. Unlike many ‘reality’ shows on TV, I really do feel there’s truth here. These are people with goals and dreams. They are playing the hand they were dealt.

They all want off Staten Island.

Michael Jackson

Martin Mull tells a joke about the saddest thing in the world–high school with money. Michael Jackson was that on steroids!

off-the-wall.jpgAs we sat on the couch yesterday afternoon Helaine said, “I’m surprised you haven’t written about Michael Jackson. I checked a few times looking for it. Don’t you remember sitting on that ugly couch in Buffalo watching Thriller?”

I do. It was quite an event. The world gravitated to MTV on December 2, 1983 when the video was premiered. There was as much hype and hoopla as I can remember surrounding a cultural/musical happening. It didn’t disappoint.

This was Michael Jackson’s second pop career. His first was as the front man for the Jackson 5.

When the J5 was at its peak they were being marketed in a way that made them seem unhip to me. It’s only now I appreciate songs like “I Want You Back&#185.”

When I speak to people who’ve only seen Michael as a grotesquely reconfigured weirdo, I point out that he was genuinely cute pre-surgery. It’s tough to believe.

I’m not a psychiatrist, but I still have my theories on what made Michael Jackson the truly strange person he grew up to be. I don’t doubt he enjoyed the time he spent performing. Unfortunately, that time is surrounded by more dedicated time. As a child his life was full of adult responsibility and discipline.

Look who he’s friendly and linked to–other grown child stars. They’re the only people who might have a true understanding of his childhood… or lack thereof.

On top of that, imagine a life where money is truly no object. Martin Mull tells a joke about the saddest thing in the world–high school with money. Michael Jackson was that on steroids!

It’s all really sad. I don’t feel especially bad for the family whose motives have always seemed a little sinister to me. I do feel bad for Michael who never had the ease of life that his level of fame is supposed to provide.

Last night I decided to look and listen to some of Michael’s stuff. That took me to where loads of performances can be seen. Actually, there’s more! I have no idea where it came from, but within youtube are the original Motown tracks for some of the Jackson 5 songs minus the lead vocal. It looks like these were mastered to allow Michael to appear on TV or in person actually singing, but without the expense of the sending a full orchestra (actually the Funk Brothers) and the rest of the family. It’s amazing stuff to hear.

As we change from the vinyl to digital era and radio fades from its glory there may never be another artist capable of aggregating the outlandishly huge fan base Michael got. Mass media is become narrow media which doesn’t play into this kind of over-the-top fame.

Saturday afternoon word came the physician in Michael’s house when he died has ‘lawyered up.’ People will go to jail for this tragic death.

&#185 – The piano glissando in “I Want You Back” has reached iconic status.

Our Lives Documented

Stef, your life is well documented. These can definitely be used for blackmail, so always be nice to your parents. We’ll consider this insurance.

We’re straightening up at home. Helaine has thrown some things out. Lots of organizing is still to come. It was VHS tape day today. Good grief we’ve got them by the dozens.

We have a VHS to DVD dub machine in the family room. I’ve only used it as a dubber a few times. It’s time to really put it to the test now!

I threw some unlabeled tapes in the machine. Helaine’s the only organized one of the three of us so they’re not hers.

Stef had recorded a few MTV shows. I came across an episode of the Osborne’s and a Rosie O’Donnell aircheck. I was represented with a TV story about the day I appeared on ABC’s “All My Children.”

There were lots of unlabeled family videos too. In one I am pushing Stef down our snowy though barely sloped driveway as she lies on a Flexible Flyer sled. She pulls the sled back to me while refering to it as “Sleddie.”

Somewhere, not found yet, there is a tape of Stef sledding on the Quinnipiac University campus. I’ll find it. This is a definite “America’s Funniest Home Videos” winner! As Stef pulls the sled to the top of the hill she falls and they both slide to the bottom. This happens three or four times–gracefully and always at the proper instant for perfect comedic timing.

We’ve also got plays from elementary school and her Bat Mitzvah. We were big with the camcorder.

Stef, your life is well documented. These can definitely be used for blackmail, so always be nice to your parents. We’ll consider this insurance.

Deep in the pile there was also a tape of Helaine and my wedding! We didn’t have the guts to watch it today. In fact Helaine has only seen parts of it and then only once. She stopped when her tears were too much to take.

As you might imagine there will be lots of dead people in this 25 year old tape, It’s possible it will be transferred to DVD sight unseen.

TV Watching With Stef

Do ‘real’ actors who’ve worked their way up feel this cheapens their art? I do. Whatever… or, in the vernacular, what-ever.

I came home last night, changed into pajamas and came downstairs. It wasn’t long before Stef came and joined me in the family room. She had finished her nightly round of extreme exercise. She seriously looks like she should be in a fitness infomercial.

On these slow, summery nights, I am her friend of last resort. “Some parents would kill for that,” Helaine said when I told her the story. That’s not lost on me.

“What are you watching,” Steffie asked as she sat down. It was a documentary on National Geographic Channel. The narrator was going through an intricate explanation of how the Dogo Argentino or Argentinian Mastiff had been bred to hunt. I’m a sucker for documentaries.

There are few crossover shows that appeal to both of us. Stef doesn’t spend a lot of time on NatGeo and I don’t hit MTV or VH1. However, I knew if I wanted her to stay (I did) we’d have to switch channels.

Before long it was “Legally Blond The Musical: The Search for Elle Woods” on MTV. It’s a reality show where the winner becomes the new star of Broadway’s Legally Blond.

Do ‘real’ actors who’ve worked their way up feel this cheapens their art? I do. Whatever… or, in the vernacular, what-ever.

“This is like living in a sorority house,” I said as we watched the girls backstab each other from a suite in the Empire Hotel&#185 near Lincoln Center. Still, within a few minutes I knew who I wanted voted off the island… or however they are dispatched.

I asked if the shows are edited for drama and to lead the audience to conclusions, but I already knew the answer. A script is written from this raw footage in much the same way a story was crafted around Abba’s music to create “Mama Mia.” What we see only has a peripheral connection to what really went on.

I wanted Cassie S. to get bumped. Instead they canned the girl I thought most looked the part. So much for my Broadway acumen. Stef says Cassie S. got the shiv in a later episode. Phew. I was worried.

It was petty and catty and judgmental. It was a modern rendition of the book “Animal Farm.”

I have lost brain cells in the process. It’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back. I got to sit and schmooze with my daughter. That’s the payoff. I understand why some parents would kill for that experience. It’s totally worth it.

&#185 – Stayed there once. The bathroom on a 737 is larger.

Celebrity Rehab

I’m not totally sure if I wrote about this before (and without Google to check, I’m powerless to see), but I’ve been watching Celebrity Rehab on VH1.

Sure, I can say one of the executive producers was best man at my wedding, but that would be a weaselly way of justifying it. I started watching and now I’m hooked on a show about dependence.

Stef originally told me about it and asked me to watch the first episode so we could watch more while she was home (she is home now). Tonight we watched episode two.

The premise is, a bunch of Z-list celebs with substance problems do rehab together under the supervision of America’s favorite physician, Dr. Drew Pinsky – the Dr. Joyce Brothers of the 21st Century.

To quote a friend, “It is like a car wreck. You can’t look away.” That’s a perfect characterization.

Stef says many of the participants have been on MTV/VH1 reality shows before.

There’s Brigitte Nielsen, looking very tired, very old, very spent. She has the largest hands I’ve ever seen on a woman. Mary Carey, porn star/alcoholic is skankier than I would have imagined. Seth “Shifty” Binzer is a tattoo with legs… and a Mohawk.

There are more, including a Baldwin brother (I don’t remember which one), but all the characters fade into the woodwork when compared to Jeff Conaway. He was young and cute on Taxi 25 years ago. That’s his most recent work I remember, though IMDB says there were 50 episodes of Babylon 5.

Even that was off-the-air ten years ago. The last ten years has been less stellar.

I have seen people drunk and stoned. When I was younger, I helped friends down from bad trips (does that language date me? Probably). I’ve never seen anyone close to being as fcuked up as he is. This is not a part time gig. He seemed strung out 24/7.

His tremors and suffering while in detox were disturbing for me to watch. Even seeing him being pushed around, slumped over in a wheelchair was terribly sad. He was obviously suffering… obviously in his own personal hell.

Stef and I watched the show. When it was over, we talked about it.

She looks at TV like this differently than I do. She is a veteran of TV reality. For her, the shock value is gone. Not for me.

I was deeply touched. She was more cavalier.

She didn’t feel sorry for these people because these were choices they made for themselves. More importantly, she didn’t think they were in rehab as much as they were participating in career enhancement!

Wow, that’s an indictment.

I hadn’t thought of that, but she’s most likely right. It puts a despicable edge on the whole thing. Is there nothing in life that’s not commerce?

Her point was, would any of them be in rehab if there wasn’t a camera and MTV?

These are sad people. I’m guessing the show is a hit.

New Year’s Eve On TV

Helaine and I did some intensive TV watching, waiting for the ball to drop. Here are a few observations from the evening.

Does everyone now have a New Year’s Eve show from Times Square… and why? It looked like Fox News, CNN and CNBC were there for longform live shows. Is there that much demand for their … especially when ABC and MTV are also there?

With all the networks and their non-interlocking musical acts, are the bands actually amplified enough to hear or are their outdoor performances a sham for TV? Times Square isn’t big enough to have multiple musical acts performing at the same time without acoustic mayhem.

As it is, it looked like the acts were facing away from their audience. That shot works for TV, allowing a wide expanse of humanity to be on the screen. It’s not very appealing for the people watching in the cold.

Tila Tequila – what’s the deal? I have this fascination with Asian women, but I’m going to draw the line somewhere on this side of her.

At one point a musician picked her up. Dude – wash your hands.

Kid Rock looked like he was dressing to be a sideman in Funkadelic.

How did Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve get a pass from the Writer’s Guild? Dick Clark Productions is a member of the producers organization. This show was scripted. Other DCP shows, like the People’s Choice Awards, have been affected.

Poor Dick himself still sounds terrible and it is painful to watch. I know – that’s my problem. I’m probably wrong for being judgmental in this way.

It should be noted, Dick was able to keep up with the countdown numbers. A few years ago, he was not.

Every year Helaine asks why anyone would go to Times Square. I watch, half expecting to see some act of terrorism. How can it not be a ‘soft’ target?

Why does anyone go? Is anyone there over the age of 25?

As I got set to turn the TV off, I saw Anderson Cooper on CNN with Kathy Grifffin. That’s TVs new odd couple, right? I am sorry I missed them.

The Daughter Returns

Steffie’s home and on the sofa. She wasn’t feeling well last Thursday, so Helaine drove to college to pick her up and deliver her to the doctor.

When a student asks to leave her car at school and go to the doctor, you know she’s not feeling well! Thankfully, day-by-day, Steffie’s feeling better.

Finals at school were already done for her. Two papers still outstanding can be emailed to the professors. Modern life is good.

So now, in fine Stefanie Fox form, she spends a significant portion of the day on the sofa in our family room. The food is fresh and plentiful. There’s no fight for privacy in the dorm bathroom. There are no drunken freshman to pull a fire alarm at 4:00 AM.

“Do you have to sit there?” she will ask from time-to-time. It’s her spot. It’s easy to forget.

Having Stef home is a good thing. By and large, the three of us get along well. Even better, Stef is a playmate for Helaine and vice versa.

For me, the real advantage is anthropological. I get to watch what a twenty year old woman watches on TV. I am often dumbfounded by what I see.

A few seasons ago it was Laguna, then The Hills. This weekend Stef was watching a show about teens coming of age in Newport Beach. I’ve never felt so financially inadequate! I’m also embarrassed to say, I continued to watch for a while after she went upstairs.

Stef seems to gravitate toward reality shows. That’s what MTV and VH-1 have becoming – reality channels. There’s hardly any music on Music Television and few hits on Video Hits-1.

This is great for the network owners. Stef’s demographic is coveted and these shows are cheap to make. Advertising revenue is based on eyeballs, not program cost. The percentage of time devoted to commercials seems significantly higher than that seen on traditional over-the-air channels.

Along with Real World and shows I recognize are reality takes on ‘little people’ and heavily tattooed tattoo artists.

Maybe my age is showing when I say I find much of what she watches troubling. Of course, I also remember clips of crew cutted do-gooders saying Elvis Presley would be the end of us all. Please, don’t let me be one of them.

TV techniques are so sophisticated, I truly wonder how many of those who watch understand how little reality there is in reality TV… if there’s any at all.

Britney: The End

Helaine put the MTV Music Awards on. Britney Spears opened the show.

Out of shape. No discernible dancing skills. She couldn’t even lip sync.

This is the end of her career, right? It’s sad. She was so cute before she became a walking train wreck.

The Couch Potato’s Discovery

I came home from work, slipped into something more comfortable (I’ve watched Doris Day movies) and plopped myself on the sofa in the family room. I had powered up the laptop on earlier as I walked by on my way upstairs.

I like my multimedia multi! I turned the TV on too.

It was already tuned to Cartoon Network. Their nighttime programming is called “Adult Swim.” The program on, “Robot Chicken.”

Wow. Obviously, no drug testing going on there.

I’m not 100% sure if I hit it at the right time, or if this show is really as crazily off-the-wall funny as it seemed. Fast, biting, hysterical ridiculous and terribly animated – they all apply.

There is no way anyone would ever have told me about this show. I am so far removed from its target demo. I probably have no friends who watch it. I could have only stumbled upon it accidentally.

That, unfortunately, states a sad truth. After 50 years, we have moved away from the universal experience that was TV. Sure, there’s still broadcasting, but there are even more outlets for narrowcasting.

The Ed Sullivan Show, where kids would sit through adult acts in order to be there for some kid oriented shtick, will never happen again. From the perspective of the person wielding the remote control, others are no longer accommodated in front of the TV set.

The days of an entire family watching together are over. I may sit down while Stef has something on, but we have hardly any favorite shows we share.

She never watches the all news channels or sports, and I don’t watch Food Network, E!, MTV or VH1. I hardly recognize any of the shows she DVRs… though I’m sure I’d disapprove.

Will our society be the worse for it? You learn a lot about someone when you watch them watch TV. Parents and children will know now even less about each other’s sensibilities.

Another New Year’s Eve

Helaine has headed to bed. Steffie’s upstairs, watching TV by herself. New Year’s Eve has ended at the Fox house.

We were together at the stroke of midnight. Helaine and I kissed. She always gets choked up at New Year’s. It’s actually very sweet.

The three of us sat together and grazed the TV dial as the new year approached. Everyone station seems to be doing something special tonight.

Tony Orlando was performing in Atlantic City and it was live on Fox News Channel. Good lord – he’s the size of two houses! He and the band looked like poster children for ‘going through the motions.’

In his defense, how many times could you sing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” before going postal?

On NBC, Carson Daly was holding down the fort. Years ago, he was very nice to Steffie. I, in turn, will be nice to Carson. He’s very thin and I’m jealous.

MTV looked like a community access channel, albeit with good lighting. I have no idea who their acts were. I have less idea who their hosts were, except Steffie pointed to one and said, “That’s Perez Hilton.”

Oh, that’s what he looks like.

On ABC, Dick Clark was supported by Ryan Seacrest. You can see Dick’s mind is sharp, and he looks good, but it’s still painful to hear him speak.

Approaching midnight, he had trouble keeping up with the countdown to the ball drop. He actually dropped a number to get back in sync.

He has to have worked hard to get back to where he is. The problem is with me. I need to be more understanding. This is my weakness.

New Year’s Eve is a bittersweet night for Helaine and me. Most years we stayed at home, quietly spending the time together. One year, just after arriving in Connecticut, we went to a party and a former co-worker began to hit on my wife!

Our first New Year’s Eve together, back in Buffalo, we went to a party at our friend Phil’s apartment. Who knows why, but we had a fight. Neither of us remember the specifics. It was twenty four years ago tonight, and it was the closest we ever came to splitting up.

I like New Year’s Eve at home better.

NFL Network

Comcast has seen fit to give us the NFL Network on cable’s digital tier. It’s somewhere in the 160s or 170s – who can be sure?

What exactly will they do to fill February through July?

Yesterday, with the Eagles game not being shown in Connecticut, I tuned in hoping to find some post-game highlights. You’d think they’ve got the best access.

I stayed for a while, but never saw the Eagle’s clips. Helaine noted the in-studio coverage wasn’t very exciting, though that wasn’t my problem.

I can’t say I’ve ever seen a channel with this many commercials! It was comparable to MTV or the second half of a movie on TBS&#185.

I didn’t sit there with a stopwatch, so maybe I’m wrong, but that certainly was my perception. And it’s not like I’m anti-commercial. Commercials pay my salary.

We left and headed to something more established.

&#185 – Why is the first movie segment 20 minutes long and the last few around 90 seconds. It’s a rhetorical question – I do know the answer.

I’ve Got Antlers

It was really cold today – bitterly cold. Sometimes mentioning the wind chill factor is nothing more than hype. Today, you could feel every biting degree.

Sure, I hate the cold, but there’s an upside. It finally feels like we’re in the Christmas season, which is good.

Though we don’t observe Christmas, we enjoy participating in everyone else’s fun. Everyone seems to be in a good mood.

A few nights ago, Ann Nyberg, one of our news anchors, mentioned she’d seen a car with a big red nose and antlers! We all got a kick out of it.

Later, on the 11:00 PM news, Chris Kirby – our art director, fashioned an ‘artist’s rendering’ of what the car might have looked like… especially as the featured vehicle on MTV’s “Pimp My Sleigh Ride.”

Flash forward to today. Ann returned to her desk to find an antler/nose kit sitting there. She looked puzzled.

I told her, if she didn’t want it, I surely did. And so, my car now has antlers. They’re fitted with little plastic brackets that fit over the top edge of a car’s windows. It’s hysterical.

I will install the nose when it’s warmer… like in the garage at home.

MTV At 25

Today is MTV’s 25th birthday. It has not been mentioned on MTV! More on that in a second. VH-1 Classic, a digital subchannel with vastly inferior reach, carried the flag with flashbacks to 1981.

By the time MTV came on, I was already in Buffalo, hosting PM Magazine. I was envious, to say the least. Alas, even by then, I was probably too old for MTV.

Today’s MTV isn’t anything like the MTV of 25 years ago. There’s little music on Music Television. Much of the day is spent in MTV’s version of reality.

This was all presaged. I’m sure this wasn’t the first time it was uttered, but Bob Pittman is on the record five years ago, on CNN, saying:

We made a decision not to grow old with our audience. It’s the Peter Pan network.

So, to today’s audience, the MTV of 25 years ago doesn’t exist… or if it does, it’s too closely related to their (unhip) parents to be mentioned. A 25th anniversary of anything isn’t very important when you’re 16.

I remember sitting home with Helaine, in Buffalo, waiting for the premiere of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. It was a simpler time.

Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly uneasy with the lifestyle portrayals on MTV’s reality shows. I’ve called it soft core porn for teens. Maybe that’s an exaggeration – though not much of one. Certainly I was uneasy when my daughter watched them through high school.

I’d say more, but I don’t want to sound like an old guy railing at youth.

There are no more VJs – no more Martha Quinn or Mark Goodman. I suspect MTV’s still a major incubator of talent. It always has been. It is amazing to look at who’s gone far after leaving MTV.

Meanwhile, if you’re wondering about the originals, here’s a quick rundown from NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

Martha Quinn

After leaving MTV in 1990, Quinn stayed in television, working as both actor and anchor. In 2005, she joined Sirius Satellite Radio, where she hosts a weekly show, Martha Quinn Presents: Gods of the Big ’80s.

J.J. Jackson

Jackson returned to radio in Los Angeles after his stint on MTV. He was host for a number of successful radio programs before he suffered a fatal heart attack in March 2004. He was 62.

Alan Hunter

Since his 1987 departure from MTV, Hunter formed a production company, Hunter Films, with his brother Hugh and co-founded the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in Birmingham. He is currently a host on Sirius Satellite Radio’s 80s music channel.

Nina Blackwood