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FX Wallows in Dirt

by Christopher Gildemeister

 

Having already tarnished the image of police officers (The Shield), firefighters (Rescue Me) and plastic surgeons (Nip/Tuck) by showing the practitioners of those occupations as foul-mouthed, sex-crazed, and hopelessly corrupt neurotics, last season the FX basic cable network found another occupation to exploit: tabloid journalism. While the world of tabloids is seamy enough to be a ripe target for such treatment, in the tradition of FX original programming the aptly-named new show Dirt was larded with even more tawdry sex and violence than likely occurs even in the real Hollywood.

 

Dirt, now in its second season, premiered in January 2007. The show stars former Friends actress Courteney Cox as Lucy Spiller, the cold-hearted editor of Dirt Now magazine. In much the same way that Hollywood invariably rewards actresses for playing prostitutes, seeming to regard the degradation of playing a tawdry streetwalker as a brilliant artistic achievement (Jane Fonda won an Oscar for Best Actress for Klute,1971; Jodie Foster, nominated Best Supporting Actress for Taxi Driver, 1976; Julia Roberts, nominated Best Actress for Pretty Woman, 1990; Mira Sorvino, won Best Supporting Actress for Mighty Aphrodite, 1995; Sharon Stone, nominated Best Actress for Casino, 1995; Elisabeth Shue, nominated Best Actress for Leaving Las Vegas, 1995; Kim Basinger, won Best Supporting Actress for L.A. Confidential, 1997; Charlize Theron, won Best Actress for Monster, 2003), so too Courteney Cox apparently believed that the best way to “outgrow” her image as Friends‘ chipper Monica Gellar and be taken for a “serious actress” was to star in a program which repeatedly showed her masturbating with a vibrator.

 

But Cox’s onscreen self-gratification was merely one small clod from the pile of Dirt offered by the series. In addition, viewers got to see a devoted family man and famous athlete being sodomized by a prostitute (January 2, 2007); a foot fetishist masturbating as young female reporter Willa “performs” for him, the severed head of a murdered man floating in a large wine bottle, a famous male action star receiving oral sex from another man, and a pair of gangsters binding editor Brent and threatening to cut off his penis, cook it and feed it to him (January 23, 2007); an extended storyline featuring a minister who sexually molests several teenage girls, including his own daughter (February 6, 2007); multiple drug-fueled sex orgies (February 13, 2007); Cox finding dominatrix gear in her elderly mother’s bedroom and discussing sado-masochistic sex with her parent (February 20, 2007); and Brent and Willa having a threesome with a teenage girl (March 6, 2007), in addition to multiple scenes throughout the series showing Cox having sex with various men and masturbating. 

 

After this parade of perversity, Dirt‘s producers decided to alter the program this season, making it lighter in tone. As a result, viewers have no longer been exposed to lengthy continued stories about child-molesting ministers, athletes engaging in anal sex and decapitated heads pickled in jars. Instead, the program has had to make do with the skewering of thinly-veiled imitations of real-life celebrities like Anna Nicole Smith, Paris Hilton and Alec Baldwin (this in spite of the fact that Courteney Cox said of the program, “We don’t ever intend to hurt anyone”). But lest anyone think Dirt has completely forsaken its previous tendencies, the season so far has also shown the imprisonment of continuing character Don in a Hollywood family’s sexual torture dungeon, another character setting himself on fire while doing drugs, and an extended discussion comparing the size of Brent’s penis to that of another man.

 

However, this season’s revamp has not helped Dirt. Multichannel News reports that Dirt now averages a mere 1.6 million viewers per week – a drop of 25% since last year. And the drop is even more extreme among the program’s desired 18-34 demographic.

 

This drop in viewership may represent the disdain of a tiny minority of cable viewers, who relished the “edgy” graphic sex, violence and non-stop profanity of Dirt‘s first season, and who have voiced their disappointment that the series is going in a “safer” and more mainstream direction. (Sexual sado-masochism dungeons and graphic discussions of penis size are apparently now “mainstream”…or at least, they would be so if cable’s so-called “creative” personnel had their way.)

 

Yet there is an even more obvious factor contributing to Dirt‘s low ratings: the fact that the overwhelming majority of cable subscribers neither watch Dirt, nor want to pay for it. This column previously documented the tremendous hunger on the part of viewers for clean, family-friendly programming. Yet the entertainment industry’s current practices unjustly force all cable subscribers to foot the bill for FX’s Dirt and similar programming.  If Hollywood would tear its attention away from tawdry sex and graphic violence and make programs that the majority of Americans want, they might find the improvement reflected in their ratings, the attention of advertisers, and their bottom line.  But if the entertainment industry continues to allow its love of the perverse to trump both common sense and the sentiments of its audience, they will find that the title of one of their programs is not the only thing wallowing in the Dirt.  

 


TV Trends: This column was compiled from reports by the Parents Television Council’s Analysis staff.


 

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