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Nickelodeon’s New “Family” Program: Glenn Martin, DDS



“[Glenn Martin] is obviously irreverent…It is maybe the most adult half hour that Nickelodeon has done.” – Glenn Martin DDS creator and former Disney CEO Michael Eisner (suite101.com, August 16, 2009)


Since its debut in 1981, the Nickelodeon cable and satellite network has been devoted to programming for children. From its early comedy shows like You Can’t Do That On Television to its recent success with the cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants, over its 25+ years Nick has become established as the only serious rival of the Disney Channel for the title of premiere source of entertainment for kids. And beginning in 1985, Nickelodeon devoted its prime-time schedule to family-friendly programming under the title Nick at Nite. Originally devoted to reruns of classic TV shows like I Love Lucy, The Donna Reed Show and The Adventures of Superman, as TV historian David Hofstede has noted for many years it was “possible to watch Nick at Nite from 8 p.m. into the wee hours and not see something that could be objectionable to some viewers.”


Over time, both Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite coarsened to small degrees. The Nickelodeon cartoon series Ren and Stimpy initially caused some concern due to its unattractive animation style and bizarre, non-sequitor comedy, and some parents objected to the way parents and family life were portrayed on the cartoon Rugrats; while Nick at Nite has moved away from its purely family orientation to show more adult-oriented comedy series like All in the Family, Taxi and Roseanne. Yet when Nick at Nite began to feature this more mature programming, it also moved its start time up to 9 p.m. ET; and both Nickelodeon’s cartoons and Nick at Nite’s shows, though objectionable to some, were at least arguably still within the realm of appropriate entertainment.   


Until now.


On August 19, Nick at Nite saw the debut of its new “family comedy” series Glenn Martin, DDS. Most of the attention given the new series in the press has focused on the innovative technical aspects of the animated “claymation” style used in the show’s production. But given little attention has been the program’s focus on sexual content, graphic violence, and scatological humor – themes totally inappropriate for a family program on a network aimed at children.


“It’s a dysfunctional family, and it’s along the same lines of Family Guy.” – Glenn Martin DDS star Kevin Nealon (PremiumHollywood.com, August 31, 2009)


Glenn Martin, DDS follows the title dentist and his family as they travel about the country in their RV. After their house burns down Glenn takes his wife Jackie, their son Conor (described on the Nickelodeon website as “Glenn and Jackie’s dim-witted 13-year-old son. What he lacks in intelligence, he makes up in raging hormones,”) and their 11-year-old would-be business magnate daughter Courtney on a cross-country road trip. Along for the ride are Courtney’s stereotyped Asian  “executive assistant” Wendy, and the family dog Canine – whose defining characteristic is his gigantic anus, shown prominently in every episode. Yet beyond the characters, it is the extremely graphic “humor” to which the show puts them which is disturbing.


For example, in the first episode shown, “Circus,” Conor finds work at a carnival. First, Conor attempts to throw daggers at a performer as part of an act. Instead, he hurls a knife into the knife-thrower’s eye, where blood is shown gorily dripping down from the wound. Next, a clown who is smoking a cigarette throws a bucket of confetti at Conor. Conor throws a bucket of gasoline at the clown, who catches on fire and burns to death. Finally, Conor finds his calling: as he sweeps up elephant dung, the elephant approaches and sits on him. Conor is repeatedly shown with his entire head shoved up the animal’s rectum, as the elephant grins and trumpets in delight. As Conor dresses as a “fancy gentleman” and performs the act, audience members are graphically shown vomiting into their popcorn. In an unrelated subplot, Jackie begins body-building and becomes sexually aggressive with Glenn, in one scene throwing him onto a bed, stripping off his clothes and ordering him to “shut up and grab the headboard!”  Later, Glenn sneaks away in his underwear. When Jackie bellows, “I’m not through with you!” Glenn responds, “I need twenty minutes and an ice pack.” While these incidents are disgusting to read about, no words can convey the nausea induced by the sight of a character – even a claymation one – with his head shoved into an elephant’s rectum, or the graphic nature of the vomit which gushes freely from characters’ mouths.


But this was merely the first episode.  Less than a week later on August 24, Glenn Martin DDS subjected viewers to the episode “We’ve Created a Mobster,” in which Wendy and Courtney come across a sign that invites "Ladies: Make Money Fast!" a slogan sure to appeal to budding businesswoman Courtney. Entering the building, seductive dance music is heard and a silhouette of a woman removing her clothes is seen, suggesting a strip club. Offscreen, a man is heard cheering, Yeah, work it baby! Whooo!” as an announcer says, “Let's hear it for the beautiful Shantelle!”  The 11-year-old Courtney pushes her friend Wendy forward, admonishing her, “The secret is changing your name. That way it's not you up there.”  Wendy protests, “But I'm just a little girl.” This fact carries no weight with Courtney – nor did it with Glenn Martin’s creative staff, despite the fact that many of the show’s presumed viewers were the same age. But then, why wouldn’t a children’s network like Nickelodeon show 11-year-olds scenes of children their own age becoming strippers?  


In the event, it turns out that this particular setting is not actually a strip club – but is an arena for female boxers, who are shown beating one another (and Conor, dressed up as a girl) bloody. But naturally, the episode does contain strippers in it somewhere. A Mafia don hires Glenn to fix his tooth, resulting in Glenn and Jackie encountering Mafiosi watching a stripper wearing a provocative outfit with handcuffs around her waist, swinging around a pole. Introduced to Mafia members in a club, Glenn asks them if the women with them are their wives. A mobster berates him, “Don’t talk about our wives in front of the whores!” Glenn also encounters a woman named Crystal – “No relation to Billy Crystal, although I have faked an orgasm in a diner," she tells him. The episode also features various mobsters subjecting their victims to graphic beatings, immolation and submersion in a piranha tank.


And so it has gone, from  “A Bromantic Getaway,” in which Conor consults a spirit guide in search of “major boobage” (the spirit offers Conor clarity, to which Conor replies, “I don't need clarity. I need Serenity -- and I need to see her naked!” When his request is granted, the spirit guide tells Conor to “get up on that”), to “From Here to Fraternity” with its "Pizza Ass" restaurant (its logo features a woman displaying her backside), its sorority house occupied by elderly women (when one older woman opens her bathrobe to display a bikini, a nurse vomits through her hands onto the floor), and a charming mother-daughter conversation between Jackie and Courtney:


Courtney: “I heard she's a Delta, so she's probably pregnant.”


Jackie: “They are sluts.”


“Glenn Martin, DDS is pretty much laugh-free…You know you’re in for a bumpy ride when the first joke has to do with killing prostitutes. By the time you get to the joke about Amish dentistry — ‘It was a blood bath, Jackie. Worse than the Weinbergs’ bris, remember? The rabbi with Parkinson’s?’ — it’s time to pull over.” – TV critic Mike Hale (The New York Times, August 16, 2009)


And this is just a brief sampling of Glenn Martin, DDS’ content – content Nickelodeon has consistently rated TV-PG, which the entertainment industry defines as programming “parents may want to watch with their younger children.” Indeed, Nickelodeon President Cyma Zarghami has explicitly stated that Glenn Martin, DDS is the perfect vehicle to bring the younger Nickelodeon audience together with adult Nick at Nite viewers. “This show is going to walk the line between what's appropriate for Nick at Nite and what's typical for Nickelodeon…the hope is that it will bring the right Nickelodeon kids to the show who will then bring their parents and level off with the right mix of viewers,” she said in Multichannel News.


Boasting that Nickelodeon is “more qualified than ever to wrap our arms around this current generation of kids,” Zarghami explained that the network has “been hearing from our audience a lot about how parents and kids are wanting to spend more time together.” Nick’s solution? Glenn Martin DDS. Calling the show “an innovative take on the modern American family,” Zarghami has stated that, if successful, Glenn Martin “has the potential to be a definitional program in Nick at Nite's lineup of family comedies,” and could spark similar programs on the network.  Zarghami added that she is not concerned that the show will be too edgy for Nickelodeon viewers, since other cable networks offer even more mature content at 8 p.m.


Unfortunately for Nickelodeon, most audiences seem to be resisting Glenn Martin’s putative charms. A glance at the show’s Internet Movie Database page reveals viewer comments like “terrible, terrible trash,” “worst show ever!” and “a new low for Nick.”  Of course, even if families (wisely) choose not to watch Glenn Martin DDS, their monthly cable or satellite subscription fees are still paying for it. And Nickelodeon has ordered 20 episodes of the show, with only the first half-dozen or so have been played thus far – meaning that families have many more similar episodes which the cable industry will force them to support.


But even more astonishing than Zarghami’s approbation (after all, Cyma Zarghami not only is president of Nickelodeon, but also heads up the oxymoronically-named MTV Kids and Family Group – both Nick and MTV being owned by media giant Viacom) is that of the show’s creator Michael Eisner. Once head of Paramount Studios and responsible for such family-friendly TV programs as Happy Days and Family Ties, Eisner is far better known for his two-decade stint as CEO of the Walt Disney Company. That the former head of Disney could possibly consider the content of Glenn Martin, DDS as appropriate for children is enough to give any parent pause…as one simple anecdote will demonstrate.


Michael Eisner has stated that, in conceptualizing Glenn Martin‘s dog Canine, he modeled the character on a dog owned by a real-life friend of his. The friend’s dog, said Eisner, had a rear end that was “beyond disgusting.” “When the dog was in the room, you just couldn’t even look at the dog because you would be obsessed with this part of the anatomy…So I just wanted this dog in a television show,” revealed Eisner. It likely would not occur to most parents to put a dog with a, “beyond disgusting” anal cavity on a program aimed at families and children; but then, most parents aren’t former Disney executives.


The New York Times reports that Nickelodeon commemorated Eisner’s “inspiration” by handing out plastic toy dogs that excrete brown jelly beans. A more appropriate metaphor for Glenn Martin DDS – and Nickelodeon's new direction in "family" entertainment -- can hardly be imagined.


“The man who ran Disney for two decades and the woman running the supposedly kid-friendly Nick at Nite have both apparently taken leave of their senses...[Glenn Martin’s] colorful animation is enough to attract the kids who watch Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite. And when they tune in, they'll get a bunch of sex jokes, some racism, mocking of religion, violence, and have the opportunity to hear words like ‘whore’ tossed around.” – TV critic Scott D. Pierce (Deseret News, August 14, 2009)


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


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