Crying all the way to the bank

First up, a disclaimer: I’ve seen about one half of one episode of American Idol, when Ayla Brown — the daughter of a prominent Massachusetts Republican state senator and a Boston TV journalist — was on. That was the night she was cut, so I didn’t watch any longer. Other than that, everything I know about the show I’ve learned from blogs and other second-hand coverage — and even then I’m not really interested.

Last night, I was about to shut off the TV when I heard a “teaser” that Howard Stern’s “Vote For The Worst” move to “sabotage” American Idol and keep the worst performer — some goofball named Sanjaya Malakar (which, apparently, is the Hindu translation of “William Hung”) — on as long as they can, while more “worthy” singers are voted off, might be illegal.

That sounded absurd, so I kept the TV on and listened from another room. Eventually, the “legal experts” came on and expounded their theory: that Stern and his listeners are “interfering” with a commercial enterprise, and are damaging the financial viability of Fox’s highest-rated show.

To which I reply: so what?

Stern and his lackeys and minions are doing exactly what Fox is asking them to do: call a phone number and cast a vote for the singer they want to keep on the show. Their motivations are utterly irrelevant.

In fact, Fox is probably profiting from the whole thing. Callers pay for each phone call, and there hasn’t been this much buzz about the show before. In fact, it’s probably brought out a certain “crossover” effect, as some Stern listeners might actually tune in the show just to see if Sanjaya is as horrible as people say, while Idol fans might go seeking out Stern just to hear what he — and others — are saying about the show in general.

As far as Fox being concerned or offended or injured by the whole foofaraw, all I have to say is it couldn’t happen to a more deserving network.

I’ve watched some Fox shows. “Bones,” for one. I also loved “Married With Children,” once I realized that the show as little more than a live-action cartoon — and a brilliant one.

But the Fox Television Network is also the network that has done more to befoul the airwaves than any other broadcast network. Remember such classic shows as “Temptation Island,” where couples were enticed to cheat? “Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire,” which blended those two great institutions, gold-digging and prostitution? Not to mention such highly educational nature documentaries as “When Animals Attack,” parts one through whatever. And that’s just off the top of my head.

Fox is also known as “The Network Where Good Sci Fi Goes To Die.” They had — and killed off — such shows as Millenium, Space: Above And Beyond, Brimstone, Tru Calling, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Futurama, and Firefly.

Oh, Firefly. I could devote a whole article to that one. In fact, I think I did, at least once.

Fox had all the ingredients of a smash hit there. They got Joss Whedon, the genius behind Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, gave him a whole bunch of money, and told him to make the show he always wanted to make. He gave them a sci-fi western unlike anything ever seen before, a fantastic ensemble cast, and quite frankly some of the best-written and crafted television seen in a very, very, very long time.

And Fox did every single thing they could think of to kill it. They rejected the pilot and gave Whedon a weekend to write a new one. They bumped it off the schedule at a whim. They showed the episodes completely out of order. And, to add insult to injury, after they announced they were cancelling it, they aired the original two-part pilot — as the very last episodes aired. The whole experience pretty much ruined TV for Whedon, and the success of the “Serenity” movie was a huge F-U to Fox — and they had it coming.

Last year, I think, there were complaints that Idol was too “mean” in its opening rounds to the contestants, prolonging and exacerbating what apparently is called “the freak show” phase. Could this be a backlash to that?

I don’t know, and quite frankly, I don’t care. For most of its existence, Fox has been more than content to plumb the depths of the public sensibilities, to survive as a bottom-feeder on the basest, crassest, most exploitative elements they can get on the air. That people even more tasteless and vile are now turning on Fox is a delicious irony. It’s like the old saying about mud wrestling with a pig.

I think I’ll nuke up some popcorn and watch — from a safe distance, of course. “When Cretins Attack Cretins” could be the next big hit for Fox.

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