IN FEBRUARY, PRESIDENT CLINTON and television industry leaders agreed that by 1998, every TV set sold in the United States would come with a V-chip. This is a device that parents can use to block out objectionable programs they do not want their children to watch. But since the U.S. is a democracy, and children do have certain civil rights, shouldn't TV makers also be required to install a device that can be used to block out programs that kids find objectionable? Consider, for example, the VH1 chip, a device that could be implemented to block out the more stultifying material on the one cable channel that no one under the age of 21 could possibly bear to watch. VH1, of course, is MTV's elephant graveyard, where old music videos go to die. The channel's image as a cultural mausoleum is not new. When VH1 first came on the air in 1985, it tried to reach an older audience with bland performers like Lionel Richie. It did not succeed. Today it has a split personality: Some of the time it essays a halfhearted irony by playing dated videos from the one-hit wonders of the 1980s or ancient clips from American Bandstand; the rest of the time it serves up a mixture of Phil Collins, Gloria Estefan, Bruce Hornsby, Hootie & the Blowfish and Mariah Carey—a Middle of the Road Murderer's Row. VH1 also recycles its programming endlessly, constantly rebroadcasting contrived events such as its VH1 Honors awards ceremony, in which hosts like Oliver Stone, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams explain how to make the world a better place, while Bryan Adams and Don Henley butcher Leonard Cohen songs. The most amazing thing about watching these reruns is that each time the show comes on, Peter Gabriel's voice seems to get a little flatter and Michael Stipe seems to get even sulkier. On the subject of recycling, VH1 has plans to screen "classic" rock-oriented movies such as The Rose, starring hard-rockin' Bette Midler, this summer. This is your last warning, kids: Activate that VH1 chip or get out of the house!

TBS (Sun., June 2 at 7 p.m. ET)

B

In this six-hour C&W lovefest (which continues on June 9 and 16 at 7 p.m. ET), everyone who's dead gets eulogized by everyone who's half dead, and everyone who's half dead gets eulogized by whoever else happens to have a big hat handy. There's some great footage of Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, George Jones, etc., but in this homage to an idiom that has never been shy about patting itself on the back, it would have been nice to hear a discouraging word or two about the current homogenization of country music. Yet the closest anyone comes to criticizing all those bland drugstore cowboys who've driven the old-timers off the charts is Haggard: "I hear a lot of people in tune, and I hear a lot of perfect records, but I don't hear a lot of emotion." As usual, Merle sounds the right note.

Fox (Mon., June 3, 9 p.m. ET)

C

Three twentysomething guys share a house and cottage in Anchorage with a gorgeous female from L.A. They watch Yogi Bear, they wear flannel shirts, they hit on their roommate, they hang out in a bar. Frigid Friends'? Northern Overexposure! Four's Company? Patrick Labyorteaux is okay as a computer nerd, as are walk-ons by a quirky pizza guy and a quirky Native American, but this assembly-line job has little else to recommend it.

PBS (Mon., June 3, 9 p.m. ET)

B

Dance in America celebrates its 20th anniversary with a one-hour greatest hits program on Great Performances. Enlivened by astute commentary from Agnes DeMille, Jerome Robbins, Alvin Ailey and other legendary choreographers, plus memorable performances by Mikhail Baryshnikov, Natalia Makarova and Rudolf Nureyev, the program amounts to a crash course in recent dance. Joanne Woodward narrates.

>The O.J. Simpson Video

JUICE'S SCOTCHED TAPE

WHEN O.J. SIMPSON SPOKE AT THE Oxford Union two weeks ago, he drew an overflow crowd and found many a receptive ear. But back home, most of the public has been decidedly unwilling to fork over $29.95 for O.J. Simpson: The Interview, the 2½ hour video Simpson released last February, in which he asserts that "the world of Faye Resnick" was involved in the deaths of his wife and Ron Goldman. A mere 40,000 tapes have been sold, estimates Steve Dworman, president of the Infomercial Marketing Report: "To describe it as a colossal failure would not be a stretch." (Dworman notes, however, that the video probably cost less than $150,000 to produce and should be in the black.) By comparison, a Weather Channel video, The Chase, has sold 75,000-100,000 units in the past year, and there are wildlife tapes that reach the 30,000 mark in one week via TV spots. But it's precisely the lack of TV exposure that has hurt The Interview's sales, says Simpson video producer Tony Hoffman. A few local stations and Black Entertainment Television have accepted his ads, but cable networks have refused them. "We've been boycotted," he claims. (CNBC says it was a "management decision" not to air the ads; Court TV claims no ad was ever delivered for review.) As for over-the-counter sales, major video outlets, such as Blockbuster, have decided against stocking the tape, though Blockbuster does carry Simpson trial videos from CNN and Court TV, because, says spokesman Wally Knief, "they are not controversial." At Vidiots in Santa Monica, a few miles from Simpson's estate, retail buyer Meg Johnson hasn't had any requests for the video. "Everyone has had their fill of it," she says.

  • Contributors:
  • Lorenzo Benet.