Picks and Pans Review: Video Vice

updated 08/18/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/18/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

We visit cable's extremes: the Playboy Channel, then briefly the Disney Channel.

THE PLAYBOY CHANNEL

You can't claim that you watch it for the articles. There is but one reason to subscribe to Playboy's cable network, and it's not entertainment, art or intellectual stimulation. It's flesh. Without the staples.

The network pulls out its rabbit ears every night at 8 p.m. ET, runs for five hours, then repeats itself for another five. Playboy had 675,000 viewers last year (paying up to $10 each); this year that's down to 650,000. A growth industry it's not—and for good reason. When you turn on (pardon the expression) the channel, your first 10 seconds of viewing may be slightly shocking; it's not every day you see a 19-inch (measured diagonally) naked breast. In the minutes that follow, though, the watching becomes funny, then quickly boring, then plain pathetic.

The Playboy Channel has most everything any other network has. It has movies. With titles like All-American Girls in Heat, many of them are X-rated flicks excised of their X, softened at their hard cores. But I didn't bother watching those (honest, Mom).

Instead, I watched the shows. The Great American Strip-Off is the most revealing—not necessarily of skin or sin but of psyches. Lyle (The Carol Burnett Show) Waggoner, the tuxedoed emcee, introduces allegedly average Americans as he leers and says things like, "She has big things ahead of her!" You meet a water-skiing secretary who likes animals and wants to be a veterinarian. She takes her clothes off. You meet an actor and pizza cook ("You may look at it as a pizza, I don't; I look at it as a specialty") whose idol is Sylvester Stallone. He takes his clothes off, down to his G-string. While they undress to disco ditties, a camera under a transparent stage peeks up at them. David Letterman has his Monkey-Cam. Playboy has the Butt-Cam.

There are R-rated renditions of magazine shows: Lifestyles of the Randy and Sleazy. America Uncovered visits a Miss Nude Canada contest and meets women wrestlers who show their bruised breasts to the camera. Electric Blue reports on prostitutes as if they were just entrepreneurs and gives you a travelogue to topless resorts. Sexcetera tries to look like Entertainment Tonight. The show's clean-cut, Stepford-like host and hostess visit a nudist condo and a topless donut shop ("Andy claims his customers are more interested in coffee cups than C-cups"). And they answer the age-old question: Should athletes make love before the big game? Sexcetera poses the query to celebrities (Bubba Smith says it's okay) and gives you factoids: Making love takes about as much energy as walking up two flights of stairs. So much for thinking of sex as exercise.

Playboy had a token educational show: Love Skills, in which Barbie and Ken do it in the flesh. It has a miniseries in which Britt Ekland takes off her clothes, sleeps with her daughter's boyfriend and generally makes the acting in those porno flicks I didn't watch look good. And it has a talk show, Women on Sex, in which guests answer Freud's question, "What does a woman want?" In detail.

For comedy there's Playboy Candid Camera, unclothed, and Playboy Comedy Theatre. In one episode of Comedy Theatre, I saw those liberal jesters of yesteryear, Tom and Dick Smothers, play host and laugh at a particularly offensive racist joke. Play taps once more for the good ole '60s. Then there are specials. A 24th-birthday special for the Playboy Clubs brings you the likes of Jackie Vernon, Slappy White and Shecky Greene, the kind of comics who introduce each other saying, "You're terrific. Ya look good. I love ya." Vegas on video.

And, of course, you meet Playmates. You see them palling around with their kid sisters. You see them contorting for cameras—"The pictures were done with such taste," says one. You see a Bunny getting out of her tub, leaving the bathwater crystal clear; these women—oops, they call themselves "girls"—really are squeaky clean. And you hear a Playmate of the Year say: "Mr. Hefner is the most wonderful man I've ever met." So here is one bit of news you get from watching Playboy: It is true that Playmates really do breathe. Not much, but they do.

The problem with all this isn't really that it's sick—even if it is sometimes sickening. No, the problem is that it's sad. Sad to see people making asses of themselves showing their asses. Sad to see sex, the original form of entertainment, made to look so anachronistically, insipidly, sexistly silly.

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