The news that Howard Stern, renowned for taking talk radio to new lows, will this summer be given a late-night slot on CBS television should leave Americans speechless. What is their 50-year relationship with TV coming to?
Mr. Stern is gaining access to living rooms coast to coast under plenty of cover. With offerings like "The Jerry Springer Show," the profane cartoon feature "South Park," and pro wrestling getting top ratings, will anyone notice the TV debut of Stern's foul brand of humor?
Parents should. It indicates a further inroad of tastelessness - one more element, no matter how late-night and fringy, to keep in mind as they try to exercise some control over what their children watch.
There was a time, scarcely a generation ago, when those who planned and produced TV shows shared in that control. The networks had codes that attempted to define standards of good taste. They cared about offending viewers and, of course, advertisers. Now the code seems to be, the worse taste the better.
There should be a middle ground, which acknowledges changes in what the public will tolerate without jettisoning all standards.
Sporadically, Congress rouses itself to chastise the purveyors of mass entertainment. The V-chip is voted in. Ratings for television shows are debated, devised, and debated again.
Just how concerned are Americans about what can now enter their homes through the wildly diversifying medium of television?
The people who produce the shows say they're only giving us what we want. If we the viewers don't agree with that, we'd better let them know - through the off button, protests, and praise for what we consider worthwhile television.