TV sleaze and Oprah's 'Beloved'

Some thoughts as you rewarm the bird and pass around the pumpkin pie:

Steve Allen, the gifted comedian, songwriter, and pioneer of late-night talk TV, is on a campaign against what he sees as the collapsing standards of good taste on the tube. In newspaper ads he's urging citizens to write "simple, fair, nonthreatening letters" to TV executives urging them to clean up shows "desensitizing an entire nation to killing, violence, promiscuous sex, and vulgarity."

"I was one of the original envelope-pushers" on TV, he told Noel Holston of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune earlier this month. "But it was totally without vulgarity and sleaze. Anything that was noteworthy or a breath of fresh air in our shows had to do with philosophical points, political points, social points. It was never about saying four-letter words."

Oprah Winfrey's film "Beloved," the story of a black woman and her family in post-Civil War Ohio, has been a disappointment at the box office. (It cost about $55 million to make and has earned about $22 million so far.) But it's still a film landmark as a collaboration between two black women. Ms. Winfrey produced the movie from a novel by Toni Morrison. "It was truly an honor to write that check as one Black woman to another," Winfrey writes in the December issue of Essence magazine. "No agents. No lawyer. No negotiations."

"Beloved" is "already a success to me," Winfrey says, "cause my whole life is about lifting myself up and bringing along everybody else I can. I give it as a gift."

It follows another serious drama about African-Americans, "Amistad," that failed to draw viewers last year despite being directed by Steven Spielberg.

Update: Agnes Grossmann, the artistic director of the Vienna Choir Boys, whom we profiled Nov. 20, resigned this week, citing differences with the board of directors. She wanted to reduce the number of concerts and allocate more time for the boys' schooling and leisure. "I think it is important for children to have more joy in life," she told Monitor contributor Julia Meehan in Vienna following her resignation.

From late-night TV: "This year's list of the 10 worst holiday toys is out, and one of the items is a feather boa kids can play dress-up with. Safety experts want a tag attached to the feather boa that says, 'Danger, this item could cause your child to become governor of Minnesota.' "

- Conan O'Brien on the political success of flamboyant pro wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura

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