Prepare to be challenged.
Michael Moore knows that's not how it's usually done; watching TV can be about as challenging as taking a shower. But Moore, a documentary filmmaker who delights in skewering the arrogant and powerful, thinks people want something from their televisions besides a continuous supply of mind candy.
"I think that's why the challenging shows are in the top 10 every week and the stupid shows are in the bottom 10," says Moore, whose latest effort, a half-hour weekly series dubbed "The Awful Truth," makes its debut at 9 p.m. Sunday on Bravo. "I think that people want more intelligent television, and they're not getting it, because Hollywood thinks that they're stupid.
"I think people like it when they sense that you think they're smart. Even if they don't understand all the Upper West Side references on 'Seinfeld,' they like the show and they like the feeling that this show thinks that they're going to get it."
Those who have come to cherish Moore's attacks on banality, pomposity and other worthy targets should feel right at home with "The Awful Truth." As he has since releasing his first documentary film, "Roger & Me," in 1989, Moore likes nothing more than calling big business to task for cavalierly ruining people's lives. In "Roger & Me," he took on General Motors and its chairman, Roger Smith, for essentially abandoning his hometown of Flint, Mich. In "The Awful Truth," he vilifies the Humana HMO for refusing to pay for a pancreas transplant for a terminally ill man.
And like his earlier TV series, the Emmy-winning "TV Nation," which aired on NBC and (later) Fox from 1994 to 1996, "The Awful Truth" will go after a few targets each week. Besides the piece on Humana, Sunday's debut has Moore taking a band of "Puritans" to Washington, where he promises they'll conduct a witch hunt for far less than the $40 million spent by special prosecutor Ken Starr while investigating President Clinton.
Moore admits his pieces "might make [viewers] feel sometimes uncomfortable." But that, he says, is the point -- the challenge.
And the results are hilarious, at least if you think like Moore, who makes no effort to hide his distinctly leftward leanings. Conservatives may find little to praise in a piece that finds the Starr investigation only slightly less ridiculous than the Salem witch hunts; with Moore, how funny you find his antics depends to a great extent on whose ox is being gored.
But the indisputable fact is, there's nothing else like this on TV. And whether you cry foul when Moore asks Congressman Bob Barr about licking whipped cream off the chests of two buxom women at a charity event, or think it's hilarious when Moore and his "Puritans" roam the halls of the U.S. Capitol searching for sinners, you have to admit one thing. Moore is a brave man.
Even braver now, perhaps, than during his earlier stints on NBC and Fox. Why? Because on the 12 shows he's prepared for Bravo, Moore gets to do pretty much what he wants. The new show "is very similar in spirit" to "TV Nation," Moore says. But this version "is without the filter of the network's Standards and Practices people. In other words, it comes to you uncensored."
How does that change things? In a future show, Moore reveals, he and some friends take a road trip down South. "I drive a big Winnebago full of gay gays. It's called the Sodomobile. That wouldn't have been on the networks."
And what does Michael Moore hope to accomplish with all this? Well, there are the direct victories, like getting Humana to change its mind and pay for the guy's new pancreas (but only after he and Moore show up at the HMO's office to hand out invitations to the man's pending funeral).
Beyond that, Moore says, he'll be happy if just 5 percent of his audience accepts the challenge and does "something, whatever it is. Go to the PTA meetings, run for the school board, write a letter to the editor. Just anything. I don't care what it is, just give a damn and take advantage of this incredible democratic right you have to have your voice heard."
Even if you don't get to have it heard on national TV.
Some Murrow Awards
Baltimore fared pretty well in the 1999 Regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for excellence in electronic journalism. In a region that includes Delaware, D.C. and Virginia, Baltimore's WBAL-AM won in eight of 11 categories among large-market radio stations.
WBAL earned honors for overall excellence, continuing coverage, investigative reporting, news documentary, news series, sports reporting, use of sound and writing.
Among large-market TV stations, WBFF, Channel 45, won for newscast and use of video. Unfortunately for our civic pride, however, Washington won in five of the nine categories, with Virginia stations taking the other two.
Among small-market TV stations, Salisbury's WBOC won in three of eight categories: overall excellence, continuing coverage and feature reporting. No other small-market station won more than twice.
Time devoted to Kosovo
The Big Three evening newscasts devoted 75 percent of their airtime last week to the crisis in Kosovo -- the largest concentration of coverage since the 1991 attempted coup against Soviet chief Mikhail Gorbachev.
All told, the newscasts spent 215 minutes on the Kosovo fighting and refugee crisis, according to the Tyndall Report, a newsletter that tracks coverage. The Gorbachev reports totaled 255 minutes.
Combined, the three newscasts average about 285 minutes of news reporting a week.
The second-most-covered story last week, the indictment of four New York City cops in the killing of Amadu Diallo, totaled nine minutes of airtime on the three newscasts.
Sun wire services contributed to this article.
TV's top shows
Here are last week's top TV shows, according to A. C. Nielsen Co. figures:
1 NCAA Basketball Championship: Duke vs. UConn CBS 17.2
2 Sunday Movie: The Secret Path CBS 14.7
3 Frasier NBC 12.6
3 (tie) Friends NBC 12.6
3 (tie) Touched by an Angel CBS 12.6
6 Jesse NBC 12.0
7 ER NBC 11.8
8 Drew Carey Show ABC 11.6
9 Dateline, Tuesday NBC 11.4
10 Prelude to a Championship CBS 11.2
10 (tie) Veronica's Closet NBC 11.2
12 Dateline, Friday NBC 11.0
13 20/20-Wednesday ABC 10.9
14 60 Minutes CBS 10.7
15 Dharma & Greg ABC 10.5
16 JAG CBS 10.3
17 The Norm Show ABC 10.1
17 (tie) Providence NBC 10.1
19 20/20-Friday ABC 10.0
The rating is the percentage of homes equipped with a TV in use.
Pub Date: 4/07/99