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PBS makes a funny

Published Oct. 6, 2005

Karen Doyne has a fairly severe case of the giggles. Shhh, Karen! Your colleagues might hear you!

At her Alexandria, Va. office, that pillar of propriety called PBS, jocularity can be frowned upon. Tut-tut, this is public television, after all.

"Public television is often accused of being humor-impaired," she says. "We can make jokes."

Of course, PBS can be funny, despite the old stereotype that headquarters is filled with Oxford dons and Alistair Cooke-clones.

Proof is the lastest release from Doyne's office about PBS's March pledge drive. The director of national press relations fashioned a wry "Top 10" reasons to give money to PBS, as if a passel of specials weren't enough.

"We decided to have a little fun with it," she said.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, from the home office in Alexandria, Va., I hold here in my hand the Top 10 Reasons to Support Public Television.

10. If Barney goes off the air, you'll have to talk to your kids.

9. For every $500 pledge, David Frost will spend a half-hour in the purple suit.

8. Mister Rogers needs a new sweater. (Next year: sneakers.)

7. So your adult kids can learn about exotic, far away places _ and leave home.

6. Call during The Civil War and win a free haircut with producer Ken Burns.

5. Would you rather we air Hooked on Phonics ads?

4. The worst violence in PBS is when Robert MacNeil's tie clashes with his suit.

3. Could you find tote bags this attractive on QVC?

2. No Bobbitt- Harding- Menendez reunion concert.

and the No. 1 reason to support PBS:

1. Next season on Mystery!: Prime Suspect 4: The Tonya Harding Story.

David Letterman would be proud. (But will David Frost really wear the Barney suit?)

ROSEY RATINGS: The Roseanne Arnold Kiss Controversy yielded big numbers for ABC Tuesday night. According the overnight ratings in 32 major markets, Roseanne won the time period handily over the Grammy Awards, with a 22.7 rating. Locally, Roseanne also won its time slot with a 21 rating. Each ratings point equals about 900,000 television homes, according to the A.C. Nielsen Co.

Tampa Bay's ABC affiliate, WTSP-Ch. 10, received about 200 phone calls Tuesday, with 125 against the show. On Wednesday, another dozen callers protested. When Vice President Barbara Sobocinski, who took many of the calls, asked why they were offended, she was surprised.

"At least half hadn't even seen it," she said Wednesday.

If they had, they would have seen a gem. As racy as it sounded _ with Roseanne getting a kiss from sexy Mariel Hemingway _ the episode was sincere and moving as the "cool" Roseanne realized she's not as liberal as she thought. "Well, I'm cool for a 41-year-old, mother-of-three from Lanford, Ill.," she concludes. Well-written, respectful of both heterosexual and homosexual lifestyles, the episode was also one of the funniest as Roseanne, sister Jackie and husband Dan struggled with the famous three-second kiss.

As for the kiss itself, one wonders why ABC protested _ and one clearly understands why Roseanne Arnold fought back. As taped, Hemmingway leans over in front on the camera to kiss Roseanne, her head and hair blocking the shot. (Thus the actual "kiss" was shielded.) So tame was the scene, I checked with ABC to make sure it hadn't been re-edited. Steve Battaglio, ABC director of media relations, confirmed that Tuesday's smooch was the original.

In a show where Dan and Roseanne's love life is far more explicit (and sometimes more offensive), ABC freaked out more than Roseanne did.

The series gets an A. The Network, a C (for cowardice).

HULA HELLO: New on television tonight is Byrds of Paradise, a Stephen Bochco family drama about a widower who decides the only way to recover from his wife's death is to move the family to Hawaii. Timothy Busfield (thirtysomething) stars in the oft-smarmy series of only so-so quality. Unlike NYPD Blue, where characters get naked in sub-zero New York, the Byrd family stays clothed on the beaches of Waikiki. Book 'em Dano. Bochco needs to get back to mainland.

Tonight at 8 on WTSP-Ch. 10. Pilot Grade: C