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The Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning critic blogs at TVWeek.com with wit, humor and strong opinion.

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Tom Shales


A Modest Proposal: NBC Should Put Leno in Prime Time

July 25, 2008 10:49 AM

Jay Leno has arguably never been funnier—but why argue about it? As the date approaches (albeit slowly) for his exit from NBC’s “Tonight Show,” Leno is reveling in the role of Peck’s Bad Boy, tweaking NBC executives in jokes and asides, as when during a “Headlines” segment he displayed had a typo that had him appearing on ABC—and jokingly called it “a headline from the future.”

Here is a plan by which NBC could hold on to Leno and still give Conan O’Brien the 11:35 spot he has been promised in 2009: Strip “Leno” Mondays through Fridays at 10 p.m., calling it “The Jay Leno Hour” or something other than “The Tonight Show” and preserving the format pretty much as it is now—the most important ingredient being Leno’s rock ’n’ rollick monologue, which appears to be the only part of the show he really cares about anyway. That is by far its best element.

NBC could move its few successful 10 o’clock shows to 9 o’clock, already having given the 8 o’clock hour over to game and reality shows—i.e., junk, if sometimes amusing junk. Putting Leno and his topical monologue in prime time would give it a potentially larger audience than any “Tonight Show” host has ever had, a great showcase, really, for a master monologist.

On the other hand, wouldn’t it be ironic if CBS decided to make Leno an offer for an 11:30 show on the grounds that Dave Letterman’s ratings stink a little more each year, and Letterman himself appears less and less interested in doing the show, and CBS honcho Les Moonves hates him anyway?

Letterman’s heart does not appear to be in his work, and the show is suffering from advanced torpor. Rumors have it that Letterman no longer bothers to drop by for rehearsals. His monologue is only three or four jokes long, perfunctorily read off cue cards. Then he sits lazily at a desk and introduces pretaped segments like “Great Presidential Speeches,” reading the intros off cue cards.

The show revolves around him, but he never seems very involved in it.

ABC reports that “Nightline,” even without the vaunted Ted Koppel, has been clobbering Letterman in the ratings this summer, both in the 25-54 demographic (admittedly not Letterman’s target audience) and in total viewers. For the record, Leno has slipped somewhat, too. It could be there are just too many late-night jokesters. And “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” get the jump on them with their scheduling on Comedy Central.

Potential solution: Give Leno the last hour of prime time each night Monday through Friday on NBC and see what happens. Costs would be lower than for a filmed, scripted, prime-time show and the profit margin way higher. And it might even make Leno happy, though, like all these late-night prima donnas, he exists largely to complain. Then again, so do critics (ahem).

See Ralphie Run

March 31, 2008 12:11 PM

Why is Ralph Nader running for president again? Critics of his bid for the ballot in 2000 complain that all he did was steal votes from Al Gore, and in such a close election, that could have made the decisive difference. Ironically enough, Democrats are more likely to be supporters of the consumer activist than Republicans are, although they are the ones who arguably benefited from his quixotic decision to run. Or was it? Quixotic, that is.

It could well be that Nader is running again for one main reason: To get on television. For years, Nader has complained—in conversations with me and, presumably, others—about the fact that TV talk shows no longer explore serious, socially relevant issues with intelligent, articulate guests such as—well, such as him.

Nader says that even Oprah Winfrey has largely abandoned the serious subjects, especially exposes of corporate wrongdoing and consumer abuse. Talk shows only want to deal in showbiz, gossip and melodramatic tales of children reunited with parents or babies found in dumpsters.

But the Equal Time provision of the Communications Act still survives, at least in part, and if Nader is a legally qualified candidate for president, he can demand time on debates and talk shows that play host to the other candidates; that would give Nader a platform for his various consumerist crusades.

Yes, Nader has an ego bigger than a Pinto, but the case can be made that he’s also been a stubbornly uncorrupted force for reform in America for three or four decades and that his desire to be on TV isn’t just vanity.

Michael Moore seems to have replaced Nader in the public eye by making entertaining documentaries and by turning himself into a star, albeit a less-than-photogenic one. But Nader is still active, still quick-witted, still full of determination. He is aghast at the way TV talk shows have trivialized issues. And he thinks it’s mildly insane that candidates use programs such as “Late Night With David Letterman” and “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” to make themselves look more personable and like good sports as a way of seducing voters.

Is Nader the first man to run for president because of the publicity value? Perhaps not. But we know he can’t expect to win, barring some peculiar miracle, and it’s fairly obvious what his major motive is: to be up there on stage (and screen) with Barack and Hillary and John and whoever else, talking about whatever he wants, just like he used to do when “Donahue” was still on the air and Nader was an annual visitor.

The development does lead to the following hypothetical discussion in Anyhome, USA:

“Do you want to be president when you grow up, Jimmy?"

“No, no, no. I want to be something important—like a TV star.”

“Well, you may have to run for president to do that.”

“Oh [expletive]! All right.”

When Good Networks Do Bad Things

February 11, 2008 10:47 AM

Of all cable and broadcast networks, Turner Classic Movies is the least offensive when it comes to slapping supers all over the screen—promos and logos and “Hi, Mom” and all that other crappy clutter. This is one network that tries not to beat its viewers over the head every two minutes with a “message” about something airing three weeks from Tuesday.

So it was disheartening the other night when, as part of its ongoing “31 Days of Oscar” series, TCM committed the sacrilege of running its TCM.com logo in the lower right-hand corner of the screen just as “2001: A Space Odyssey” reached its fantastic climax: The “star child” is heading toward Earth (or just doing a fly-by to wave hello) and Richard Strauss’ “Thus Spake Zarathustra” is booming away on the soundtrack and all the inscrutable stuff that preceded it starts to make sense.

Of all the possible moments in the three-hour film, this was the absolute worst to mar with a stupid logo.

Were we supposed to jump up from our TVs with two minutes to go in the movie and rush to a computer to behold the network’s Web site? Who’s the stupid idiot who would have authorized that kind of blunder? It didn’t seem the work of a computer because it wasn’t on the hour, half-hour or quarter-hour. It was simply placed where it would do the most harm to the film.

Years ago, in its early days, TCM ruined a showing of “Gone With the Wind” by keeping the parental-warning logo on-screen for the first 20 minutes of the film. What an infernal distraction that was. It was also obviously a glitch, a mistake, whereas the “2001” abuse seems more a matter of someone being mean, perverse, evil or just fantastically dumb. Maybe it was a Kubrick hater lurking in the works.

TCM is still the most elegant network on cable or maybe anywhere in domestic television. So it’s even more discouraging when it screws up. It sounds like a little thing, but if you’d been watching, you might well have been as angered as I was.

Cheap Shots Cheapen Airwaves

January 27, 2008 9:00 PM

Bad media drives out good; cheap cracks get more attention than serious discussion. “You can’t jump out of a cake on fire every day of the week,” Phil Donahue once said in assessing what he considered the limited staying power of manic Morton Downey Jr. But Donahue forgot that you don’t have to do it every day. To get attention in the new-media jungle, you need do it only once in a while to win the notoriety that people now equate with fame.

Some people even think “fame” and “infamy” mean exactly the same thing. And maybe by now those people are right, and the words are equals.

Occasionally the audience is just too touchy and its sensitivity antennae are extended too far. Hillary Clinton isn’t the easiest person in the world to defend—if one has an irresistible urge to do that—but her comment about LBJ putting into legislation the principles espoused by Martin Luther King Jr. was clearly not meant to slight Dr. King. It was at worst a case of imprecise language and of that old bugaboo (first defense of the guilty as well as the innocent) “being taken out of context.”

On the other hand, in fact the other arm: A case like that of John Gibson, high-haired and long-winded commentator on the windy Fox News Channel. Gibson’s offense was much more clear-cut and Gibson, who bears a certain facial resemblance to Roger Rabbit, seems utterly impossible to defend.

As you might possibly have heard … it happened last week on Gibson’s radio program. He was musing about the tragic death of young actor Heath Ledger, whose films included the iconoclastic Western “Brokeback Mountain.” Gibson played a clip from the film in which Ledger tells fellow cowboy Jake Gyllenhaal, “I wish I could quit you,” followed on the air by a chuckling Gibson pretending to address Gyllenhaal and saying, “Well, he found out how to quit you” after all.

In terms of bad taste it was comparable to the Washington, D.C., disc jockey who, on the day an airplane full of passengers, most of whom died, crashed into the 14th Street Bridge after takeoff from what is now Reagan National Airport, joked about new special fares from the airport into the Potomac River. The guy was fired but bounced back eventually on another station.

Gibson’s snide remark was said to have been offensive to Ledger’s friends and family and to gay leaders, groups, spokesmen, etc.—but why limit the number or nature of victims? You only have to be decent, fair-minded and civilized to find a young man’s death to be improper material for attempted hilarity, especially within hours of the body having been discovered. It’s not just sick, it’s sickening. Or as MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, a member of the Fox enemies’ list, said afterward, “This is about as callous and harsh as anything I ever heard.”

Joking about death is not unheard-of, by any means. David Letterman will often celebrate the demise of a despot by saying Saddam Hussein, or whoever, “should be arriving in Hell just about now.” It’s a Letterman perennial. One well may wince, but there are still gibes about the way in which such celebrities as Mama Cass expired—in her case, allegedly by choking on a sandwich, the way in which a fat person would least like to go.

Unfortunately, the standards on harshness and callousness have been stretched out of shape in the era of shock jocks, narrowcasting and niche cable channels. Remarks that once would have been unthinkable on a public medium have become fairly common. This is not, repeat not, a call for censorship nor in any way a commendation for our nit-witted FCC, self-appointed guardian of American morals. Potty-mouths, while maybe objectionable, are essentially harmless. But people who trash the dead to get a cheap laugh, and then dismiss anyone who objects as a bleeding-heart liberal, deserve no consideration or forgiveness.

Gibson, for the record, issued a facetious “apology” the next day: “I’m sorry some people were offended by my comments,” he said in a carefully worded statement. Note that Gibson wasn’t sorry he made the loutish remarks, only that some people took offense. The apology can be interpreted as blaming the offended rather than the offender; Gibson may well have been saying that it’s not his fault if the lily-livered or weak-kneed are irked by character assassination, bigotry and cruelty.

It appears Gibson also has trouble distinguishing movie stars from the roles they play, or that he is so narrow-minded that he not only hates homosexuals but also any actors who might play them. Ledger was, from all available evidence, heterosexual, but Gibson finds him fair game and guilty by association.

One expects cable TV’s and talk radio’s gallery of gabbers to take on topical stuff, but an actor dying from an apparent overdose of prescription drugs (unintentional, until proven otherwise) isn’t the kind of news item that most jesters feel obligated to joke and giggle about.

Even today, in 2008, there remain in place a few rules, even a few good manners. Gibson is, of course, a mere symbol of his time. Many of MTV’s reality shows encourage competitors to insult, defame and debase one another. Fox’s new hit “The Moment of Truth” makes entertainment out of invading privacy—the nastier and more hurtful, the better. Gibson perhaps saw a challenge in being foul-mouthed and foul-minded enough to stand out from the crowd.

America is a republic, not a democracy, because pure democracy is unmanageable and can become mobocracy. But radical radio, talk TV and, of course, the Internet have great potential for rabble rousers and demagogues. Any idiot can say almost anything; hence Gibson’s departure from decency.

He will probably get the last laugh; sending a nasty little rocket into the ionosphere brought attention to himself and his channel. If even bad publicity is good publicity, and even if his bosses take the unlikely step of reprimanding him, Gibson will come out of this more famous, or infamous, or notorious, than he was before it happened.

He’s out of the cake and burning, and so everybody in the room looks over to see the funny fiery freak.

Once it was considered a privilege to talk into a microphone on radio or television and to be given a public platform that sent you into thousands, millions, of American homes. Now, in the age of the Internet and the 1,000-channel universe, it’s being thought of as a right, with Neanderthals, Luddites and Philistines just as entitled to an audience as scholars, authorities and humanitarians. Maybe it’ll turn out that, of all the movies ever made predicting what the future holds for the planet and its population, the most prophetic will have been “Planet of the Apes.”

Faint Praise

October 24, 2007 10:21 AM

Marie Osmond seems 50 times more lovable than ever in the wake of her dizzy spell and collapse on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” Monday night. Network executives may be saying “this is why we shouldn’t go live” with such shows, but they are so wrong; it’s why they should.

Unexpected events like Ms. Osmond’s fall to the floor (after an exhausting samba routine) are part of what make the show guaranteed water-cooler fodder. It’s true that if the show had been taped, ABC could have promoted the hell out of the incident in advance—but that would have meant ruining its authenticity and spoiling the element of surprise.

The element of surprise has been missing from most of prime time for a large part of the past 40 years or so. So screw the promotional possibilities; it’s likely that “Dancing’s” numbers will be up next week because of what happened this week, and that’s “promotion” enough.

Not that we recommend fainting spells as audience builders. Then again, maybe Letterman ought to try it.

Although it couldn’t beat viewers over the head with ballyhoo in advance, ABC did do its best to exploit The Osmond Incident via its in-house publicity machine masquerading as a faux “Today” show, “Good Morning, America.” Anchor Diane Sawyer, a genuine journalist, must be put off by the ever-increasing puff quotient of the show, worse now even than under the previous cold-blooded executive producer (her name must not be uttered aloud, or she might suddenly appear, like “Beetlejuice”).

Shamefully, ABC showed the Osmond collapse over and over and over on “GMA” the next morning and the morning after that. It almost became a visual joke; Down she goes! Down she goes! And one more time! And again! Osmond remained a fantastically good sport through it all, but really, ABC could easily have stopped at two or three repeats of the video; it didn’t need to show her swoon a dozen or more times.

In concentrating on the fall, ABC callously and foolishly ignored the rise: Before being carried into the wings, Osmond, back on her feet (but wobbling) and ever the trouper, managed to bow to the crowd. It was charming, brave, sweet. Even dim-bulbs at ABC couldn’t spoil it.

Free Speech? Not at Emmys

September 24, 2007 12:00 AM

Tom ShalesSad to say, Americans are becoming so accustomed to bleeped material on television that it's hard to get a decent ruckus raised even if the bleeping is done by virtual government mandate. That's right: When Fox bleeped Sally Field during the Primetime Emmy Awards, the network's action was just one piddling inch, one silly millimeter, from outright government censorship.

You remember government censorship: It's one of the things we sometimes try to liberate other countries from -- communist dictatorships, for instance.

Naturally and unfortunately, there are cloudy complications to the incident. For one thing, Field was babbling idiotically, a bad habit that may be part of her DNA or somehow instinctive or maybe she thinks it's cute. For her to silence that nudge from the orchestra (the equivalent of a stopwatch saying "Stop!") so that we could hear her stammer, bumble and go "um um um" was pretty galling.

I would have gladly turned her off at that point -- but I'll be hornswoggled into tarnation (or whatever near-cuss stuff is permissible) if I want the government stepping in and turning her off, and for the reason that she might be about to say something topical. What? This happened in America, in the 21st century? Yup.

Why blame the government? First of all, why not? Secondly, the FCC, as federal an agency as there is, has let it be known with the subtlety of Torquemada that any TV station or network that allows "obscenity" (however it's defined by -- who else? -- them) onto its airwaves is subject to an outrageous if patently unconstitutional fine. Free speech thus becomes very expensive.

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Merv Griffin Took Delight in What He Did

August 19, 2007 9:00 PM

Some people can give a good time merely by having a good time -- or appearing to. Merv Griffin had that ability. He seemed to take tremendous delight in whatever he did, and in doing it well, and those qualities traveled undiminished through the camera and the wires and the ionosphere and right into your living room, which is where most people watched TV during the era that Griffin thrived.

He wasn't an intellectual like Dick Cavett or a brilliant ad-libber like Johnny Carson, but as a host and interviewer Griffin had terrific instincts. He could get probing answers without asking particularly probing questions; thus on the air, he never came across as confrontational or even controversial, and yet guests said things on the various incarnations of "The Merv Griffin Show" that they probably wouldn't have said anywhere else. At least not anywhere else in public.

Griffin's death, at the age of 82, came several years after his career as a TV star had ended, yet he obviously remained a presence -- largely through his long-running game shows "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!" A 25-year-old friend who never saw Merv Griffin perform instantly recognized the name, because he'd heard it innumerable times in credits at the ends of those shows.

And yet those of us who remember Griffin as talk-show host -- that uniquely televisionary occupation -- can recall many a merry night in his company and the company of his crazy gab-bag of guests, from the brilliant and celebrated to the amusingly oddball. Griffin had an ego, a requirement of the business, but he'd willingly and even eagerly let himself be the butt of jokes or ridicule if it made the show more fun to watch. He could separate the character of Merv Griffin that he played on TV from the real Merv Griffin, known in the industry as a tough and keenly competitive businessman.

"Merv was a very intelligent guy," says Roger Ailes, the Fox Broadcasting chief who knows as much about television -- especially nonfiction television -- as anybody around. Ailes didn't produce Griffin's show; he was allied with daytime talk star Mike Douglas. But he knew Griffin and admired him.

"Mike was the happy Irishman who loved to play golf. He didn't focus all that much on the show," Ailes recalls. "Merv was really concerned with the program on every level. He sometimes asked a dumb question on the show, but he was really very, very smart about it. He had a way of getting a lot out of people. He could ask, ‘What did you do last night?' and get people to open up completely."

On his own talk show Thursday, Regis Philbin spoke of Griffin in the present tense, as if he were still around. "It's always fun to see him," Philbin said. "He always has a million stories."

Both Ailes and Philbin also are mourning industry giant Chet Collier, who ran Westinghouse when Griffin, Douglas, Ailes and many other bright lights worked in a kind of golden era for original syndication. Collier died Wednesday; Ailes, whom Collier hired when Ailes was 22, continued to use him as a consultant into Collier's 70s.

Griffin's on-air persona, that of an absolutely unquenchable enthusiast, prompted the occasional lampoon -- most notably the inspired (and presumably affectionate) impersonation that Rick Moranis did several times on the old "SCTV" comedy show, in its syndicated and network form. A typical sketch would be structured as a Griffin promo, with Moranis opening at the piano and singing a song like the disco hit "On the Radio," totally at odds with Griffin's big-band background.

Then he'd ballyhoo the next exciting edition of "The Merv Griffin Show." In one promo, the promised guests include Liberace, Loni Anderson, Lou "Incredible Hulk" Ferrigno -- and "an inside look at the fascinating world of terrorism. Yasser Arafat is with us!" It was a given that all the male guests would be asked to display the inside of their jackets ("Show us your lining!"), so even the infamous Arafat, as played by Joe Flaherty, opened his coat, eager to conform to the demands of show biz.

When I watched that sketch on DVD again recently, it made me laugh, yes, but it also made me miss Merv. There was nobody like him on television then and there is absolutely nobody like him now. His something-for-everybody approach to TV has been rendered extinct by the 500-channel universe, the multi-set home, and perhaps most of all by the rise of the omnivorous Internet.

And yet, within hours of his death, Griffin was a star there, too. Clip after clip from his old talk shows resurfaced on YouTube and other sites. There was Merv looking alive and more than just well; he was ebullient, elated, vastly amused and hugely amusing.

The simple word for his particular gift is showmanship. Simple or not, it remains one of the rarest gifts of all.

The Quality of Mercy

August 15, 2007 8:26 AM

tomshalesblog.jpgIt took only a few hours after news circulated that entertainer and entrepreneur Merv Griffin had died (at 82, Sunday, in Los Angeles) for a drumbeat of wrath—yes, wrath—to begin on some of the Internet's fringe Web sites, where Griffin was assailed by various contributors for allegedly having been a "closeted" homosexual who should have announced he was gay to the world—though at which stage of his career he should have made the declaration was not specified.

Perhaps when he was a big-band singer in the '40s? Or a talk-show host from the '60s through the '80s? Perhaps when he emcee'd "Play Your Hunch" in the '50s. It would have been career suicide at any rate, but some of the angry voices implied Griffin should have gone public with his sexuality anyway—whatever it may have been.

Griffin—just "Merv" to the world—was married early in his career and had one son. In later decades rumors did indeed circulate about Griffin allegedly throwing gay parties and being escorted by handsome young men. Two lawsuits from men claiming Griffin essentially jilted them were dismissed.

Whatever, the vehemence and fury in the attacks was disheartening. "A bloated pig like that should burn in hell," wrote one anonymous assailant. Michelangelo Signorile, who runs a Web site called The Gist, wrote that Griffin could have helped prevent the AIDS epidemic if only he had spoken to his friends Ronald and Nancy Reagan about it, but that "it is highly unlikely" he ever did, preferring to remain "shockingly silent" even as "his own people were dying."

No benefit of a doubt for poor old Merv.

There were lots of allegations, virtually no documentation, and a discomfortingly virulent tone to many of the entries (one writer referred to the late star as "Perv Griffin"), but others wrote to defend Griffin and to say that his sexuality was his own business. A few noted that for Griffin to have declared himself gay during the period of his greatest success would likely have ended it, times and attitudes being what they were.

The Internet is rife with rantings from what sometimes sound like members of a lynch mob. In this case, one might think that victims of persecution would feel a tad more reluctant to persecute someone else, especially a recently deceased man.

It would, of course, be just as wrong ever to think that a vocal malicious minority is representative of any race, political party or sexual persuasion.

Or so let us hope.

Double-Breasted Dave

July 30, 2007 9:21 AM

Something funny’s going on with Dave Letterman—other than the obvious, that is. Still the fastest wit in late-night TV, maybe in all of television, Letterman hasn’t been quite himself lately. Or maybe he’s been himself and then some.

For a few weeks, Letterman has eschewed the stupid double-breasted suits that he used to habitually button and unbutton during his monologue and the rest of the show. No longer does he make the occasional mad dash from the wings onto the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater as he was wont to do in months past; months past; he has lost oomph. He’ll sit at his desk during some segments with his single-breasted suitcoat still buttoned, which looks uncomfortable and awkward. (See??? We don’t just write about how Katie Couric looks. We’re not sexists around here.).

I was worried, seriously, that Dave was ill or that there were some problems associated with the lifesaving heart bypass he underwent a few years ago. Unfortunately, Dave goes ballistic if anyone on his staff talks to the press about him, even if they talk to, say, a TV critic who has slathered Dave with praise for more than 25 years, so it’s hard to get anything confirmed or denied.

Thus we have to formulate a theory and this is the one that seems most plausible and the least worrisome: DAVE IS GETTING FAT. He’s putting on weight. He’s packin’ pudge. He’s developing what’s commonly called a beer belly whether from beer or not.

It is possible. After Johnny Carson traumatized the nation by leaving NBC’s “Tonight Show,” one of the first things he did was pile on pounds, elated not to have to be constantly mindful of his weight any more. The irony about Dave getting chubby, if that’s what’s happening, is that the proverbial and perhaps immortal “fat guy” has long been one of Letterman’s favorite joke targets.

He does it so often that it appears he thinks of fat guys as some freakish, separate and distinct group apart from the normal population. The fat jokes used to bring occasional remonstrance from occasional nut-fringe guest Richard Simmons. In a 1991 show, back when Dave was on NBC, he tried to reassure Simmons and any fat folks watching about “people with weight problems.” He told Simmons: “I like them, I know them, I care about them.” He said he had an “Uncle Earl” who weighed “680 pounds.”

Would there be some cruel justice in this habitual fatty-basher plumping up himself? Yes of course, but not the kind we should take any pleasure in. Getting fat could be a sign of depression, but then, Dave seems to have been depressed ever since he first stepped in front of a TV camera. A happy Dave is not the real Dave—any more than a Fat Dave would be.

Dave, Dave, Dave—listen to the voice of experience: If you go down that road, you may never be able to turn around and come back. Lose it now or forever drop the fat jokes from your repertoire.

Busy Signal

July 24, 2007 2:23 PM

Maybe this has become a common practice – I know it’s been done before – but the latest example seems so graphically a sign of the times, and of the practical realities of business, that it stands out on the landscape.

Though the commercial is fairly new, you’ve probably seen it by now, or at least one version of it: a good-looking young man in underpants and a t-shirt is getting dressed in his apartment for a night out, trying to pull on his apparently super-tight Levi’s jeans. As he pulls up the jeans, a telephone booth, of all things, bursts up through the floor, and eventually the room is demolished (the boy has dropped his Levi’s to his ankles by this time) and the whole apartment sort of bursts up through a city street.

Yes, it’s quite weird. But that’s not the point. In one version of the ad, a beautiful girl appears in the phone booth and the boy, enticed, pulls the Levi’s up again, successfully this time. The ad ends with boy-and-girl hugging and going off together into the city. They must be going to her place, since his is in ruins.

Anyway – Fade out.

It’s an okay ad if hardly revolutionary. But there’s quite another version. Viewers who watch Logo, the channel aimed at gay men and women and their discretionary income, see a slightly different pitch. Same boy, same jeans, same telephone booth bursting through the floor. But this time, the phone booth is occupied by a handsome guy. The two young men look each other up and down flirtatiously, just as the man and woman do in the other version. Their eyes, how they twinkle; their dimples, how merry.

Soon they are sauntering down the street together.

Levi’s: All Things to All Men.

There is one other major difference between the otherwise identical ads. The two young men do not nuzzle or hug or even touch. They walk off together very close to each other, however, and you’d have to be pretty thick to imagine they’re on their way to the public library.

Then again, we don’t want to stereotype. Maybe the public library is the site of many a gay date. Meanwhile, if there’s a lesbian version of this ad, we haven’t seen it, but let’s not rule anything out. Lots of lesbians wear jeans too – not that there’s anything wrong with that.