Aaron Sorkin, executive producer of NBC's upcoming "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," said at the Television Critics Association meeting last week that today's reality shows are like giving kids "bad crack in the schoolyard."
This wasn't the best word choice for Sorkin. "Why did I use that word?" he quickly added. Sorkin had his own run-in with drugs, pleading guilty to possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms, crack cocaine and marijuana in 2001. Still, Sorkin had his day in court. He was innocent until proven guilty.
In Europe, it's the other way around--especially in sports. You are guilty first, just on suspicion. European authorities think they are cool that way. They can wreck someone's professional sports life in a nanno-second, and that could happen to Tour de France winner Floyd Landis if he is found innocent. Landis, it was revealed yesterday, tested for an abnormally high ratio level of testosterone. Yes, he might be guilty, but you need to let him defend himself.
In Europe, riders get suspended, and it takes years to get back their innocence. Indeed, a bunch of riders for a major Spanish-based cycling team was removed from the Tour de France before the race started. They just cleared their names this week--after the Tour de France was over. Nice.
Is that fair? The Tour de France organizers, as well as the UCI, the Union Cycliste Internationale, doesn't mind taking down a few innocent riders along with the guilty. Too bad, they say. It's for the good of the sport. Good thing Barry Bonds doesn't play professional baseball in Europe right now.
TV has to deal with drugs as well--on and off screen. Actors go into rehab; networks get collateral damage. Some penalties are deserved; others not so much. Sorkin got to continue writing "The West Wing." Did that hurt NBC? Probably not.
OLN got caught in the crossfire of the Tour de France suspected drug use. And before this year's Tour de France, it had been trying to hold things together after Lance Armstrong retired. For an entire year, the network expected lower ratings in this Tour de France. (Which is exactly what happened.)
But a day before the event started, OLN got more bad news. Two of the biggest favorites to win got bounced because of suspicion--not conviction--of drug use. Then, unbelievably, OLN got a reprieve. An American, Landis, won the big race with a stunning ride on stage 17. After that ride, Landis took a drug test.
Drugs aren't the prettiest of accessories to TV, either, even when drug use is alleged. We have no choice but to deal with that association in TV land, then make our own viewing and moral decisions.
For my part, I'll admit I do drugs in writing this column: caffeine, Advil and a load of carbohydrates. But penalize me most for this: Those negative ions from the TV screen give me a charge.