TV Gets Dumber

A friend called in a panic last Saturday. He said VH1 was showing a program called “Pup Stars,” which consisted only of music videos being shown on a TV set while Dalmatian puppies frolicked in front of it. I told him he was delusional and should never call me again.

A TV show in which dogs watch TV? That’s ridiculous. Next you’ll tell me there’s a show about seven strangers forced to live in a house together.

“Pup Stars” was over by the time my friend called, so I couldn’t see it for myself, if it existed. So I checked out the programming schedule at VH1’s Web site and sure enough: They don’t show videos anymore. The original “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” movie is on several times this week, as is “Little Shop of Horrors.” Also, you can see a special about Latin pop star Shakira, whose song titles I’m sure are rolling off your tongue right now. But you can’t watch videos unless there are dogs watching them, too, which is apparently the premise of “Pup Stars” — which, it turns out, does exist.

I envision this conversation as having taken place at VH1 headquarters:

EXECUTIVE #1: People always complain that we don’t show enough videos. But when we do show them, nobody watches them.
EXECUTIVE #2: Maybe it’s because our videos are all for uninteresting, 40-year-old soft-rock stars.
PHIL COLLINS: (appearing in a flash of lightning and smoke) I am the God of VH1, and I sentence you to an eternity of torment for your blasphemy. Sussudio!
EXECUTIVE #2: No, Lord Phil, please forgive me!
PHIL COLLINS: I am merciful. Mend your ways, or know endless suffering.
EXECUTIVE #1: Lord Phil, please tell us how to solve our problem.
PHIL COLLINS: I shall. People like puppies. Go with it. Sussudio! (He is gone in another puff of smoke.)
EXECUTIVE #2: (shaken) Puppies?

And “Pup Stars” was born.

This is not the first dumb idea for a TV show, of course. It’s not even the first dumb idea for a TV show involving animals. There were two in 1983, when I was young enough not to notice how stupid they were, or care that they were both on NBC, and I am not making up either of them. One was “Mr. Smith,” about a talking orangutan who was heavily involved in politics; this show is believed to have inspired Paramount Pictures’ fictional “Arnold Schwarzenegger” character. The other was “Manimal,” about a guy who could turn into any animal, which I guess helped him solve crimes, don’t ask me how. Seems like you’d be LESS effective at questioning suspects if you were, say, a hedgehog.

More recently, we’ve seen a lot of reality shows based on things that would never happen in reality. For example, in reality, if you were on a desert island, there would not be anyone there to “tempt” you into leaving your spouse. There would be monkeys, maybe, and perhaps cannibals, but you’d have to be a pretty hard-core “grass is always greener” person to think any of these would be better than your current partner. (“Mbutu might be a savage, but I bet he doesn’t leave the toilet seat up.”)

The nice thing about TV is that while some entertainment media started out smart and got dumb, TV just started out dumb. The shows of the ’50s were every bit as stupid as the shows of today; they just had fewer commercials. Soap operas — easily the lamest things in all of television — have been a staple from day one.

None of which, fortunately, means the shows aren’t fun to watch. Smart or dumb, TV is relaxing. So VH1, if the only way you’ll show videos is with puppies watching them, so be it. Just don’t tell MTV. They might start doing the same thing with “The Real World,” and then we’d have to contact the Humane Society.

It was my friend Brett who called in a panic about "Pup Stars." It just didn't work well to have his name (or his "Snide Remarks" pseudonym) in the column.

The idea of Phil Collins as a soft rock deity is very funny to me, and it makes me giggle to use "Sussudio!" as an expletive. I also like the notion that Arnold Schwarzenegger is a fictional character.

By the way, Luscious Malone refuses to believe that "Mr. Smith" was an actual show.