It's summer. Things are supposed to get hot, and what happens when they do? People wear less clothing, and we start to see more skin.
Putting aside the coverage of the Beijing Olympics' swimming, diving, and water polo competitions on NBC, you could turn on any other channel and see men and women peeling off their clothes. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like a weird wave. Not that I'm complaining! Whatever can be done to make summer TV sexier is fine with me.
This summer, according to Nielsen Media, half of the top 20 TV shows are re-runs. Of the new material, people still seem enamored with reality contest shows. NBC's America's Got Talent has been the #1 rated show for the past month. It's basically a version of the smash hit American Idol.
Another version of which also doing well, Nielsen-wise, is FOX's So You Think You Can Dance. On July 2, one of its contestants, Twitch Boss, a 25-year-old black man, lost his only top covering, a Spanish vest, as part of a feverish routine. Nigel Lythgoe, the British judge on the show, screamed afterward, "I want your body!" It was seemingly a sentiment I'm sure shared by many in the audience. It's probably why people tune in. Shirtless dance-moves are a regular on that show.
On CBS' Big Brother 10, most of the men were seen just lying around half-nude, plotting and scheming about who should stay and who should be voted out the house. The worst offender was Jessie, a 22-year-old professional bodybuilder who most days did nothing but show off his very large biceps and pectorals, and whose head-of-household room was adorned with nothing but vain photos of him shirtless.
However, Big Brother 10 wasn't the only reality show to flaunt some skin. So did ABC's The Mole, which returned to the airwaves following a four-year absence. Anderson Cooper originally hosted the game show back in 2001. Jon Kelley, football player turned TV anchor, now hosts the program, based this year in South America. The game is like The Amazing Race, except there are no teams. Everyone is out for himself. There are group activities, which add money to the end cash prize, but the twist is that there's one contestant who is secretly trying to sabotage the activities.
Unlike The Amazing Race, the key to staying in the game lies not with winning the activities, but instead figuring out who the secret saboteur is. That person is known as the Mole. On the June 16th episode, Kelley treated the contestants to a spa in Chile. Yet, while they were being pampered in nothing but their underwear, Kelley stole their clothes.
The challenge that day was for them to go around the South American town practically naked and beg Chilean townspeople to give them clothes for free. Craig, the 30-year-old, overweight, graphic artist from San Diego, who I thought was the Mole from the beginning, didn't look too appealing shirtless. But Ali, the 24-year-old model; Victoria, the 26-year-old, Texas retail worker; and Kristen, the 35-year-old neurosurgeon, all looked amazing in nothing but their bras and panties.
Morgan Spurlock, the host of the reality series 30 Days on FX, went shirtless and pants-less as well. The idea of his show is each episode one person has to spend 30 days living or doing something they normally wouldn't do. This summer had things like an avid animal hunter spending 30 days with a family of vegetarian, animal rights activists.
Spurlock normally just narrates thr 30-day experiences, but occasionally he'll participate as well. Last season, he spent 30 days living only on a minimum wage salary. On this year's July 8th episode, Spurlock went to live on an Indian reservation, a traditional Navajo dwelling to be exact, which included him taking part in a coyote ceremony, a kind of cleansing ritual. Spurlock stripped to nothing but his tidy whities.
On Bravo's Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List, Emmy-winning comedienne Kathy Griffin started her run to add Grammy-winner to her list of credits in more vain, self-aggrandizing attempts to boost her celebrity status. Griffin kicked things off by hosting the first ever Pink Flight, the all gay flight by Air New Zealand, which flew from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia.
Aboard the 14-hour voyage, there was a best chest competition, which meant the participants had to expose their bare chests and march up and down the plane's aisles. Griffin couldn't resist, and she went shirtless as well.
Of course, soap operas are known for the amount of skin they show, typically for no reason. On the premiere episode of the cable channel SOAPNET's spinoff, summer series, General Hospital: Night Shift, Leo and Saira, as well as Claire and Kyle, the doctors and interns, spend an inordinate amount of time exchanging barbs and aggressively flirting while mid-dressed in the unisex locker room and shower.
Actor and producer, Jason Dottley, of the LOGO series Sordid Lives, also didn't waste much time this summer going shirtless and more. During the Aug. 6th episode, his Southern-bred character's timid nature quickly went away for the first day of rehearsal for his West Hollywood production of "Naked Boys Singing."
Scintillating material like this is something you'd expect from late night on Showtime or Cinemax, sometimes dubbed "Skinemax." It's not something you'd expect on the network dubbed ABC Family. Yet, this summer, that child-oriented, basic cable station premiered the new series The Secret Life of the American Teenager. The show centers on a 15-year-old girl who realizes she's pregnant. Brenda Hampton created the series. She also created the long-running drama 7th Heaven about a minister and his family.
That show was very church-oriented, which Secret Life definitely carries. So, it's a foregone conclusion how issues like abortion are going to be handled. The preachiness from all the adults is also expected, but the show becomes at times a weird perversion of Beverly Hills 90210. Its supposed examination of how teenagers are dealing with sex would almost be comical if it all didn't feel false, or, as if the teenage characters were all these bizarre stereotypes.
In its July 22nd episode, after he's done having sex with the town's teenage slut, Adrian, Ricky, the resident rebel and womanizer, goes to pick up the overly religious, overly chaste Grace, without his shirt. There's a stupid reason why he doesn't have his shirt, but I won't bore you with it.
After the incident is accidentally caught on tape by a security camera, the high school's rumor mill discerns that Ricky and Grace are having sex. Grace's jealous and sexually-frustrated ex-boyfriend decides to one-up Ricky and peal off his shirt in the middle of a school hallway.
Yet, to see more examples of teenagers ripping their clothes off and worrying about who's sleeping with whom, one had to look no farther than on BET's Baldwin Hills. The reality show, which copies recent MTV reality shows, follows the lives of about ten teenage African-Americans living between wealth and poverty in a Los Angeles neighborhood, itself teetering on affluence.
The July 15th episode, season two, episode three, had Lor'Rena throw an intimate pool party for her birthday, which included Jonathan, the aspiring professional athlete, de-layering himself down to his boxer shorts and diving in the water.
But, speaking of pool parties, by far, the king of all shows this summer to feature the most shirtless people the most often is CBS' Swingtown.
The show is about three married couples living in the summer of 1976. Things are shaken up for two of the couples when they realize the third is a couple of swingers. Swingers are two married people who have an open relationship, meaning they're allowed to have sex with people other than their spouses.
The swingers in this case are Tom, an airline pilot who in the premiere episode invites a long-haired, blonde, flight attendant to be in a threesome with his wife, Trina. When Bruce and Susan, your average couple with two teenage kids, move into a new house in a swanky area, Tom and Trina become their new neighbors. Tom and Trina invite Bruce and Susan to a July 4th party where fireworks occur in the air but also in the swingers' basement. Bruce and Susan bring their uncomfortable old friends, Roger and Janet, who discover a full-fledged orgy in that basement.
Now, this isn't on HBO, so there's only so much skin they can be put on display. In following episodes, however, we keep up with the sexual escapades of these people. We wonder if anyone who's the least bit titillated by it is victim to either some sickness or sinful seduction.
Tom, played by Grant Show of the prime-time soap Melrose Place, can't help but lose his shirt when he can, or at least spend most of his scenes with his chest exposed. Tom certainly prefers the women around him to have their chests exposed as well.
The line between having an open relationship and cheating with a lustful affair is explored when the two other couples who aren't swingers move closer to that lifestyle and become slowly participatory. The line is further blurred when Trina holds a pool party in the July 17th episode and gets Roger to go shirtless for the first time, which has ripple effects with his conservative wife, Janet.
In the August 1st episode, Janet decides to drop her conservativeness and be more open in order to fit in with the swingers and satisfy her husband's reservations. Susan does a similar thing.
I almost feel like this is indicative of what this and other networks are doing. The once Tiffany network is dropping its conservatism in order to fit in with swingers like HBO or Showtime. It might also explain why CBS adopted the re-runs of the Emmy-nominated series, Dexter, this past spring.
Nevertheless, these shirtless tactics, as I call them, that these networks are employing may be sexy. They may be provocative, but they don't address the underlying problem, and that's a lack of diversity and new thought. These shirtless tactics are mere superficial and desperate attempts to increase viewership.
It appeals only to the prurient interest, the basest of all interests, which some people prefer for the summer. Some people don't want to have any part of their bodies appealed that isn't below their noses, and that's fine. While it may be nice to ogle all this skin on TV, we can't really appreciate it. It's only a trifle. I would certainly hope for more cultured, more intelligent offerings, but in the meantime, I too can indulge. So, take off your brain, as you take off your shirt and have fun this summer.