I know what you’re thinking – “First cupcakes and now sex? This woman is relentless in her pursuit of readers!”
But hear me out. I am not the one using sex to gain an audience. It’s the good people at the Public Broadcasting System.
You see, it’s March. And for the most part, things are looking up. The ground is starting to thaw. There is the hope of spring and the promise of summer. You might even be able to throw on a kicky pair of culotts or wear your favorite pair of boat shoes – without socks!
But for those of us without a life, cable TV or children too old to watch “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” March means Festival on Iowa Public Television. And Festival is the worst. Just the worst.
If you have not been subjected to Festival, it’s public television’s annual fundraiser – and possibly the most inaccurately-named programming in the history of television. The marketing geniuses at IPTV will tell you Festival is a time when “…special guests, new programs and viewer favorites will take center stage…” Don’t be fooled. What this really means is they will inexplicably role out their worst programming in the hopes of getting you to donate.
Now don’t get me wrong, our family loves public television. “Frontline,” “Nature,” “Word Girl,” “Downton Abbey” – all legitimately good shows. We are happy to donate every year because we know they have some of the best stuff out there, especially if you have kids.
So, why then, do they serve up shows like “Victor Borge’s Timeless Comedy!” or “Ed Slott’s Retirment Roadmap!” to try and get us to pony up? (And, yes, I punctuated those titles correctly. IPTV knows this stuff is boring, so they’re trying to tart their shows up with exclamation points.)
This fundraising strategy has never made sense to me. It’s the kind of thing people make fun of PBS for. Even Ken Burns is bringing things down. His latest documentary, which will air at the end of the month, is titled “Cancer: The Emporer of All Maladies.” Jesus.
So imagine my suprise when Shawn and I were waiting for “Saturday Night Live” to come on the other night (let me reiterate – we don’t have cable) and we came across “Rick Steve’s Dynamic Europe: Amsterdam, Prague, Berlin.”
Maybe it’s just my affinity for things senior citizens might like – a good bowl of soup; pants with elastic waistbands, the use of the term “owly” – but I’ve always been a fan of Rick Steves.
Again, for any of you who have an active and interesting social life, Rick Steves is PBS’s premier travel host. He’s an ageless, soft-spoken Europhile who can tell you all about Berlin’s biggest pipe organ or the proper way to eat raw herring.
He’s the most non-threatening thing out there – like your professor uncle who loves his Air Supply albums – making him the perfect thing to nap to.
So, there I was dozing away on the couch under my cat blanket at 10:15 on Saturday night. The segment on Amsterdam had just finished and some woman was interviewing Rick about his time in the city as part of Festival’s “membership special.” All of a sudden, she tossed out the phrase “Red Light District” and I was all ears.
We’d missed the first ten minutes of the show flipping through the channels, and in doing so we’d missed the best ten minutes in all of television history – Rick Steves showing you where you can find a prostitute!
And, not just where to find them, but how you can film them better! (Zoom in from the bridges so an angry sex worker doesn’t toss your camera into the canal.) For what purpose, I don’t know. It would have to be for personal use, because God help the dummy who takes that footage to the family reunion.
Which just makes the whole scenario all the more creepy. One of the most appealing things about Rick Steves is just how assexual he is. He isn’t supposed to be a vibrant, sexual being with human wants and desires, except for maybe the love of a good sauerbraten. And certainly not one who films half-naked women anonymously from a bridge!
And Rick didn’t just stop at the prostitutes. Apparently, his now insatiable appetite for the forbidden had him stopping into one of Amsterdam’s coffeeshops where it’s legal to buy and smoke marijuana. Incredible! Had we just missed Rick Steves wandering the streets of Amsterdam in a hashish-and-sex-fueled fog?
By the time we had turned it on, he had sobered up and was touring one the city’s many churches and droning on about the Dutch Resistance.
Ah, well. The good thing about Festival is they repeat the same crappy programming all month long. So, I’m sure I’ll get the chance to get in on Amsterdam’s “easy-going hedonism” (his words, not mine) soon.
In the meantime, I’ll just have to sit through another airing of “The Best of Daniel O’Donnell Music and Memories.”