Bozell Column: Group Sex on 'Gossip Girl'

It’s a sad state of affairs. There is absolutely no barrier of sexual behavior that TV network executives aren’t willing to cross in a desperate gambit for ratings. There also seems be to no sleazy line that a squeaky-clean teenage TV star or pop star won’t cross to "break out" into grown-up stardom.

Both of these maxims were proven again by the CW show "Gossip Girl" with a group-sex plot. Its November 9 episode depicted three friends completing a list that was supposedly printed in their college newspaper: "The 15 Things Every College Student Must Do Before Graduating." Number 11 was "Have a Threesome." And so they did.

One of the "liberated" college women in this three’s-a-crowd spectacle was actress Hilary Duff, who earned millions as a teenager as the star of "Lizzie McGuire" on the Disney Channel and in Disney movies. Millions of impressionable children idolized her. They still do – except that she’s a different kind of role model now.

Fans of the pornification of TV – the ones who joked that this plotline was a "public service" – were disappointed by what CW aired. There was some girl-on-girl kissing, and the threesome in bed at episode’s end. But the naughtiness was much more implied than actual. Fear not! The CW immediately announced plans to extend the threesome theme into a second week. Maybe – to some, hopefully – the "flashbacks" will be sleazier.

But that might not happen. It could all be part of a continuous pattern for CW and "Gossip Girl," where the promotions are nastier than the actual show. For example, CW’s print ads for "Gossip Girl" last year featured a topless girl in a pool making out with a boy, but in the on-air episode, she was wearing a bikini.

Declarations of a ratings bonanza for this plotline are also stretching it. CW ran around touting a ratings victory for the threesome episode. The press release boasted: "The CW basks in the afterglow of its most watched Monday of the season." Really? The total viewership for this episode was 2.37 million. Last year, this show was averaging 2.6 million. You do the math. And to put the numbers in perspective, in the same time slot, ABC’s "Dancing with the Stars" was drawing 17 million viewers.

But the "Gossip Girl" scandal isn’t just about winning the ratings battle. It’s about corporate executives who will try anything to get a rinky-dink network out of the basement, with absolutely no concern for the damage its tawdry storylines will do to the viewer who is 12. The show is rated TV-14, suggesting threesome plots are acceptable for high-schoolers, and that’s an insult by itself. But CW’s own press release in September touted that "Gossip Girl" won in the ratings among women ages 12-34, and that when the show was paired with "One Tree Hill," these shows finished first with females 12-34 and teenaged girls.

Grade-schoolers love TV about junior-high students, and junior-high students watch high-school shows. It follows that teenaged girls should love a show about college life. That’s certainly what the CW executives have always hoped. So they run a show with the explicit message that a threesome is something "every college student should do before graduating," knowing it will most affect, and titillate, young teens.

Idiots in Hollywood seem completely impervious to shame on this plotline. When they discussed it on the Joy Behar Show on CNN’s Headline News channel, actress Aisha Tyler just snapped. "Let me just break a piece of news to everybody here. If you don't know, teenagers have sex," she lectured. "And if you hide it, and you ignore it, and you fake it and act like your kid is not doing it, you are doing them and yourself a disservice because kids have sex."

This idiot added: "These are the tools -- use it as a teaching moment." But CW isn’t making this scandal to create a "tool" for parents. They’re the ones doing us a disservice.

Aside from being a brat, Dr. Tyler is uninformed. Earlier this year, the New York Times reported that fewer than half of all high school students have had sex: 47.8 percent as of 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control, down from 54.1 percent in 1991.

Somehow the concerned parents are winning on the trend line, despite Hollywood’s most strenuous efforts to sleaze up the public airwaves, with Lizzie McGuire lustily kissing a girl. That’s certainly not an argument for letting Hollywood go unchallenged, even if a parent might smile when a network like CW flops so badly.

Sexuality Culture/Society Hilary Duff