Television’s the medium, but what’s the message?



Let me set the scene: It’s a long-ago Saturday evening. Great-Grandma, Great- Grandpa, Grandma and Grandpa are coming to dinner at our house. My bride has been cooking all day. The wee bairns are bathed and tidied, their cowlicks plastered down, and they have been warned to be on their best behavior.

The grandmas show up, and one asks the youngest bairn, who’s just learning to talk, what he’s been doing all day.

“Trucks, rocky horse, son of a @$#?@! Stupid #$%&@&!”

The only sound in the room after that blue streak of cursing from the baby was the sound of jaws dropping to the floor.

“Where did you hear all that, sweetie?” a grandma asked when she could speak again.

“Daddy!” he said, pointing happily at me. “He was fixin’ the sink!”

We explained to him that those words are only to be used by Daddy when he works on the plumbing, and that got the child to quit cussing during dinner. But it didn’t get me out of the doghouse.

That’s the way it’s always been with me when it comes to home plumbing: one unfortunate experience after another. Over 40 years of fixing leaks and stopped pipes, I’ve banged so many knuckles I was personally responsible for the best years the Band-Aid company ever had. Twice, I needed stitches. I’ve been drenched in slime, concussed by a cast-iron U-joint pipe, bruisedmy foot so it looked like a ripe eggplant after I dropped a ceramic toilet bowl on it, was nearly electrocuted by a helliferocious sump pump, and frustrated to the point of total psychological meltdown and the overwhelming desire to join the Hare Krishnas.

So plumbing has left me profane, in pain and insane, but leaky drains have NEVER made me feel romantic, which is just one more reason I’ve had it with those ubiquitous E.D. commercials for Cialis and Viagra.

The plumbing commercial is especially aggravating. Chances are you’ve seen it, since it runs about 50 times a night, starting with prime-time placement on the evening news and popping up about every 10 minutes for the next four hours. A man and a woman are working on some leaky plumbing in the kitchen when they exchange meaningful glances. Then, apparently because the guy has been taking Cialis, the two of them leave the pipe to gurgle and drip while they’re magically transported to a pool in a romantic grotto, where they hold hands and dangle their feet in the water until the saga cuts to the last scene, where they’re sitting in separate bathtubs watching the moon.

Have you ever noticed that those bathtubs are never attached to any plumbing pipes? Considering the mess our gobsmacked couple left behind in their kitchen, and that they’ll have to deal with when they get back to reality, that may be the only part of the idiotic commercial that makes sense. If there were water pipes and faucets hooked up to those tubs, they’d probably be leaking and would remind the romantic duo about the tile that’s getting ruined back home. Most of the other commercials for this product are just as weird. They all sort of run together, but I’m sure you remember the one where the man and woman are doing laundry or some such and then that everyday look turns romantic. The next scene has them eating dinner at what appears to be a very expensive restaurant. In the scene after that, they’re apparently in box seats at the opera. And then they’re in those tubs.

Why do they need a bath? Did someone spill wine on them at the theater? Did they forget their lobster bibs and have a claw seepage incident at the restaurant? We’re left wondering about all that, and wondering where they left their towels for when that tub water gets chilly.

Or the one where the couple is cooking dinner (at least I think that’s what they were doing) and they exchange that glance, whereupon the walls of their entire house fall away and all of a sudden they’re on a camping

trip with a tent in the background and a fire crackling away at their feet. I don’t know this for certain, but I suspect there are many of my female readers out there who think there might be a more appropriate and comfortable venue for a romantic tryst than in a pup tent on the cold ground. Whenever I see that commercial, all I can think is that if the guy doesn’t stop making goo-goo eyes and pay attention to what’s going on foodwise, his s’mores are going to catch fire and burn their toes.

And many of the commercials for Viagra are even stranger. At least the Cialis commercials have women in them, but the fair sex is often absent in ads for the little blue pills.

Remember the one where a whole bunch of semi-grungy guys are sitting around a cabin in the woods, playing their guitars and singing about Viagra and how they can’t wait to get home? But there wasn’t a single one of them in any hurry to quit singing that awful song and actually go home, where a flesh and blood person might be waiting for them.

And then there’s the one running currently, where a guy is driving a vintage Camaro on the open road — by himself, and apparently in the middle of the night. Where’s he going? Did he get kicked out of the house? Take a wrong turn and end up in Encino? When he finally does get home, it doesn’t look like there are any lights on, so it seems that if he has a significant other, she didn’t wait up. Either that, or she got so sick of him spending all their butter and egg money on his old car and driving around all night that she ran off to Vegas with a lion trainer named Hans.

We’ll never know. But if potential Viagra users spend too much time wondering about it, they might mishear or get confused about the important medical disclaimer at the end of the commercial: “Seek medical attention if you have a construction lasting more than 40 hours.”

At least that’s what I think it said.

Gregory Bean is the former executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at