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PBS, You Don’t Need to Protect Us From Fred Willard

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So as you may have heard, legendary comic actor Fred Willard was arrested in an LA porn theater (in related news: there are still porn theaters) for a “lewd act.” Let’s leave aside the fact that arresting people for lewd behavior in porno houses is akin to arresting people for drinking in bars. (Do habitues of prom porn theaters actually call the police to complain about lewd activities spoiling the ambience?) Let’s leave aside whether this is the best use of crimefighting resources of LA’s police department or any other. The real crime that resulted from all this was that PBS yesterday canned Willard as the host of Antiques Roadshow spinoff Market Warriors.

It was shaping up as such a good day for PBS yesterday! The network had just had its best Emmy nominations morning in years, collecting nods for Downton Abbey across the drama categories, as well as for Sherlock. Then the network decided it need to oust Willard after the news, as a pre-emptive action against—what, exactly?

It’s not news that one of the downsides of having a public media network that’s dependent on contributions from government and corporate sponsors is that it makes extremely timid decisions, especially around anything having to do with politics or, perhaps more so, sex. In 2006, it fired a children’s show host because of a sexually provocative video she’d made seven years before. I wrote at the time that the decision was ridiculous—and aimed more at protecting parents’ tender sensibilities than kids’—even if, given the subject matter of her show, unavoidable. The legacy of Pee-Wee Herman sadly remains with us.

But who exactly was going to be offended by Willard narrating a show for grown adults about trying to nab antique finds in flea markets? I think we can all safely assume that the show could ensure that no funny business was going on while Willard described the search for a vintage snuff box. And news flash: no matter who PBS gets to narrate the show—they have sex parts, and they do things with them, somewhere, somehow, things that we may prefer not to know about. It makes no damn difference to anything. And for a TV network premised on catering to the higher intelligence of its viewers to behave as if we are such idiots and children is silly and sad.

Besides, if anything, Willard’s infraction is in a way appropriate for the host of a show of this kind. In the age of the Internet, what are porn houses if not a disappearing piece of vintage Americana? You may call it inappropriate behavior, PBS. I call it research!