19 AUGUST 1989, Page 40


LA lore

Wendy Cope

Los Angeles here is a pair of pink earrings on the screen. They are revolving slowly, twink- ling under the lights. Pink zirconia dia- mond earrings, says the caption. Also on the screen are the price of the jewels and the number you have to ring if you want to buy them. The picture remains exactly the same for at least five minutes. On sound, Donna the presenter chats to women who have phoned in to tell her what they bought earlier. 'Did you go crazy on that last buy?' asks Donna. 'We're having so much fun today!' The programme is so intriguingly boring that I remain glued to it for nearly half an hour.

Home Shopping Spree occupies a morn- ing slot on one of the zillion channels available to viewers in Los Angeles. Hav- ing made it, at last, to the land of LA Law, I have, fortunately, had few opportunities to watch television. Naturally it has been something of a thrill to see the very freeways and skyscrapers that appear in my favourite programme. This is not the greatest pleasure that California has to offer but few of the others have anything to do with the subject of this column. The best thing has been the friendliness and generosity of the people I've met — even the poets are nice here and they all have cars.

When I'm asked how I make a living, we inevitably get around to discussing televi- sion. Hardly anyone I've talked to has ever seen LA Law or thirtysomething. In fact, they don't seem to get round to watching much at all. The evenings are short here because everybody (except 19-year-olds, I'm told) likes to get to bed early. Parties, dinner parties and quiet evenings at home draw to a close soon after 10 p.m. For the jet-lagged, it's a helpful timetable.

One couple enthused about The Singing Detective but, apart from that, the only programme I've heard anyone praise is Sesame Street. 'It's very New York', said a Los Angeles mother. But she enjoys it and so does her 11-month-old daughter, who points happily at Big Bird. Seven-year-olds like it too and parents laugh out loud at the sketches. I'm not sure how much or how recently Sesame Street has been shown on British television. Some of the characters were familiar from The Muppets but I'd never seen the educational version and I'm very impressed. It's wonderfully inclusive — a kind of ideal America. Some of the cartoons are in minority languages and the presenters come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. Physically and men- tally handicapped people also appear. One scene that I saw featured a deaf woman and her boyfriend conversing in sign lan- guage, while the puppets asked questions about what they were doing. There's a fair bit of moral education in Sesame Street little stories designed to encourage toler- ance or co-operation or a positive attitude — but the touch is light and it doesn't get sanctimonious.

Elsewhere on the airwaves, the sanc- timonious is available all day long. I haven't yet seen the evangelist who tears up telephone books 'with the power of the Lord'. But one stint of channel-hopping brought me face-to-face with Brother Bob, a tanned 50-year-old with one of those perfectly coiffured heads of grey hair that make baldness seem desirable. He asks us all to make a vow of faith. This means you promise to give 1,000 dollars to God do Brother Bob. Many viewers have written and told Bob what a smart move it turned out to be. 'Now I have more income,' said a typical letter, 'so I know that God is real and answers prayers.' Cancel the pink zirconia diamond earrings. I'm gonna go crazy on a vow of faith.