Rivera's 'Devil Worship' was TV at Its Worst

31 October 1988, San Jose Mercury News
Monday, October 31, 1988 Section: Living Page: 11B
By: Tom Shales column

WE CAN stop worrying about the breakdown of standards in broadcasting because there are almost no standards left to break down.

A last few of them fell on Tuesday, Oct. 25, when NBC gave Geraldo Rivera the first two hours of prime time to talk about butchered babies, dismembered corpses, cannibal cults and sex orgies. Rivera's special, "Devil Worship: Exploring Satan's Underground," was his first network show since ABC News got rid of him in 1985. Since then, Rivera has prospered with a series of cheesy and sleazy syndicated specials exploring the twilight zones of American society.

"Devil Worship" was just like the syndicated shows, only worse. It was a cheap, lurid and low-minded shocker aired in a time slot early enough for millions of children to be watching -- the same time slot where, on other nights, kids see "ALF" and "The Cosby Show."

Half of this time period used to be known as "the family hour." Those were the days!

Of course Rivera kept telling the kiddies not to watch. The program was filled with disclaimers and parental advisories. But even Rivera admitted at one point that such disclaimers frequently attract the very viewers they're meant to discourage.

Addressing parents of small children, Rivera warned, "Get them away from the TV during the next report." Later, he told viewing parents, "I am begging you" to chase all tots from the set. "Please get them out of the room, or change the station!" he barked.

There followed a segment on the alleged breeding of babies for sacrifice in satanic rituals, something which, said Rivera, "may really be happening." Other segments dealt with ritual sexual abuse of children, mutilations of infants and cocktail parties for the blood-drinking set. This stuff may really be happening, too.

''May really be happening" is good enough for Rivera. It's all the excuse he needs.

Rivera had guest stars, too, supposed experts on the subject and that familiar figure Rivera introduced as "today's top satanic celebrity." Who he? "Here's Charles Manson," said Rivera, as if summoning the next book-plugging guest on a talk show.

''That man is so repugnant," said Rivera after the tape of Manson raving bilge. "All these satanic murderers are." He referred to such people as "all-stars in the hall of infamy" and "celebrated psychopaths." Not just killers, but star killers. Any old ordinary killer has a harder time getting on the air with Geraldo Rivera.

''The very young and impressionable should definitely not be watching this program tonight," Rivera said near the beginning. "This is not a Halloween fable." And yet the program was carefully slotted near Halloween, taking its place among all the slasher movies and horror shows.

NBC promos aired during "Devil Worship" advertised network shows dealing with a homicidal hooker, a child chased by a monster, "real-life ghostbusters," the attempted assassination of a U.S. senator and the kinky sex drive of a masochistic blond woman. "Midnight Caller" was ballyhooed as "Psycho killer on the loose!"

Then it was back to Rivera and more of his livid purple prose about "gruesome rituals," "gruesome memories," "gruesome allegations," "brutally violent, horrible crimes," and acts "so incredibly outrageous, so incredibly unbelievable," that he was reluctant to describe them.

But he did! On and on. He would have shown more photos, but Rivera and the NBC censor got into a tiff before the broadcast and some of the exhibits were apparently nixed. "The most gruesome scenes are left out," Rivera said, sounding pouty.

Monstrous, obscene crimes have long been a part of human history. In previous eras, the media didn't dwell at length on the gory details. Rivera considers this a cover-up. Other people might consider it good taste or good citizenship. Some people watch Rivera to laugh at the campy awfulness of it all. They may have enjoyed his odd badgering of a convicted murderer speaking from prison. "Get to the point about Satanism, Charlie," he urged, later shouting, "Are you sick?"

He placed his hand on the shoulder of a bereaved parent and asked, "What must it be like to a father to think that his own son was disposed of in pieces and thrown in the garbage?" The man began his answer, "It's just very upsetting, naturally . . . "

Rivera's show was very upsetting too, to understate it again. It was literally nauseating, not because of the subject matter but because of the pandering way it was paraded about. Rivera referred to Satanism as "this force that exalts evil and darkness." Watching this inexcusable slop, you would think he was talking about television.

It also made you think twice about the slogan of General Electric, owner of NBC: "GE, we bring good things to life!"

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Last Updated: 26 Nov 95 -- Mark Pritchard

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