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ATTENTION THAT THE ALBERT CASE RECEIVED SAID LOADS ABOUT THE TV BUSINESS

Did the season premiere of "Saturday Night Live" prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there's just no way to get laughs out of the Marv Albert case? Yesss!

Pretty lame line, huh?

Sylvester Stallone hosted the show, which was flatter than last week's live episode of "ER." "SNL" opened with Norm MacDonald putting a wig on and repeatedly using Albert's "Yesss!" in answering a series of questions from Oprah Winfrey (Tim Meadows).

It was painfully unfunny, as were all of Jay Leno's Albert jokes on Thursday and Friday.

Many people are trying -- even WGR-AM 550 sports host Chuck Dickerson -- but there just doesn't appear to be a way to get humor out of a situation that is so bizarre on its face.

NBC puts out a daily release with Leno's best lines. Notably, not one of them was an Albert joke. The only other explanation for the absence of an Albert joke was that it might have been a political decision by NBC, Albert's former employer.

The attention that the Albert case received last week said mountains about the television business, most of it repulsive.

At about 6:30 p.m. Saturday -- two days after Albert's plea bargain -- Court TV was carrying a rerun of a show from the first day of the trial. That's right, at 6:30 p.m.

Why was the network filling weekend time with a program that was outdated by the guilty plea? For the same reason it spent so much time covering the Albert case: A case like this will raise its low ratings, even in reruns.

Court TV won't let the Albert case go. At midnight Monday, "Cochran and Company" was still talking about the case with Albert's attorney, Roy Black, who essentially said his client took a plea because he was embarrassed to death and not because he had committed a crime.

Cable television's coverage of the story is almost as embarrassing as the details of the case. But cable's obsession with titillation is one of the prices we pay for a democratic television system. Court TV's Dan Abrams had the usual weak defense for the network's Albert obsession Monday night, saying the cable net was just giving the public more of what it wants.

The Albert case also has made a mockery of the argument that network shows like "Friends" and "Mad About You" are too risque to be carried at 8 p.m. weekdays and evidence that we need the new program content labeling that begins tonight.

Last week, "American Journal" on Channel 4 was all over the sordid story, talking about oral sex and three-party sex at 7:30 p.m.

At the same time, CNN's "Crossroads" was getting into the act, with John Sununu and Bob Beckel trying to figure out why this story was so important. It was as if raising the question excused them from participating in the exploitation of the case for ratings.

A half-hour later, Court TV joined the group. Whoever thought we'd be hearing discussions of tripartite sex so soon after dinner?

And, of course, Geraldo had his say an hour later on his CNBC show, "Rivera Live."

Suddenly, all the double-entendres on programs like "Friends" seem pretty tame.

If you're to accept the theory that the networks have a responsibility to clean up the airwaves, then why shouldn't cable's Court TV and CNBC consider waiting until after 11 p.m. to discuss cases like this?

If you hear some 13-year-old talking about tripartite sex at the video store any time soon, don't blame Chandler, Monica or Rachel.

It's all Geraldo and Sununu's fault.

The legal shows foolishly scored the Albert proceedings on what amounts to an inning-by-inning basis.

After the first day of testimony, several commentators suggested the prosecution had lost the case because a defense tape had been played that seemed to indicate Albert's accuser had a financial interest in bringing the charges. "If they have a tape, he must escape," one legal expert said to Court TV's poetry expert, Johnnie Cochran.

Some commentators added that the Virginia prosecutor's office and the female complainant had done a disservice to women's abuse organizations by trying the case.

One of the few dissenters from the view the trial was over on Day 1 was the always astute criminal defense attorney William Moffett of Washington, D.C. He said on "Rivera Live" that he knew and respected Virginia prosecutor Richard Trodden and expected that he would come up with something the next day.

He sure did -- a female witness, Patricia Masden, who claimed that Albert had behaved badly with her a few years earlier. That testimony undoubtedly led to the plea deal, even though Black on Monday suggested that the witness had made it up.

A special mention also goes to Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred. She actually suggested after the first day of testimony that the kinky sex stories could help the image of Albert, who had a reputation for being dull. The men on the panel hooted.

By trial's end, Albert's guilty plea certainly proved that the fears of women's groups were unfounded. If anything, getting a conviction in a case that initially looked shaky because of the accuser's reputation looks like a significant victory for women's abuse groups.

NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol, who fired Albert after his guilty plea, since has suggested that the sportscaster could be rehired in a few years after he gets some help and gets his life in order.

Somehow I can't see Albert working on a national stage again. He'd need the total support of national advertisers, who won't even stand fully behind a decent program like ABC's "Nothing Sacred."

However, New Yorkers can be more forgiving. It wouldn't be terribly surprising if Albert returned to New York City's Madison Square Garden Network in a few years.

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