Media Alert: Betrayed by TV

Can Jewish men and women be sexy? Not together, says this season of network series television.

The explicitly Jewish male characters this season range from nervous nerds (“Murphy Brown” on CBS), and cute nebbishes (“Northern Exposure” on CBS, “Flying Blind” on Fox), to feisty writers (“Love and War” on CBS), committed union organizers (“Homefront” on ABC), and hunks (“Sisters” on NBC). But whether in sitcoms, dramas, or dramadies, most of these men lust for a non-Jewish woman, usually the blond WASP of their dreams.

Jewish women hardly exist on television in any case. When there are regular Jewish female characters, they’re the practical ones with boring sex lives—a tough District Attorney on NBC’s “Reasonable Doubts,” a nurse’s aide on Fox’s “The Heights” (the one not in the rock ‘n’ roll band). On Fox’s “Beverly Hills 90210” the Jewish girl is the smart one wearing glasses (surprise!). The message, disturbing because it is particularly apparent on the “youthquake” programs: Jewish women are not romantic material.

Television writers seem to view young Jewish women as precursors to Jewish mothers— and therefore as slated for the butt of jokes, retirement in Florida (all of the shows!) or enthronement on a pedestal (CBS’s “Brooklyn Bridge”). Some Jewish female characters are even men in drag (“Coffee Talk” on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”). Both male and female Israeli characters, however (on “Love and War” and “Reasonable Doubts”), are clearly exotic, foreign and very sexy.

Fox has also introduced “Jessica Cohen” in its new “Class of ’96,” specifically identified as coming from a wealthy family in Shaker Heights. TV Guide and New York magazine, assuming she was modeled on the daughter of producer Leonard Goldberg, immediately labeled her a “Jewish American Princess” before the show even premiered! Yet Jessica shuns fancy appearance, actually uses the library for studying, and dates the gorgeous (non-Jewish) lead. Can a young Jewish woman finally be romantic material? Stay tuned.