Who Let Tommy Lee on Campus?

For TV, a college lets the creepy rocker ogle frosh and debase higher learning.

By Shannon Rupp 16 Aug 2005 | TheTyee.ca

Shannon Rupp was a Tyee contributing editor. For permission to reprint this article please contact the author: shannon(at)shannonrupp.com. 

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The producers of Tommy Lee Goes to College might want to rename the show "Dirty Old Man on Campus."

The new reality program, which premieres tonight on NBC and CTV, features the much-tattooed Motley Crue drummer sampling the freshman experience at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Sadly, he isn't actually enrolled, and is unlikely to learn anything.

The running gag is that this rebel-on-campus is supposed to shake up all those stodgy pointy-heads in the halls of academe. But the joke appears to be on Tommy and the show's producers who don't seem to get that the antics of this 42-year-old arrested development case are just cringe-worthy.

According to David Fitzgibbon, of UNL's PR office, there were some objections to the project, but concerns for the dignity of the institution paled in contrast to the millions of dollars worth of prime time TV exposure and publicity they would get. The administration hopes the show will help recruit out-of-state and international students.

"With enrollment falling we needed to broaden our recruiting and take some unusual steps to get on the students' radar screen. We only have $1 million publicity budget. And it's hard for an institution like ours to break into pop culture and be part of that pop culture phenomenon," Fitzgibbon explains. "Companies pay millions for product placement and we thought of this as the equivalent of product placement."

Why would a university want to be part of the "pop culture phenomenon" anyway?

Oh, never mind.

Big man on campus

Of course there were faculty and students who considered it "the stupidest idea in the world" to invite the aging rocker with the behavioural problems into their midst. And Fitzgibbon recalls that women's groups were particularly vocal.

That's because of Lee's long list of dubious accomplishments. Despite 24 years banging the skins, he's best known for the honeymoon home-video with ex-wife and (just our luck) Canadian Pamela Anderson that found its way onto the Internet. Reportedly, it became the best-selling adult flick of all time. Lee graduated to infamous when his much reported assault on Anderson earned him some jail time.

As for Tommy's bad "boy" image being played for laughs, is there anything more pathetic than a middle-aged lech trying to relive his youth? When he develops a crush on his "Hot Tutor" -- really, this is how she's named on the show -- it's more likely to draw yucks than yuks.

Lee's life's adventures are written all over his body and he looks so rough that he appears to be competing to replace Keith Richards in that old joke: In the event of nuclear holocaust there are only two things that will survive -- cockroaches and the Rolling Stone's guitarist.

That's, like, gross

In the first episode, Lee gets his roommate to attend class for him, along with a webcam, which seems inspired until he instructs the kid to turn the camera on the cute 18-year-old girls. The sight of this broken-down old creep in his lounge chair checking out young babes on television made me want to yell, "Just keep those hands where we can see'em, buddy."

Is this the sort of thing we, as viewers, want to have running through our heads when we're watching TV? Is this the image the University of Nebraska-Lincoln wants?

Fitzgibbon is hoping that some 16-year-olds in Florida or Alabama will tune in to see Tommy Lee, and be dazzled by UNL's ivy-covered ivory towers gleaming in the autumn sunshine.

Maybe. But does he want to recruit the kind of 16-year-olds interested in the poster boy for lewd, crude, women-hating freaks? Are they likely to admire UNL's reputation as a world class research and teaching facility? Do these kids even have the SAT scores to get in?

No, if this show attracts anyone it's more likely to be guys of Tommy Lee's vintage who have fantasies about teenage girls. To which I have only one response: eeeuuuuwww.

On the other hand, I bet the networks had no trouble selling ads -- the Viagra people seem to promote their product a lot, and I'm guessing this will be the ideal show for them.

© Shannon Rupp. For permission to reprint this article please contact the author: shannon(at)shannonrupp.com.  [Tyee]

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