PORNO REPORT NOTHING TO GET EXCITED OVER.

Byline: DAVID KRONKE TV Critic

Tonight's ``Frontline'' report, ``American Porn,'' is offensive.

Not because of the occasional glimpses of flesh or kinky dialogue from random porn productions producer/director Michael Kirk sat in on. But because Kirk exploits his subject and then assumes an elitist, moral tone, in effect scolding the viewer for watching.

(Gee, you think PBS might draw a few viewers who ordinarily don't tune into PBS? KCET is even showing it twice, an edited version tonight and a more prurient version late Sunday night.)

Granted, not many clever folks would bother to passionately defend pornography. But there do seem to be First Amendment concerns that go beyond typical ``community standards'' issues.

Besides, Kirk's report lays bare a lot that is commonly known: There are high profit margins, for example. Big, respectable corporations, from cable companies to hotel chains, make money off of it. And some subgenres of the form are really, really sleazy.

``This was more than we bargained for,'' Kirk sniffs after watching a particularly explicit production shoot; his sound man is shown packing his fluffy boom mike. ``We left,'' he adds, piously. (Good thing this guy's never covered a war or even a crime scene!)

It would've been far more effective for Kirk to Sam Summers allow the director of the film, who goes by Lizzie Borden, to hang herself, which she happily does: ``I just look at what's happening in society, like real stuff, and I just bring it to porno,'' she intones from her artistic high horse. The folks who truck in this material, by and large, don't seem terribly bright, just terribly opportunistic.

Kirk notes that during the Clinton Administration, Attorney General Janet Reno didn't prosecute many pornography cases. This contributed, he suggests, to the proliferation of online porn (as if the particularly cagey porn fan couldn't get his or her fill from offshore Web sites). ``Has the world that offers home-delivered fetishes lost its capacity to be offended?'' cries out Kirk, the lone voice of reason in the wilderness, before asking, ``Or is it that obscenity in the digital age has just not been put to the test?''

Our new Attorney General, John Ashcroft, is more interested in prosecuting smut peddlers, Kirk offers hopefully, albeit he concedes our leaders might have a few hundred more pressing issues to concern themselves with right about now. He doesn't explain, however, how the courts will put an end to this scourge.

Kirk is so busy being offended for our sake he doesn't even explore more legitimate concerns confronting the industry - health issues or how, on a more philosophical level, the industry affects and reflects upon its practitioners and patrons. ``American Porn'' wants it both ways, to wallow in the titillation and to sneer at its subject matter. Kirk's been a very bad boy, but it's hard to say whether he wants to administer the spanking or receive it.

THE FULL MONTY?: What rescues tonight's installment of Encore's series ``The Directors'' from Shrug City is the director himself, Terry Gilliam, who's frank and funny discussing the disasters that his wildly imaginative films - ``Brazil,'' ``Monty Python and the Holy Grail'' and ``The Adventures of Baron Munchausen'' are just three on his resume - threatened to devolve into.

Gilliam is a straight-shooter who can winningly spin a yarn: ``Reality was trying to prove to me that dreamers don't win,'' he recalls of the tortured ``Munchausen'' production; ``I was the one person who knew we couldn't finish the film.''



Otherwise, the installment is pretty flawed. At one point, a narrator incorrectly refers to the seminal British comedy series Gilliam worked on as ``The Monty Python Flying Circus,'' and later erroneously declares Michael Palin assumed ``the title role'' in ``Jabberwocky.'' The special also inexplicably overlooks ``Monty Python's Life of Brian,'' quotes copiously from Gilliam's press bio and uses fairly uninteresting quotes from the actors with whom Gilliam has worked.

AMERICAN PORN Two stars

What: ``Frontline'' report.

Where: KCET.

When: 9 tonight (relatively cleaned-up version); 11 p.m. Sunday (relatively naughty version).

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