Ask the tube

Jul 14, 1999 at 12:00 am

In his "Living La Vida Loca" video, Ricky Martin frolics with a virtual chorus line of seductive women. Then he steals away to a private room and drizzles massage oil on the tight, bare midsection of a voluptuous model reclined on a bed. At the end of their newest video, all four members of 98 Degrees realize they are engaged to the same woman. Unfortunately, she marries another guy. And in Jennifer Lopez’s Latin soul trip to cyberspace, two auto mechanics ignore an engine that has burst into flames because they are so entranced by downloaded images of her enjoying a shower.

Philandering? Betrayal? Obsession? It looks like somebody could use a little sex-and-relationship advice. So MTV can thank its sexy stars for "Loveline."

The same network that can turn soured romance into a karaoke-courtroom game show ("The Blame Game") and the real life trials of late-teen-to-20-something roommates into a tattooed and pierced soap opera ("The Real World") also beckons the youth of America toward good sense and responsibility. "Loveline," a talk show that offers advice on love and sex, might be more than you wanted to know about questions you’d never think to ask. But internist and addictionologist Dr. Drew Pinsky, his dry-humored comic sidekick Adam Carolla and the insightful third wheel Diane Farr never even wince.

Of course, "Loveline"’s ratings depend, at least in part, on how entertaining, explicit and bizarre the sexual queries are. Questions come in over the phone, from the studio audience and also from "The Wall of Shame," where a guy with his back to the camera might confess to being sexually attracted to his male roommate. The troubled, curious and confused bring in their concerns about sexually transmitted diseases, impotence, stalkers, pornography, orgasms, fetishes, relationships, infidelity and some topics too odd to categorize.

Carolla’s favorite task is fleshing out homosexual tendencies. When he isn’t making jokes about his own autoerotic activity, he’s trying to get callers to come out of the closet, usually whether they’re in it or not. Sure, he’s predictable, but he rarely misses when its time to meet the anticipation with a good one-liner. For more laughs, he creates his own terminology, such as "behymen" – a combination of behind and hymen – to discuss various aspects of the homosexual experience.

Carolla can be ridiculous, but also good for taking the juicier calls from men who can’t stop masturbating, strippers caught in love triangles and women who can’t climax without watching porn. His nasal, deadpan humor might be crass, but he adds a reckless wit and sarcasm to what might otherwise seem like a Q&A session after a university lecture on human sexuality.

But before Carolla turns the show into a call-in version of "Jerry Springer" or "Ricki Lake," Dr. Drew takes his cue. With more than five years’ experience doing "Loveline" as a syndicated radio show – which is still on the air – the doctor mixes levity with a level of concern and expertise that makes listening to the graphic and sometimes disturbing details of strangers’ sex lives seem worth the effort.

A caller in his late teens asks why he is able to squeeze milk from his nipples. As it turns out, lactating isn’t just a neat party trick; it is also a sign of a serious medical condition. So "Loveline" isn’t just junior Penthouse letters being read over a speakerphone. It strives to be a source of reality for young people who live in a world of fantasy. Yes, you can bump and grind your way to a candlelit room and get naked in a music video, but in the actual "real world," there can be shattering consequences. "Loveline" deserves credit for at least acknowledging this and putting the message in a format that draws the attention of young people.

During the show, Dr. Drew invites a member of the audience to join the panel and answer questions. Celebrity guests N’ Sync and Pamela Anderson Lee made appearances recently, adding a little glitz to the colorful set and the show’s overall upbeat feel. Sex talk can be fun, even when the bottom line is a sincere, bespectacled Dr. Drew getting down to business about contraception, low self-esteem and genital warts.

"Loveline" rocketed past the achievements of popular sex therapists Dr. Judy Kuriansky and Dr. Ruth Westheimer when it landed its spot on the small screen with MTV and, more importantly, held onto it. The show has the advantage of featuring a medical doctor instead of a sex therapist.

But besides the credentials, "Loveline" is smart about incorporating entertainment value into something that actually makes sense. And what a task that is next to the "Isle of MTV Fantasy," where the only potential viewing pleasure comes from tanned college kids doing the bikini boogie on a beach.

Dr. Drew and Adam Carolla have co-authored a book based on their work as sex gurus. A Survival Guide to Live and Love mirrors the "Loveline" experience, teaming medical advice with enough sarcastic sexual quackery – like Carolla’s "Gay and Lesbian Aptitude Test" – to keep the pages turning.

The show airs Monday through Thursday at 11 p.m., and at 2 a.m. Sunday on MTV.