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The 1991 reader's poll

The 1991 reader’s poll — See what our readers thought of movies, TV, music, and more from the past year

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In what we believe is the most extensive survey ever of American tastes in music, movies, TV, and books, Entertainment Weekly commissioned the Gallup Organization to ask 600 Americans (and, separately, 300 subscribers) about their preferences in everything from TV kids to X-rated movies, and their feelings about everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Hannibal Lecter. Would you get in a car with Roseanne Barr? Can you stay awake through a TV golf tourney? Would you let your daughter date Bart Simpson? On these pages, find out what America is reading, rating, hating, and awaiting — the movies that make us long for sequels, the shows that put us to sleep, the music we search the radio dial to hear. As the host of America’s new favorite late-night show might say, let’s get busy.

Q. What’s your favorite TV comedy series?

1. The Cosby Show
2. Cheers
3. The Simpsons
4. Night Court
5. Roseanne

Cheers may have become the No. 1 show in this season’s Nielsens, but going into its eighth year, The Cosby Show — by a whisker — has been voted America’s favorite sitcom. Not everybody agrees, of course: Cheers is far and away the favorite among men, single people, and viewers on both coasts, while Cosby is strongly favored in the South and among parents of Huxtable-age teens. And those we surveyed have made it clear that there’s no show like an old show — the only newcomer to draw any support is CBS’ Evening Shade.

Q. What’s your favorite TV drama series?

1. L.A. Law
2. Knots Landing
3. Thirtysomething
4. Matlock
5. Dallas

Lawyers plummeting down elevator shafts, crashing through the ceiling, firing each other, flirting with each other — this season, L.A. Law was drama, and the runaway favorite of those polled. A couple of surprises: Despite Law‘s locale, it’s more popular in the East than in the West. And despite thirtysomething‘s title, those who most love it in our poll are under 25 years old. Our results suggest that fans of dramatic series may be in for a listless autumn: Of the top five vote getters, only L.A. Law and Knots Landing are set to return in September.

Q. Which of the following people, if any, would you least like to take a very long ride with?

Roseanne Barr 34%
Andrew Dice Clay 24%
Sinéad O’Connor 16%
Kitty Kelley 8%
Anthony Hopkins 3%

A Barr car? Thanks, but no thanks. Men are particularly unwilling to offer a seat to Roseanne, and older people aren’t crazy about the idea either. Those under 25 wouldn’t mind sharing a stretch of highway with Barr, but they detest the idea of the Diceman as a traveling companion (imagine the overflowing ashtray).

Q. What was the best movie of the last 12 months?

1. Dances With Wolves
2. Ghost
3. Pretty Woman
4. Silence of the Lambs
5. Home Alone

This was a two-way race, and a close one: Wolves is tops among men, voters over 35, college graduates, and people in the West, while women and younger moviegoers prefer Ghost. But when it comes to the question that can set a studio’s cash register aglow — what movie would you most like to inspire a sequel? — neither one of them wins. Maybe Wolves was too long; maybe Ghost was too final — according to 26% of our voters, the title they’d most like to see on a movie theater marquee is…Pretty Woman 2.

Q. Do you think rap music is here to stay?

No 57%
Yes 38%
Don’t Know 5%

A passing fad? So say the people we polled, but some voters are more qualified to judge than others…and in this case, the word from 15- to 24-year-olds will probably decide rap’s future. The verdict from those listeners: A solid 61% say it will last.

Q. Who do you think is the best actress in films today?

1. Julia Roberts
2. Meryl Streep
3. Demi Moore
4. Whoopi Goldberg
5. Kim Basinger

In a very close contest, Pretty Woman beats Woman With Many Accents — but just barely. Nine Oscar nominations couldn’t propel Streep past Roberts, although surprisingly, men are only half as enthusiastic about Roberts as women are. Streep is No. 1 among guys, moviegoers on both coasts, and people over 35. But Roberts wins the heartland and is the overwhelming favorite of women and younger viewers as well.

Q. Who do you think is the best actor in films today?

1. Kevin Costner
2. Mel Gibson
3. Patrick Swayze
4. Steven Seagal
5. Richard Gere

He’s about to gallop across screens as the Prince of Sherwood Forest, but Kevin Costner has already been anointed a box office king — and now, by a 3-to-1 margin, the best actor around. Jeremy Irons, this year’s Oscar winner, doesn’t even rate a mention, but another also-ran fares better: Two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro is second among college grads. (Of course, the public may not be the sternest judge of acting ability — we doubt even Steven Seagal would put himself in the top five.)

Q. Have you ever rented an X-rated movie on video?

No 68%
Men 62%
Women 71%
College Grads 58%

Yes 31%
Men 38%
Women 25%
College Grads 41%

It didn’t get to be a billion-dollar industry by accident: According to our poll, 3 in 10 Americans don’t always leave the adult section of their video store empty-handed. Men do more of the renting than women, people in the East are 50% more likely to pick up a porn film than Southerners, parents are just as avid consumers as couples without children, and 25- to 44-year-olds are the most enthusiastic customers of all. How do we measure enthusiasm? Well, 71% of those who have rented an adult film say they’d do it again.

Q. Would you rather listen to Roseanne Barr sing or see Madonna act?

See Madonna act 60%
Hear Barr sing 18%
Neither 20%

With Barr’s national anthem still clanging in their ears, voters stand up for Madonna. But compared with a double feature of Who’s That Girl and Shanghai Surprise, how bad can one song really be?

Q. Who’s the best network news anchor?

Peter Jenning (ABC) 37%
Dan Rather (CBS) 30%
Tom Brokaw (NBC) 26%

Is Jennings cool and aloof? No, he’s calm and rational — and viewers choose his dry delivery and elegant sentence structure over Brokaw’s Midwestern sincerity and Rather’s hot-wire intensity. Jennings is most popular among women and college grads — an impressive accomplishment for a guy who never finished high school. As for Rather, his show has slipped to third in the Nielsens, and 1 out of 11 people say that watching Dan makes them nervous.

Q. Which of these is your favorite late-night talk show?

The Arsenio Hall Show 35%
The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson 31%
Late Night With David Letterman 17%

His show has aired for just three years, but Arsenio Hall is late-night’s new king — depending on who’s doing the crowning. Woofing the loudest for Hall are viewers under 35, non-whites (who pick him over Johnny Carson almost 5 to 1), and city dwellers. But after some 30 years on the air, Carson still has bastions of support — the West Coast, older viewers, and college grads (the last group also prefers David Letterman to Hall). And viewers are in no hurry to get rid of Carson — only 30% are eager to see Jay Leno take over the show in 1992, as planned. And while 25% say Ed McMahon has been warming the guest chair long enough, 56% think Johnny’s sidekick should stick around too.

Q. What is the best musical group of all time?

1. The Beatles
2. The Rolling Stones
3. The Beach Boys
4. Led Zeppelin
5. The Temptations

Good thing there’ll always be an England — if the top five had been confined to American groups, Chicago would have snuck in. With the list open to imports, the Beatles cruise to an easy win. Their greatest support comes from 35- to 44-year-olds (who were the screaming teenagers of 1964). And in a rare instance of acquired nostalgia, voters under 25 are the only age group to place the Doors in their top five.

Q. Who is the best singer performing today?

1. Whitney Houston
2. Mariah Carey
3. Garth Brooks
4. Randy Travis
5. George Strait

So what if she lip-synched The Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl? Whitney Houston still turned the national anthem into a Top 40 hit, and by a slim margin, voters pick her pipes over those of the golden-throated Mariah Carey. But 1991’s big success story is Garth Brooks, whose country crooning has made him a pop success and, according to our poll, the best male singer (with Sinatra coming in fourth).

Q. If “thirtysomething” were to have another character die, who do you think it should be?

Elliot (Timothy Busfield) 4.8%
Hope (Mel Harris) 3.5%
Miles (David Clennon) 2.8%
Other/Don’t Know 73%

A split among viewers: Men would like to let Elliot realize his lifelong dream of not growing up, while if women had their way, Hope would never have the opportunity to criticize Michael again. In the wake of Gary Shepherd’s death, however, more than two-thirds of those we surveyed declined to pick a victim — maybe once was enough. ABC wasn’t as stricken with yuppie love: Last month, the network decided to wipe the entire ensemble off its prime-time schedule.

Q. Which of these television kids is the coolest?

Bart Simpson (The Simpsons) 19%
Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage on The Wonder Years) 18%
Steve Urkel (Jaleel White on Family Matters) 18%
Olivia (Raven-Symone on The Cosby Show) 18%
Doogie Howser (Neil Patrick Harris on Doogie Howser) 17%

Of all the questions in our survey, this one divides voters the most sharply. Bart — underachiever no more — ekes out a narrow victory overall, but each kid has strong support. Men, young adults, and TV viewers in the East and South vote for Bart’s wisecracking, while women and viewers in the West prefer the sweeter and undeniably more three-dimensional Kevin Arnold. People with kids of their own select geeky Steve Urkel as their favorite, while childless respondents voice fondness for The Cosby Show‘s Olivia. And Doogie Howser can console himself with a big victory among voters old enough to be his parents…and among subscribers to this magazine, who name him the coolest of them all.

Q. When you watch a videotaped show, do you usually fast-forward through the commercials?

Yes 79%
No 14%

The evidence is conclusive, and it should make TV sponsors very nervous — we’ve become a nation of zappers. Whose fingers are quickest on the trigger? TV viewers under 25. Only 4% of them let the ads play, while viewers ages 25 to 34 are the most willing to stop and shop.

Q. In the last 90 days, have you…

Rented a movie? 76%
Read a book? 57%
Bought any music? 55%
Gone to a movie? 51%
Bought a book? 45%

Men are more likely to head for the record store, while women are more eager for movies and books. The most frequent movie renters are people ages 35 to 44, the rarest those 45 and over.

Q. Who’s the scariest — Freddy Krueger, Hannibal Lecter, or Leatherface?

Freddy Krueger 33%
Hannibal Lecter 27%
Leatherface 10%

Freddy wins — but Hannibal the Cannibal is No. 1 with readers and more avid moviegoers, who have had the chance to catch him in action lately.

Q. Which of these three authors is the scariest?

Stephen King 66%
Dean R. Kootz 3%
Thomas Harris 2%
Don’t know authors 22%

With more than two dozen best-selling books to his credit (including The Shining, Pet Sematary, The Stand, and The Dark Half) and more movie adaptations than any other current novelist, he’s earned the name King — so say two-thirds of the people we polled. Harris’ low showing is understandable (his novels appear at a trickle compared with King’s flood), but the very prolific Koontz, say readers, just doesn’t deliver as much boo for the buck.

Q. Which of these is your favorite morning show?

Good Morning America (ABC) 38%
Today (NBC) 12%
CBS This Morning (CBS) 9%

Since Katie Couric took over Deborah Norville’s co-anchor duties on Today, NBC’s ratings have been creeping up on ABC’s, but Good Morning America‘s popularity seems insurmountable. And parents of young children are particularly fond of Joan Lunden and Charlie Gibson, preferring them almost 5 to 1 over the competition. One statistic, though, should send a chill through the boardrooms of all three networks: Nearly 40% of those surveyed don’t watch morning news shows at all.

Q. Who is the funniest actor in films today?

1. Eddie Murphy
2. Bill Cosby
3. Steve Martin
4. John Candy
5. Robin Williams

It’s no laughing matter: Neither of the top two vote getters has made a funny movie in quite some time (does anyone remember Cosby’s Ghost Dad, or Murphy’s mirthless Harlem Nights?). That didn’t dissuade those we surveyed, although it’s worth noting that third-place Steve Martin is the top choice of college grads and scores well in the West, where the wit of this winter’s L.A. Story may have cut closer to the funny bone.

Q. Who is the funniest actress in films today?

1. Whoopi Goldberg
2. Roseanne Barr
3. Bette Midler
4. Carol Burnett
5. Kirstie Alley

Was there ever any doubt? With this year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner in the running, no other comedian stood a ghost of a chance. But our survey suggests that Roseanne Barr has a big-screen future: Despite the fact that she has only the flop She-Devil to her credit, Barr outdraws Disney star Bette Midler. Apparently, Barr’s TV take on motherhood has a lot of fans: Her strongest supporters in our poll are parents.

Q. How often do you use the movie ratings guide (G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17)?

Always 37%
Sometimes 17%
Never 17%
Rarely 7%

Ratings aren’t for everyone — most of the younger moviegoers we surveyed don’t pay that much attention to them — but our poll suggests that the MPAA guidelines are indispensable to their intended users, parents: 59% tell us they always look at ratings to decide what their children can see.

Q. Have you ever been helped by a self-help book?

No 62%
Yes 36%

Who finds help between the pages of a best-seller? According to our survey, married people are far more likely to run to the bookstore for a quick dose of self-improvement than singles, and men find such books more useful than women do. Of those with high incomes and college educations, almost half have used a personal fix-it manual with good results at least once.

Q. Would you let your children see a slasher movie?

No 79%
Men 71%
Women 86%
15-24 59%
45+ 88%

Yes 17%
Men 22%
Women 11%
15-24 33%
45+ 5%

Q. Would you let your children see a Madonna concert?

No 64%
Men 55%
Women 73%
15-24 58%
45+ 69%

Yes 31%
Men 41%
Women 21%
15-24 37%
45+ 25%

Q. Would you let your children listen to a heavy-metal album?

No 57%
Men 49%
Women 65%
15-24 44%
45+ 70%

Yes 35%
Men 46%
Women 26%
15-24 52%
45+ 24%

Forget permissiveness: Parents in our poll are quick to put all three of these activities on their list of no-nos. In every instance, men are more lenient than women, and a majority of the younger respondents to our survey are willing to let their kids give heavy metal a spin on the turntable at least once.

Q. Does watching golf on TV make you sleepy?

Yes 51%
No 27%
Don’t watch golf 22%

With age comes patience: 71% of 15- to 24-year-olds can’t stifle their yawns throughout an entire broadcast, but among the 45-and-older set, only 30% report the same alarming symptoms. Unmarried voters, especially, report that golf on television is likely to knock them out.

Q. Would you adopt Macaulay Culkin?

No 40%
Yes 38%

A nation of hard hearts? Hardly. It’s just that a lot of people already have their hands full: Most parents who answered aren’t that interested in increasing their brood, even if the new addition is a movie star with a million-dollar paycheck. But most of the childless people who answered would be glad to make sure that Macaulay Culkin doesn’t have to stay home alone…and the older the respondents are, the happier they’d be to have him around.

Q. What type of radio do you listen to the most?

Country 25%
Top 40 17%
Oldies 16%
Classic Rock 13%
Soft Rock 10%

Any doubts about the surging popularity of country music should be put to rest — it’s the favorite almost everywhere. (We said almost — among the East Coast listeners we asked, it falls all the way to fifth.) Also looking for a more urban beat are those under 25, who strongly prefer Top 40 stations.

Q. Who do you think is the best novelist — Judith Krantz, Sidney Sheldon, or Danielle Steel?

Sidney Sheldon 38%
Danielle Steel 25%
Judith Krantz 4%

Even with three hit TV movies this season (Kaleidoscope, Fine Things, and Changes), Steel has to cede first place to Sheldon. But women, who have purchased her 27 best-sellers by the truckload, say she is No. 1.

Q. Who do you think is the best musical act today?

1. M.C. Hammer
2. Vanilla Ice (Tie)
Wilson Phillips
4. Aerosmith (Tie)
New Kids on the Block

Please, Hammer, don’t hurt us: People enjoy you, but rock (and rap) groups just don’t generate that much enthusiasm among our respondents. In fact, more than half of them couldn’t even pick a favorite. At least you have nothing to fear from runner-up Vanilla Ice for now — you’re chosen by four times as many people as he is. Among the men we surveyed, Aerosmith vaults to second place, and New Kids on the Block, in what may be an ominous sign of their waning future as teen idols, draw most of their support from people old enough to be their parents.

Q. Which TV network do you turn to most often in a crisis?

CNN 37%
ABC 26%
CBS 15%
NBC 13%

Bad news is good news for Ted Turner; CNN’s postwar ratings have fallen, but viewers are ready to return should disaster recur. ABC is a strong second, mainly in the West and South.

Q. Do you think there is too much sex on television, too little, or the right amount?

Too Much:
Total 53%
Men 41%
Women 65%
Under 25 28%
45 & up 65%

Too little:
Total 6%
Men 10%
Women 3%
Under 25 11%
45 & up 6%

Right amount:
Total 38%
Men 45%
Women 30%
Under 25 60%
45 & up 23%

Q. Do you think there is too much violence on television, too little, or the right amount?

Too Much:
Total 65%
Men 54%
Women 76%
Under 25 41%
45 & up 78%

Too little:
Total 2%
Men 5%
Women 0%
Under 25 9%
45 & up 0%

Right amount:
Total 30%
Men 40%
Women 21%
Under 25 50%
45 & up 17%

They may watch it, but they don’t like it: More than half of the people we asked say TV spends too much time in the bedroom. But most of the men don’t object at all, and neither do viewers under 25 (1 in 10 of them would like to see more sex on TV). The issue of small-screen violence brings a clearer consensus, with an especially firm vote for less bloodshed coming from parents of children under 12. Easterners prove to be considerably more tolerant of small-screen sex and violence than voters in the rest of the country, while Southerners express the greatest distaste for both.

Q. Would you let your daughter go out with Bart Simpson?

No 83%
Yes 9%

People watch him, people love him…but according to our survey, Bart may have a lot of lonely Saturday nights in his future. In cities and suburbs, from coast to coast, parents are adamant about this. (Maybe they’re just afraid of becoming Homer’s in-laws.)

Q. Would you let your son date Kelly Bundy of Married…With Children?

No 60%
Yes 15%

Are we seeing a double standard here? While most parents we asked don’t perceive lethally dumb sex bomb Kelly Bundy (Christina Applegate) as ideal daughter-in-law material, nearly half of the men who had a preference ask how much one date can hurt. Plenty, say women, who nix Kelly 6 to 1.

Q. Which of these talk show hosts do you think is the best?

Oprah Winfrey:
Total 37%
Men 24%
Women 50%
White 35%
Nonwhite 54%

Phil Donahue:
Total 20%
Men 25%
Women 16%
White 22%
Nonwhite 12%

Geraldo Rivera:
Total 12%
Men 16%
Women 7%
White 5%
Nonwhite 7%

Sally Jessy Raphael:
Total 6%
Men 3%
Women 8%
White 5%
Nonwhite 7%

Joan Rivers:
Total 5%
Men 5%
Women 5%
White 5%
Nonwhite 1%

In a battle of the sexes, Winfrey wins by a knockout, taking the women’s vote by better than 3 to 1. Donahue can console himself with the narrowest of victories among men, but the future apparently belongs to Oprah, who plans to continue her show at least until 1995: Among viewers under 25, she has more fans than her four competitors combined.

Q. Who is the sexiest actress in films today?

1. Julia Roberts
2. Kim Basinger
3. Michelle Pfeiffer
4. Cher
5. Demi Moore

It’s Roberts by a landslide — and, surprisingly, among the women we asked, the Sleeping With the Enemy star leaves everyone else in the dust. Men, who make Basinger a very strong second, aren’t quite as convinced, and neither are the nonwhites we surveyed: Basinger is their first choice.

Q. Who is the sexiest actor in films today?

1. Patrick Swayze
2. Kevin Costner
3. Mel Gibson
4. Tom Cruise
5. Richard Gere

Finally, a 1991 award that Dances With Wolves doesn’t win. Our voters prefer their dancing dirty, and they’re crazy about Swayze: The memory of his fancy footwork with Jennifer Grey and a very erotic private pottery lesson with Demi Moore in Ghost was enough to give him an easy win. Dissent is mild: Voters over 45 give their hearts to Gere (the silver hair may have been a good career move), and Midwesterners vote solidly for Cruise. Among the men we asked, the overwhelming sentiment is: Get lost. Nearly half of them refuse to name anyone.

Q. Compared with a year ago, how much are you spending on entertainment?

About the same 49%
Less 30%
More 20%

Recession? It depends on whom you ask. Those feeling the pinch most in 1991 are married couples and people over 45. Quickest to open their wallets are 15- to 24-year-olds; 35% of them are spending more for fun than they did a year ago.

More Poll Results

42% think people in movie theaters talk too much.

40% say that cable television is not worth the money

73% say their favorite movie theater snack is popcorn.

51% Don’t think sitcoms should have laugh tracks.

92% always remember to rewind rented videotapes…or so they claim

82% think Bill Cosby is funnier than Roseanne Barr.

54% have never watched an entire episode of Jake and the Fatman.

74% say they know how to program their videocassette recorder to tape a TV show on one channel while they’re watching another.

65% disapprove of commercials on movie screens

84% want to laugh when they go to the movies
7% prefer to cry
3% would rather scream.

65% don’t think that NBC’s Saturday Night Live is as funny today as it used to be.

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