By Bruce Fretts
Updated August 18, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Current Affair used to be the brand name synonymous with tabloid TV. The show’s title was inseparable from the generic product, as Kleenex is to facial tissues and Xerox is to photocopies. But these days, it’s Hard Copy that defines the genre. After plunging in the ratings, Affair has gone soft, even losing its sleaziest correspondent, Steve Dunleavy. Mean while, Inside Edition and American Journal threaten to cross the line into respectability, thanks to earnest anchorwomen Deborah Norville and Nancy Glass, respectively. So how has Hard Copy become the preeminent presence in its field? Like its anchorwoman, Morgan Fairchild look-alike Terry Murphy, the show hasn’t bleached its dark roots. Hard Copy gives the people exactly what they want, whether it’s good for them or not.

The show has made ratings hay by tenaciously pursuing such lurid cases as the O.J. Simpson and Susan Smith trials — but so have the rest of the media (though not everyone else has paid sources). Hard Copy may be best defined by what it’s not. It’s the evening news without all those boring stories from foreign countries — Doug Llewelyn look-alike Barry Nolan even broadcast from Oklahoma City, just like Tom Brokaw and Connie What’s-her-name. It’s 20/20 without Hugh Downs and Baba Wawa — a mix of celebrity scandals, hidden-camera investigations (more exploitations than exposés), and consumer reports (e.g., examining falsely labeled fat-free foods without naming brand names). It’s America’s Funniest Home Videos crossed with America’s Most Wanted — wacky sound effects supplement surveillance tape of a convenience-store clerk breaking a coffee mug over a burglar’s head (shown no fewer than eight times in one episode).

There is a wafer-thin veneer of journalistic integrity to Hard Copy; its trademark banging-typewriter-ball graphic (a blatant knockoff of Affair‘s clanging triangle) even lends it a faux newspaper feel. But like the New York Post, Hard Copy trumpets headlines that are often juicier than the stories that follow.

”Jennifer’s Bad Habits!” blared the teaser for a recent segment that promised to probe Friends star Jennifer Aniston’s sordid past. In fact, all the piece ”uncovered” was that Aniston had starred in the cruddy 1993 horror flick Leprechaun (available at most video stores), chain smokes (like almost every other young actor), and got dumped by an unnamed ”soap hunk” (according to an unnamed ”supermarket tabloid”). Say it ain’t so!

The problem with Hard Copy‘s Hollywood reporting — its bread and butter — is that no genuine star would ever be crazy enough to sit down and talk with them. True, not-so-hot pop diva Jody Watley met Hard Copy‘s Jodi Baskerville, and revealed that she had secretly been married to her ex-producer, Andre Cymone, but this exclusive was hardly akin to Diane Sawyer’s Michael and Lisa Marie interview (it wasn’t even akin to Sawyer’s Paula Abdul interview).

Without direct access to stars, Hard Copy must pad its stories with surreptitious telephoto footage — David Hasselhoff was spied on the Baywatch set apparently wearing a girdle (which he denies) — and know-nothing commentary from a network of ”celebrity journalists.” Leeza Gibbons look-alike Lisa Stanley, for example, boldly predicted that Baywatch was ”heading for one of its best seasons ever!”

Nowhere is Hard Copy‘s entertainment coverage weaker than in its all-show biz weekend edition, HCTV, hosted by Patricia Richardson look-alike Diane Dimond. Designed for the MTV crowd, HCTV moves ridiculously quickly, hoping you won’t notice how fetid its items are. In its most inane feature, “The Snake Pit,” a McLaughlin Group-style panel chews over such Jurassic morsels as: Marlon Brando was nude…in Last Tango in Paris… in 1973! At least on Hard Copy the trash is fresh. C