Taking Hollywood to the Woodshed

by Brian Bird, producer and writer

I woke up a few months ago to find this Hollywood Reporter article in my in-box.  I thought I had stumbled onto a porn site.  I actually don’t even want to repeat the headline.  You can read it for yourself.  But suffice to say, it’s time to take my own industry to the woodshed.

Apparently some of the broadcast TV networks and writer-producers have so much HBO envy that there are no envelopes they aren’t willing to push anymore. At Emmy time, the pay-cable networks seem take home most of the hardware for their boundary pushing content. Remember, HBO’s branding slogan: “It’s not TV, it’s HBO.” Well, for a lot of the executives, buyers and content creators on broadcast TV, the way to cure your Envy-Green is go to Blue.

This is happening on the networks (CBS, NBC, Disney-owed ABC, and FOX) that people use to receive for free on their rabbit ears over the public airwaves, the same networks that used to be regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. But now, because we pay a few cents or dollars for their feed on our cable or satellite bills every month, they are now considered pay-TV, hence virtually no FCC oversight. That’s the marketplace at work.

These very same broadcasters used to have robust “Standards and Practices” departments which would encourage restraint and discretion on the parts of the writers, producers and production companies so as not to ambush public tastes. Apparently, these S & P execs, right along with the feeble FCC, have now gone AWOL.

family watching TV

Can families be safe these days watching broadcast TV? Many opt for movies instead.

 

The Frog in the Beaker

Okay, call me a prude. I’ve worked on family-themed films and TV shows for most of my career, including such series as Touched By An Angel, Step By Step and Evening Shade, and Michael Landon Jr. and I currently have a family-friendly series called When Calls the Heart going into production of Season 2. I’ll wear the prude tag like a badge of honor because what we’re producing is not vanilla or “soft” as some in the industry  might call it. It’s actually radical, revolutionary, counter-programming because very few others are actually producing content like this these days. Not that many years ago, all of the big networks competed with each other to put family-themed programming on TV every day of the week, but that’s not the case anymore. In fact, most people I know can’t name 10 shows on TV any longer that they can watch with their families.

Remember the high school biology experiment where you put a frog in a beaker of room temperature water and then slowly heat up the water over a Bunsen burner? The frog splashes about as it acclimates to the rising temperature.

Until it boils to death.

As the networks seem to want to chase pay-cable over the cliff into dark, depraved and perverse, could it be that we’re all boiling to death and we don’t even realize it?

The Big Cop Out

I’ve had conversations with some of my peers who work on what used to be called “10 o’clock programming” but which now pretty much rules the airwaves at all times of the day and night. They say they are just reflecting culture when they drop language bombs or feature ever-increasing sexual explicitness in their programs.

In my opinion, that’s horse-(language bomb) and an extraordinary cop out. They are not just reflecting culture, they are shaping it and leading it… right over that cliff. Media sometimes reflects, but it mostly teaches. And if that’s not so, how come advertisers spend 20 bazillion dollars a year to try to teach us to buy their products? If media doesn’t teach, persuade, shape or influence our behavior, that money would never be spent. Media creates culture.

Nobody asks us what we want to watch on TV. A tiny cadre of people in Hollywood just decide what they are going to offer us and hope we get addicted. The only measurement is how many eyeballs they can attract and hold onto week after week. It’s completely utilitarian thinking. The bottom line is money and people’s values be damned. The question of whether or not it is good for culture is no longer a concern because the audience gets to decide what it likes or doesn’t like. What’s the difference between that and handing out crack cocaine on a street corner and then saying it’s up to us to be responsible crack-users?

Don’t get me wrong.  I have watched and enjoyed many programs that I would never purposely invite my kids to watch. Some of the story-telling,  production values and insights into the human condition are phenomenal and worthy of viewing.

But where is the balance?

I challenge you to take my Family TV dare: Name 10 current shows on TV you can watch with your entire family (and real estate, gardening and cooking shows don’t count). If you can do that, them maybe I’m just tilting at windmills. But if you can’t do it, I urge you to share your strong feelings with the switchboards at the networks and the advertisers who are spending a great deal money trying to lure your eyeballs.

The water is heating up all around us.

As a 30-year veteran of the Hollywood film and television business, Brian Bird’s mission as a writer, producer and media professional is to create high-caliber life-affirming, uplifting entertainment projects. If you enjoyed this post, visit brianbird.net.

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