Sunday, May 20, 2007

Short Takes – May 20, 2007

I skipped this last week mostly because the network upfronts were coming up and a lot of the previous week's news was "leaks" about shows that were going to be cancelled or renewed. And in fact virtually all of the news last week was about shows that were renewed or cancelled. If nothing else it should make for a short post – maybe.

George Lopez cancelled: And boy is he pissed. Once he learned that George Lopez was cancelled he made a statement implying racism in the decision process. Most media outlets printed Lopez's rant in a censored form. It's presented here as he said it:

I get kicked out for a fucking caveman and shows that I out-performed because I'm not owned by ABC? So a fucking Chicano can't be on TV but a fucking caveman can? And a Chicano with an audience already? You know when you get in this that shows do not last forever, but this was an important show and to go unceremoniously like this hurts. One hundred seventy people lost their jobs. TV just became really, really white again.

I'd be angry if my show had been cancelled for Cavemen too, because quite frankly the show looks like crap. On the other hand Lopez is overlooking a lot of things in his rant. George Lopez (the show) has had the second longest run of any series featuring a Hispanic-American lead – number one was I Love Lucy. While the show had an audience, it's also true that the show's ratings have declined over the past season. For the week of April 23-29, two new episodes of George Lopez finished behind shows like Crossing Jordan, Close to Home, Jericho, Real Wedding Crashers, Raines, and Identity, all of which were cancelled. The only ABC series that performed worse (in a new episode, not a repeat) and was renewed was Notes From the Underbelly (though it did out performing some NBC shows that were retained including Scrubs and 30 Rock). This was not just a one-time event either. The fact is that other networks cancelled shows that were performing better on a regular basis than episodes of George Lopez. The show wasn't performing as well as it had in the past. And then you can add in the fact that the show is produced by Warner Brothers rather than ABC or its corporate parent Disney which means that increased costs for the network could not be offset by later revenues from syndication and suddenly the reasons for the cancellation of George Lopez becomes clear – declining audience combined with increased costs. Dare I mention that the TV business is a business not a charity, and George Lopez saying that his show is "an important show" does not necessarily make it so. To imply that race had anything to do with the ending of the show is absurd – it would have been renewed for sure if it had performed better in the ratings.

Don't mess with the NFL: Picked up this little note from the Toronto Star's TV website. ABC was supposedly doing a pilot for an American version of the BBC series Footballers Wives to be called (in a fit of imaginative thinking) Football Wives. It wasn't picked up and according to the Star (which some of you may know was supposedly the real model for the Metropolis Daily Planet) the reason was that the NFL objected to the subject matter of the show. For those of you who don't know Footballer's Wives had storylines that included infidelity, drunk driving, drug use, attempted murder of a team owner, more than one other murder, rapes, and lesbianism. Needless to say the NFL doesn't like this sort of storyline (maybe they touch too close to home given the sort of things that some NFL players have been involved with over the past few years). And of course ABC is owned by Disney which also owns 80% of ESPN which broadcasts Monday Night Football. Presumably this means that if you're ABC (and just about any of the other broadcast networks including The CW, half of which is owned by CBS) you don't want to antagonise the NFL.

Who does the PTC hate this week?: With upfronts come more call on the part of the PTC to advertisers to use the assistance provided by the PTC in making good advertising decisions; to "consider how the programming you support with your ad dollars will affect children – even if children are not part of your target demographic." I'm going to include some excerpts from PTC President Tim Winter's Open Letter to Advertisers here. The whole thing can be found by clicking the link.

"Advertising dollars make possible wholesome, uplifting programs, but they also make possible programs that pollute young minds and encourage children to engage in dangerous and risky behavior." And later in the letter: "Unfortunately, our research has also shown that the broadcast networks do not rate their own programs accurately because they are financially motivated not to do so. The networks then push the sole responsibility onto parents to monitor what they're (sic) children are watching. But the sole responsibility cannot rest on parents. When you as a sponsor commit your company's advertising dollars to a broadcast program, you automatically commit to sponsoring the program's content, for better or worse. You are thereby committed to helping to keep the public airwaves safe for our children." The letter ends with the following statement: "Millions of families will be watching to see what values you support. The innocence of our children rests with you."

Now you'll excuse me for a moment but I am amazed by one statement in this: "the sole responsibility [for monitoring what their children are watching] cannot rest on parents." These are social conservatives – the sort of people who scream bloody murder at even the vaguest suggestion that any sort of sex education – except for abstinence until marriage of course – be taught in the schools not just to their kids but to any child. According to them sex education is the responsibility of the parents alone. And yet the responsibility for monitoring what children watch on TV "cannot rest on parents," and advertisers must assume some of it – with the guidance of the Parents Television Council of course? Surely parents know their children and their relative maturity better than any organization, because they know their children as individuals rather than as a collective faceless mass.

As I said, I missed last week because of upfronts which means that I didn't get to tell you about the PTC's attack on Ugly Betty as worst show of the week for "intensely suggestive dialogue and sexual themes" and lacking "descriptors to warn viewers of the smarmy content to be found on the program." I won't go into details except to remind readers that Ugly Betty was one of the shows whose development was supported by the Script Development Fund of the Family Friendly Programming Forum of the Association of National Advertisers, a group that puts its money where its mouth is when it comes to supporting family friendly shows, something that the PTC and groups like it have never done.

This time around the worst show of the week is the April 29 episode of American Dad. This time around they really seem to be embracing not just a social conservative agenda but a downright moralistic religious one in their reasoning. In the opening paragraph they state "Anyone who values the sanctity of marriage, and the act of sexual intercourse as the most intimate and significant act possible between two individuals, would be truly repulsed by this story. The episode conveyed the message that sex without love and commitment is harmless, and quickly earned our pick for Worst of the Week." They then summarize the plot which focuses on the character Francine's revelation to her husband of her pre-marital sexual experiences (she has a rosebush in her "sex garden" for every man she's been with) which appals her husband Stan as does her stance that "sex without love is just a physical action with no emotional consequences." To prove it, she urges Stan to have sex with another woman and even gives him a divorce to make him feel good about it. The PTC finds the show's conclusion unacceptable even though it disproves Francine's point: "The program's unconvincing conclusion attempts to show Francine's error but fails miserably. The clear not-so-comical message communicated in the episode is that the sex before marriage is meaningless and carries no emotional or physical consequences." The evaluation of the episode ends up stating, "the viewer gets a glimpse into the 'creative' minds of indifferent and disturbed individuals who are under the delusion that such a storyline constitutes 'satire.' It is honestly quite frightening and unfortunate that Fox employs writers who can with a clear conscience conceive of producing content so destructive to children and teens."

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