Hollywood Hypocrites: Subversive Content Outweighs Ratings

Every time anybody criticizes the sexual and violent content so prevalent in the entertainment industry, the consistent refrain from Hollywood is that it’s “all about the money,” or that network executives simply “give the public what it wants to see.”

The Parents Television Council spends a good bit of effort detailing how the market for non-offensive material dwarfs the potential audience for more explicit fare.

Consider that the recent “Miley Cyrus: Bangerz Tour” – a much-touted special that aired on NBC – earned an extremely small fraction of the audience that NBC received by its airing of “The Sound of Music” last December. With results like that, one would think that NBC might focus on fare that appeals to a larger, family audience.

Every so often though, a network executive will (accidentally?) tell the truth about how content decisions are made.

Bob Greenblatt, NBC’s entertainment chairman, appeared at the Television Critics Association (TCA) summer press tour panel with a lot to say about what to expect out of NBC for the foreseeable future.

For instance, NBC appears to have plans to drop more F-bombs on its audience, as revealed in the pilot episode of “Marry Me,” shown at the TCA tour as though the F-word will make people want to watch that show.

As if that weren’t indefensible enough, Greenblatt went on to discuss “Hannibal” – an ultra-violent program that the PTC has been forced to criticize before. Simply put, “Hannibal” is among the most sinister, most violent programs ever developed for television.

Here’s the kind of content the PTC has documented that was shown on “Hannibal’s” season two premiere: “Scenes included a close-up of a drowned corpse’s rotting, desiccated flesh; a man with his limbs glued to his body like a statue, who is surrounded by dozens of human corpses similarly glued and turned into human statues; and a dream sequence in which lead character Will sits down to dinner and finds a mutilated human ear on his plate.”

And Greenblatt wants more of the same – despite admitting that the “dark and subversive” nature of the program limits its audience:

 “‘Hannibal’ is, and I think most people in this room would agree, one of the best shows we have creatively and one of the best-reviewed shows this network has had since I’ve been here, and we still struggle to find an audience for it,” Greenblatt said.

“It’s great, we’re keeping it going,” he added. The minute you try to do something that is dark and subversive and frightening and gets into that territory, you start to peel away the mass audience.” (Source: The Wrap)

It’s worth noting that the ratings for “Hannibal” are subpar, and even softer this past season than last, but that didn’t prevent Greenblatt and NBC from renewing it anyway.

So which is it, Hollywood? Do you just “respond to the audience,” or does your desire to be “dark and subversive” actually outweigh your desire for good ratings? Sadly for parents and families, you’ve already answered that question.

Any reasonable and responsible business decision would lead Greenblatt to cancel “Hannibal” and replace it with something that appeals to a broader audience.

But then NBC would have to own up to the fact that sex and violence may not sell as well as they’d like.

Dan Isett is the director of communications and policy for the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. Read more of his writing at the PTC’s TV Watchdog Blog: www.parentstv.org/blog.