It is more than just interesting how advertisers are rebelling against free television’s current crop of lurid, creepy content. For the Hollywood elite, this is a canary in the coal mine, and they should heed that figurative dead bird’s warning. Their time as the sole arbiters of what will and will not be seen is ending. And the conservative movement stands to gain.
As the Wall Street Journal recently reported (subscription required):
The world’s biggest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores, and Procter & Gamble, the world’s biggest consumer-products maker, are jointly creating a made-for-TV movie, in an effort to promote “family-friendly” alternatives to what they say is increasingly risqué TV fare.
The two advertising heavyweights have teamed up on the two-hour “Secrets of the Mountain,” to be broadcast in April on NBC. The movie, which focuses on a single mother who brings her family to a mountainside cabin, highlights values–such as generosity, honesty and togetherness–that Wal-Mart and P&G executives say are in short supply on television.
Now, the root cause of the problem is clear. Television and other Hollywood executives are interested in two kinds of currency. One currency is dollars. The other is coolness. And you don’t get a coolness payoff by producing entertainment involving decent people and solid values. Sure, a show about a normal family, free of the perversions and bizarre Blue Velvet-esque weirdness Hollywoodoids always seem to attribute to normal Americans, might make money. But what are your peers going to think? Are you going to win an Emmy? Are you going to be labeled a visionary? Are girls with piercings and daddy issues going to even want to talk to you anymore?
No, Hollywoodoids get the kind of ego reinforcement they crave from pushing the envelope and thinking outside the box. Except Proctor & Gamble is the envelope, and if the proverbial box had a name it would be “Wal-Mart.”
I know a little something about Proctor & Gamble since it fed me while I was growing up. My Dad was an executive there – if you like Folgers coffee, you can thank him. Now, P&G is headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, a city with a non-ironic coolness quotient ranking somewhere between Styx and jeans shorts. Wal-Mart, of course, is down there in Arkansas, which on Hollywood maps is denoted by pictures of dragons and the legend, “Here be gun-toting rednecks.”
They are straight -up middle America. But as proudly uncool, unhip and unedgy as these two corporations are, they still have a whole lot of money, and without money the Hollywoodoids would eventually have to get real jobs. The Hollywoodoids used to control both the ability to produce entertainment and the ability to distribute it to the public, so while they needed the advertisers, the advertisers also needed them,. This forced a kind of uneasy truce, with the Hollywoodoids always trying to push past their advertisers’ comfort zones, but not too far.
Except now that balance of power has changed. A fickle audience with a multitude of channels, Tivo and the internet as other options, has left NBC sufficiently weakened that these two huge advertisers can start to dictate how things are going to be. In a way, it’s a “back to the future” scenario – when TV was just getting started, a single sponsor commonly funded an entire show, like the Colgate Comedy Hour or the Chevrolet Tele-Theater. And everyone but the most militant Wikipedia-denier knows that the name “soap opera” came from the fact that soap manufacturers originally sponsored them.
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As a practical matter, this is likely going to make free television more family-friendly in the long run, instead of relegating such programs to obscure cable channels as if TV shows a family can watch together appeal only to some sort of weird niche demographic. This is good – especially because it will happen without government meddling. Those who want to watch more traditional fare will be able to; those of us who prefer edgier material are not going to have any trouble finding it among our 500 channels. That’s also good, because – as I’ve made abundantly clear in the past – unless the kids are in the area, the thought of watching a TV movie that “focuses on a single mother who brings her family to a mountainside cabin [and] highlights values–such as generosity, honesty and togetherness” ranks on my personal “To Do” list somewhere between re-attending Basic Training and enduring a three-encore Lady Gaga concert.
But there is another message here, one that affects us as conservatives. The media gatekeepers are losing their grip. Control of the media, both in the arena of distribution as well as in the field of production, is rapidly becoming decentralized. Technology is allowing just about anyone to make media content that is both professional and cheap. For example, Steven Crowder here at Big Hollywood makes a lot of quick, funny short films. With a few more bucks and some slightly more advanced equipment, he could be producing low cost, broadcast-quality content. In the past, a conservative comic like him would have no real chance at getting a series on TV based not on the quality of his work or the potential to draw an audience but solely upon his point of view.
Except now, the gatekeepers are losing the luxury of ignoring dollars in order to focus on how cool the content makes them seem. When you’re concerned about the opinions of your commie peers, you can ignore talented rightwingers who could draw eyeballs to your network. But when the key currency is dollars, then the only question about content is, “Will people watch?” And there are a lot of conservatives out there who would love to have something to watch that appeals to their sensibilities besides Fox News and parts of “24.”
P&G and Wal-Mart ‘s decision to make their own movie and stuff it down the Peacock’s gullet is just one of the first tremors in an earthquake that will shake Hollywood to its foundations. The next shake-up will come from the Right. Like the Tea Partiers who have turned Washington, D.C., upside down (The seat held by Ted Kennedy got snagged by a Republican – think about that for a second!), Hollywood is going to have to come to grips with the significant plurality, if not majority, of Americans who will simply no longer going to sit back and accept whatever the Establishment – whether in D.C. or in the TMZ – chooses to force upon them. If we don’t like what we’re getting, we’ll make a change – whether it is seats in the Congress or channels on our remotes. The Hollywoodoids will adapt or they will be pushed aside. And so will the politicians.
Welcome to the Revolution.