This is a judgement about aesthetic monotony rather than a moral argument, or a bit of policy advocacy. And as we’ve asked those questions over the past few days, it’s been intriguing to see how the executives of different television networks have responded, and particularly whether they’ve focused on the moral implications of their content, or the creative ones.
NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt made the pitch that after the horrible events of Newtown “the best tonic for not to be glib, but for this kind of thing is go watch an episode of Parenthood as a really great example of a show about a family who love each other and grapple with all of the issues in life,” he argued. In recent years, as the intensity of television has ratcheted up, networks have often pitched their shows as a very different kind of escapism, into dangerous worlds and risky scenarios that we’d never actually confront for ourselves, as a way to put our problems in proportion. Greenblatt here was making a different argument (and an attempt to boost a critically-loved but under-watched drama on his network): that television, by going simpler, can actually help us grapple with the things that we are feeling. This is worth taking with a grain of salt, of course. NBC’s biggest scripted drama right now is the very silly sci-fi show Revolution, about a dubiously-relevant post-apocalypse. But it was still nice to hear Greenblatt muse, even self-interestedly, about what pop culture is for, and to hear a reminder that escapism can be a small journey rather than a great leap.
Both Greenblatt and Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly cited their responsibilities to the FCC in their answers, but didn’t really discuss what that responsibility consisted of. That have been an interesting turn, given the relative amounts of attention paid to networks’ bottom lines, which keep them in business, and to their community obligations, the long-ago rationale for them to get broadcasting bandwidth. The FCC’s regulation of violence has also been dramatically less rigorous than its regulation of sex, a regulatory disparity that’s obviously affected the market as well.