Last Thursday, public television audiences and personnel alike received the surprising--and disturbing--news that upcoming seasons of Sesame Street will air first on HBO as part of a new production deal. It may mean very little for the show's target audience of preschoolers, but some adults are concerned about the messages sent by the move.
Over the past couple of weeks, the List of Topics Likely to Lose You Friends on Facebook had an unlikely addition: The Dukes of Hazzard. Reruns of this 1979-1985 comedy/adventure TV series about two "good ol' boys, never meanin' no harm" were dropped by cable channel TV Land, presumably due to the prominent placement of a Confederate battle flag atop the Dukes' beloved Dodge Charger, the "General Lee." Inevitable outrage ensued, defiant GIFs were posted to social media news feeds, and people wondered why we stopped talking about the Charleston church massacre.
Our shared pop culture past is strewn with the unfortunate relics of our slow-to-evolve attitudes about People Who Don't Look Like Us, and while the line between uncomfortable and offensive is often hard to find, sometimes it's right friggin' there. And the example I'm about to bring up from WILL-TV's own history comes from another unlikely source...
In March 2007, WILL-TV was among the first U.S. broadcast stations to air the revived series of Doctor Who. This British science-fiction adventure series has been a weekly presence in our schedule ever since. But our viewers are beginning to wonder when we'll begin running the most recent episodes starring Peter Capaldi as the 12th incarnation of the indestructible Time Lord. And I wish that I had good news... (UPDATED July 29: Good news! Read on!)
Time was that if there was one thing that attracted the enthusiastic ire of would-be viewers, it was a program that was "promoted a homosexual lifestyle." In 1991, I was verbally abused for weeks over POV's presentation of the documentary Tongues Untied and its portrayal of the black gay community. In 1999, the calls about It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School were so frequent that I began answering the phone with a cheery "It's elementary!" It's been a long time since I've encountered a similar call-in campaign. The last one was in 2005, and the target was the PBS kids' show Postcards from Buster.
As Jurassic World makes all of the money by demonstrating that exploiting monsters for entertainment rarelygoeswell—unless you are Steven Spielberg—I think back to my own relationship with prehistoric giants.
By the time this article is posted, David Letterman’s final Late Show broadcast will have already occurred, but as I write this, it’s still a couple of days off. There have been approximately one godzillion tributes to Letterman in the weeks leading up to his retirement, but I couldn't let the event pass without offering a few words of my own.
It's something that I hate to see: a major PBS personality in the headlines for what seems to have been a breach of the trust that viewers and stations alike place upon such figures of authority. Was the omission of actor Ben Affleck's slave-holding ancestor from an episode of Finding Your Roots an editorial judgement or an ethical failure? We shouldn't have to wonder.