Bethlehem 90210

The Hollywood Reporter recently hosted a round-table discussion with six television showrunners on the current state of the business, and the pressures of cranking out a hit in this age of streaming and binge watching.  I love this kind of stuff, because I’ve long been fascinated with the process of creating television and even had the opportunity to pitch script ideas to Star Trek a lifetime ago.  The landscape has changed so much since then, however–and while there are more opportunities in scripted television available at any time in history, the competition for eyeballs is that much more intense.

So it only makes sense that in television, a medium in which the writer is truly king, boundaries are constantly being pushed.  Subjects that the networks wouldn’t have touched even five years ago are now routinely explored on HBO, FX, Netflix, Amazon Prime–outlets where they’re not worried about an FCC license, and can serve up all manner of content without having to worry about getting yanked off the air.  Of course, this situation also comes with a downside:  In an anvironment where the shocking becomes routine, how much to you have to ratchet up the controversy just to keep the viewer’s attention?

Enter Jenji Kohan, the creator of the popular Netflix women-in-prison show Orange is the New Black. The Hollywood Reporter asked the panelists about this subject, and here’s what happened:

Collectively, you’ve explored themes including harassment, rape, murder, racism, misogyny, mental illness, etc. When was the last time you were genuinely nervous to tackle a big subject?

KOHAN: I don’t get nervous about that, although we had to take terrorism insurance out …

[RYAN] MURPHY (Creator of American Horror Story):  Really?

KOHAN:  Yeah, we’re developing a teen Jesus project [for Netflix] that got some people nervous. It’s like The Wonder Years but with Jesus, and there are all sorts of things where we cross lines — and there are crazies out there. I remember Shonda [Rhimes] telling a story of people camping out outside her house when she killed McDreamy [on Grey’s Anatomy]. People get crazy because they bathe in these characters, and they take it personally.

So…  The Wonder Years.  But with a teenage Jesus.

As the Reverend Jim might have said, “Ohhhhhhhkey doke.”

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not dismissing outright what Kohan is trying to do here.  In fact, it’s quite possible that she’s approaching the subject matter respectfully, and using Scripture as the basis for Jesus as a character.  After all, there’s some fascinating stuff in there.  Jesus was the original rebel, and even as a teen was bucking the system.  It’s what God sent him to do, and in the end He literally changed the world.

Given what Kohan said about crossing lines, however, I have some serious doubts.  I’m guessing that, in a quest to be “edgy,” her Jesus character will probably be wrestling with issues of sex, drugs, popularity and whatever else she can dump on him from the litany of modern teen angst.  To top it off, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kohan made Mary a single mother and Joseph an absentee dad, and made one of Jesus’ brothers gay.  Hollywood is nothing if not consistent.

What really chaps my hide, though, is the idea that any of this is somehow risky or transgressive.  People like Kohan love to pat themselves on the back for their bravery–quite a feat, considering she works in a town where literally everyone around her thinks exactly the same way she does–but in reality, we’ve seen all of this before.  From Andres Serrano dropping a crucifix into a jar of urine and taking a picture of it, to Chris Ofili flinging poo like a drunken zoo monkey onto a portrait of the Virgin Mary, we Christians have had to put up with a lot of “artists” openly mocking our faith.  In fact, these days, it seems like the only kind of bigotry sanctioned by the popular culture is against white Christian men.  If Kohan wants to take a shot at us, she’ll have to get in line.

And this bit about having to take out terrorism insurance?  That one actually made me laugh.  Perhaps if Kohan was working on a screwball comedy about the Prophet Mohammed, she might have something to worry about.  But until she starts working on Big Love meets The Five Pillars of Islam, I don’t think she has much to worry about.

At any rate, unless Kohan wants to stick a little closer to the source material, I don’t think she’ll get many of Jesus’ biggest fans to watch her show–which would seem kind of silly, especially if the pressure is on for her to crank out another hit.  No matter what happens with the series, though, Christians will soldier on.  That’s because we’ll always have the book–and as everybody knows, the book is much better than the movie.

Why Read The Hillary Clinton Book ‘Shattered’ When You Can Watch It On Television In A Couple Of Years?

I suppose the 2016 election will always fascinate the Left as they struggle to find a reason for Hillary Clinton’s loss – other than the truth that she was a horrible candidate. Coming on the heels of the publication of Shattered, the book about the disastrous Clinton campaign, Tri-Star Television has optioned the book for a television miniseries.

The studio is eyeing Shattered as a limited series; a network is not yet attached. Sources tell THR that TriStar is eyeing premium cable networks like HBO, Showtime and Starz as well as streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.

I can imagine from everything I’ve ever read about Hillary’s language that they’ll need to go to premium cable.

The report is that the television producers are taking a different angle with the series: instead of focusing on the facts as portrayed in the book, the television production would be framed “like a Greek tragedy” seeking to “answer what happened that led to her defeat.” (Because the real story just isn’t enough for them.)

Here’s the thing about the book and potential miniseries: the Clinton camp disputes the account in Shattered.

In a post on Medium, Christina Reynolds, a deputy communications director for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, expressed dissatisfaction with the book’s portrait of the campaign.

“It’s hard to read a depiction of the campaign that paints a dedicated, cohesive team as mercenaries with questionable motives who lacked a loyalty to a candidate described as ‘imperial’ and removed from the campaign,” Ms. Reynolds wrote.

The book’s assertions of campaign infighting and dysfunction — and the notion that Mrs. Clinton was at times befuddled by the frustration and resentment expressed by voters — cast an unflattering light just as Mrs. Clinton has re-emerged in a series of public appearances.

I’m about as enthused about a Hillary Clinton TV series as I am about the book itself – which is about as thrilling an idea as surgery without anesthesia. But one question looms: who would play Hillary?

Gays On Film Flop Despite Increased Presence

Have you heard of ABC’s epic miniseries, When We Rise? Neither have I, but LifeSiteNews says that the eight-hour show detailing the rise of the gay rights movement was heavily promoted during the Oscars. (Come to think of it that might explain why I missed it.) Nevertheless, the miniseries bombed and placed last among shows on the big four networks and next-to-last overall, coming in just ahead of Jane the Virgin on the CW.

LGBTQ shows were the hot new thing last year. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage across the country, networks bet that the time had come for gay television shows. CNN reported last year that there were more gay and lesbian characters on television than at any time in the past. Overall, 4.8 percent of regular characters fell under the LGBTQ umbrella.

The push for gay characters shows no signs of abating. Earlier this month, Disney introduced its first gay (or at least questioning) character in the new version of Beauty and the Beast. A gay romance has also been confirmed for the new Star Wars movies.

If it seems like homosexuality is more prevalent on television than in real life, you are right. Only 3.8 percent of Americans identify as LGBT per Gallup.

In spite of this, The Advocate bemoans the unpopularity of gay television and movies like When We Rise. Even though Moonlight, another movie that I had never heard of about a gay black boy in Miami, won the Academy Award for best picture in an upset over La La Land, “it had the lowest box-office numbers of all the nominees,” writes Daniel Reynolds.

Reynolds also notes that CBS recently canceled Doubt, “the first network TV show to feature a trans actress (Laverne Cox) in a regular, main-cast trans role.” Reynolds says, “If Doubt were still on the air, viewers on CBS — a network with real red state reach — could have seen Cox’s character, an attorney, strike up a romantic relationship with a cisgender man and help defend a trans victim of violence.” That is not exactly must-see TV for red state viewers.

Polling shows that Americans are increasingly accepting of both homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Pew found that 63 percent now believe that homosexuality should be accepted. Resistance to homosexuality among both Christians and conservative Republicans has declined in recent years. Gallup now shows 61 percent in favor of same-sex marriage with only 37 percent opposed.

How then can we square the flop of gay programming with the increasing acceptance of homosexuality? A clue can be found in Reynold’s lament over the cancellation of Doubt. He seems to view the show as evangelism to red states rather than entertainment.

Americans typically have a live and let live, libertarian attitude to issues like homosexuality. “Let them do what they want behind closed doors if it doesn’t affect me,” seems to be the prevailing attitude. This laissez-faire attitude towards personal sexual relationships does not extend to watching shows and movies about gays that are not entertaining.

There have been two unquestionably successful shows featuring main characters who are gay. Will and Grace, which ran from 1998 through 2006, and Modern Family, which debuted in 2009, were both mainstream hits. These were funny shows that succeeded on their own merits as entertainment and not because they pushed a gay agenda.

With gay viewers representing only a tiny slice of television viewers, producers and writers must be careful not to turn off straight viewers with gay characters and plots. A New York Times list of the most influential gay movies and television shows reveals that most of the entries that were memorable and successful were gay characters and episodes on otherwise straight shows such as the lesbian wedding episode on Friends or the lesbian kiss on Roseanne. Many of the “groundbreaking” shows and movies were notable only as footnotes in gay film history.

Due to the proliferation of cable channels and internet television shows, it is easier than ever before for a show to become successful while appealing to only a small segment of viewers. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a reality show in which gay men gave straight men fashion makeovers, was successful on Bravo for five years. Girls, a series on HBO, catapulted Lena Dunham from obscurity to minor celebrity status. Even a hit show like Modern Family draws only about 8 million viewers each week out of a nation of 350 million. In contrast, I Love Lucy drew 11 million viewers each week when there were only 15 million TV sets in the entire country.

The lesson for networks is that while Americans are increasingly tolerant towards gays, they don’t necessarily want to tune in to gay romances or shows that preach a gay political agenda. While movies like Moonlight and When We Rise may achieve critical acclaim, it’s the shows that make us laugh and offer an escape from day-to-day life that get us to tune in.

DR Radio

DR Radio: Transgenders, Political Hooliganism & Stranger Things

This week’s show includes discussion on the challenging topic of transgenderism, whether or not the Presidential debate had any meaningful impact on the presidential race, and for Expand Your Horizons, we’ll be talking about Stranger Things and the dawn of a new film format! As usual, we have two games of wit and whimsy, specifically Nerd v. Nerd and #JesusJuke.

You can read the full show notes  or subscribe to the podcast at our website.