Muse Reporting on the arts and culture

Change of tone, not heart

Entertainment | TV makes surface-level appeal to conservative viewers
by Lynde Langdon
Posted 4/13/18, 01:42 pm

The success of the Roseanne revival, which continues to score the highest ratings of any ABC sitcom, has conservative viewers hoping TV producers will consider more red-state friendly programming. While producers might now see the potential of conservative audiences to boost slumping viewership, Hollywood has yet to show it can connect with values-conscious viewers on anything other than a superficial level.

Though families who would identify as conservative make up half or more of the country—much more, in some areas—almost everything on prime-time TV violates their sensibilities in one way or another, said Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council.

“It’s kind of crazy that Hollywood [decides] we’re going to immediately carve away half of our potential marketplace and market only to the other half,” Winter told me.

Producers have taken two notable steps in the past month that appeal to conservative viewers, one with Roseanne, which has two main characters who support President Donald Trump. Also in March, Sinclair Broadcasting, which owns more than 190 local TV stations across the country and is growing, began airing scripted promotions read by local news anchors that criticized “fake stories,” recalling the president’s favorite label for liberal-leaning media outlets: “fake news.”

Before its “fake stories” promos, Sinclair already had a reputation for leaning conservative, mainly because of commentaries by Trump supporter Boris Epshteyn and its “Terrorism Alert Desk” segments about threats from Islamic extremists.

After the promos aired, Sinclair’s critics pounced, impugning the company for bias. The website Deadspin made a viral video showing clips of anchors from multiple stations reading the spots.

The actual script for the promos cited the need for balanced news coverage and encouraged viewers to call in if they felt the station’s reporting was too one-sided.

“It’s our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand truth is neither politically ‘left nor right,’” the script read, according to a version posted by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.”

Sinclair said in a statement the spots were not an attempt to take a political side but “were responding to the public’s distrust in news generally.”

“When you look at what was said in that promotion, I don’t know how you could possibly be upset at the words and message that was communicated,” Winter said, adding that a similar message from CNN would probably have been well-received.

While the content of Sinclair’s promotional spots might appeal to conservative viewers who long for media balance, Winter pointed out the way the company disseminated the information gave him pause. He also echoed concerns about Sinclair’s dominance in the local TV market. Sinclair is the largest TV operator in the country by number of stations and by household reach, extending to 40 percent of the U.S. market.

“When you have one corporation that controls such a huge reach and then forces on its distribution outlets certain wording, certain things that must be done and said, that’s concerning to me,” Winter said. “No matter which side it’s on, it creates tremendous risk for our nation.”

The message for viewers, especially Christian ones? Don’t accept a package labeled “conservative friendly” without first checking the contents. Roseanne might be pro-Trump, but she relates to her family mainly through insults and sarcasm. Sinclair has conservative commentary but is building a broadcast empire that could drown out independent voices. And if a major, secular TV company says it will provide high quality content that doesn’t offend morality or family values, the promise might just be too good to be true.

Associated Press/Photo by Corey Perrine (pool) Associated Press/Photo by Corey Perrine (pool) Andrea Constand (center) walks into a courtroom for Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthouse.

Taking the stand

The woman who accuses Bill Cosby of abusing her in 2004 takes the stand today in his retrial on sexual assault charges. In opening statements Tuesday, defense lawyers called the woman, Andrea Constand, a con artist who racked up credit card debt, once ran a Ponzi scheme, and finally framed Cosby for assault and extorted $3.4 million from him. The prosecution and Constand’s lawyers say Cosby drugged and molested her and she sued him for damages after prosecutors initially refused to take up her case. Judge Steven O’Neill has allowed more evidence in this trial than the first one, which ended with the jury unable to reach a verdict. Five other women testified for the prosecution that Cosby assaulted them in the past after giving them drugs or alcohol. “Here was ‘America’s Dad,’ on top of me. A married man, father of five kids, on top of me,” model Janice Dickinson testified, describing an alleged incident in 1982 when she was 27. “I was thinking how wrong it was. How very wrong it was.” In Cosby’s first trial, jurors only heard from one other accuser and did not learn about the 2006 settlement between Cosby and Constand. —L.L.

FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images Women attend the opening ceremony of Arab Fashion Week at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh.

Fashion forward

Saudi Arabia is holding its first-ever fashion week, the latest example of the country’s increasing openness to public artistic expression. Only women are allowed to attend the runway shows, which do not permit outside cameras. The exhibitions will feature clothing by Middle Eastern, Brazilian, U.S., and Russian designers, as well as the internationally renowned fashion labels Roberto Cavalli and Jean Paul Gaultier. —L.L.

Sideline struggles

A long-form article by The New York Times takes a look at NFL cheerleading, one workplace largely untouched by the women’s rights movement. —L.L.

Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital’s managing editor and reports on popular and fine arts. She lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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  • Laneygirl's picture
    Posted: Mon, 04/16/2018 02:40 pm

    Be aware also, in regard to the Roseanne Reprise: one character is a cross-dressing boy. He isn't being portrayed -yet- as gender confused or fluid (I can hardly write those words without wincing), but it's still disturbing. That said, it doesn't sit that well with Dan Conner, his grandfather, either.