Despite a shrill record of Hollywood-bashing from Sen. Joseph Lieberman, few in town were willing Monday to return the favor by blasting Al Gore’s choice of a running mate.
Lieberman has been one of the most vocal critics of the entertainment business, often drawing direct parallels between what he sees as the moral decay in American society and what appears on the big and small screen.
He told Daily Variety last year that shows like “Friends” should be relegated to latenight because of their raciness.
Gore, who is expected to be nominated for president at next week’s Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, will hold a press conference today with Lieberman to announce him as his running mate.
While some entertainment execs acknowledged that they differed with Lieberman on issues such as sex and violence in movies and TV shows, few said they were openly disappointed with Gore’s choice.
“He has been critical of content, and we’re going to be colliding again,” said Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Assn. of America. But, Valenti added, “He’s not going to be vindictive and will espouse what he’s been espousing. I think he’s a great choice. I’m talking about for my country.”
Valenti stressed that he and Lieberman are old friends and called the Connecticut senator a man of “ascendant intelligence and towering integrity.”
Producer Doug Wick said, “I think he’s a little extreme on the Hollywood issue, and I’d be very disgruntled if they made him head of a studio.”
“But,” he added, “I think Lieberman is a genuinely decent and ethical man. He actually speaks words that aren’t pre-packaged and pre-tested. And if you’re asking where’s the beef, he’s sirloin.”
Nonetheless, a few entertainment execs did say that the choice of Lieberman could weaken the Democratic ticket because he is an Orthodox Jew — even if these execs didn’t think his stance on Hollywood would lessen the town’s support for the Democrats. The entertainment industry has long been considered a liberal bastion and has become a bountiful oasis for fundraising.
“I think Hollywood is so firmly entrenched in the Democratic sensibility that there is almost nothing that the Democrats could do to alienate Hollywood,” added Hollywood publicist and author Michael Levine.
But Lieberman’s record on showbiz is unequivocal.
In late May, the senator called upon the FCC to determine if broadcast stations are fulfilling their public interest.
In the Senate, he has led hearings on violence in videogames and sponsored a detailed rating system for such games. He was also a sponsor of V-chip legislation arming televisions with technology allowing parents to block objectionable programs.
Last summer, Lieberman brought his crusade to L.A., meeting with industry executives and with Daily Variety. He suggested to Variety editors that the Justice Dept. and the Federal Trade Commission might even be given “prosecutorial” powers over the film, recording and videogame industries for marketing practices.
‘Silver Sewer’ award
Several years before that, he teamed up with conservative William Bennett — who served in the Cabinets of Presidents Reagan and Bush — to issue the “Silver Sewer” awards, which aim to tag the nation’s worst cultural polluters.
The Fox Television Network was last year’s recipient of the award for its fall sked, which included “Get Real” and “Action.” The award has also gone to shockjock Howard Stern, as well as to CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
An executive with News Corp., parent company of Fox, said the choice of Lieberman as Gore’s running mate was nothing to get upset over and that Hollywood is used to such bashing.
“No one is sitting around figuring out a way to derail his nomination,” the exec said.
Valenti said he didn’t know if Lieberman had anything to do with a section of the current draft of the Democratic Party’s platform which addresses “responsible entertainment.”
Valenti, upset over the provision, said it “goes beyond the pale” by asking the entertainment industry, among other things, to more strictly monitor its movie ratings system. At the same time, the MPA chairman took solace in the fact that only “one person in a million” even reads the party’s platform.
Although a number of Hollywood heavyweights admitted that they did not share Lieberman’s views, they echoed Valenti’s sentiments in calling the senator a straight shooter.
“Part of what’s exciting about him as a candidate is his outspoken views on a number of issues. While I don’t personally agree with his views on Hollywood, I don’t think we should run from our responsibility for the images we create,” said Bruce Cohen, the producer of “American Beauty” and a Democratic Party supporter.
Lieberman came to L.A. in December to plug his “Appeal to Hollywood” campaign. Earlier in the year, when launching the drive, he’d asked studio and TV execs to adopt a voluntary code of conduct. When no one responded, he decided to fly West again.
“Understand that we are not casting you as killers,” Lieberman said then in prepared comments, “or suggesting your companies bear sole responsibility for the horrific acts too many of our children are committing. But we are directly appealing to you to be part of the solution.”
When Lieberman arrives in L.A. for the convention, Hollywood will be all ears to hear the tone of his rhetoric.
(Bill Higgins contributed to this report.)