Hollywood conservatives have long lamented being shut out of an industry with a leftward tilt. They see a new book as offering proof.
Ben Shapiro’s “Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV,” published last week, is creating a stir not just for its claims, but for a series of interview excepts Shapiro posted to the Web in which some series creators acknowledge and even appear to celebrate liberal staffs and content.
The interviews were enough to trigger the resignation of writer-director Lionel Chetwynd, who has been the dean of Hollywood conservatives, from the Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors.
In an open letter he sent on Thursday, Chetwynd wrote, “In preparing his book, Mr. Shapiro interviewed a large number of our Hollywood notables on the subject of diversity — not the sacrosanct melange of race, religion, gender orientation and the like, but a more challenging diversity: that of opinion and policy. The vast majority felt quite comfortable endorsing discrimination against those whose political philosophy was not rooted in the reflexive Leftism of Hollywood.”
Chetwynd was has been instrumental in bringing such GOP figures and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) to caucus events, balancing them with politicos from the other side of the aisle.
“I knew most of my fellow members looked upon the political positions of these people as distasteful; what I now understand is the disgust was not for their views, but for their very person,” Chetwynd wrote.
Chetwynd was particularly up- set with the remarks of fellow caucus member Vin Di Bona, creator of “MacGyver” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” According to the audio portion of the interview posted to YouTube, when Shapiro asks Di Bona about the critique that Hollywood is a “one-sided town” and “that only one perspective tends to get told in scripted shows,” Di Bona responds, “Well, I think it’s probably accurate and I’m happy about it. If the accusation is there, I’m OK with it.”
In a statement last week, Di Bona said that “while the quote is correct and I stand by it, it was obtained in a duplicitous manner.”
“Mr. Shapiro in his interview with me misrepresented the nature of that interview and subject matter of his book, which he originally described as a yet untitled book, chronicling the history of the television industry from the 1950s to current, particularly profiling the most important figures in TV. He asked for an interview that would discuss my rise to the top of the TV world and thoughts on where the TV industry will go — and where it ought to go — from here.”
Shapiro said that the way the book was pitched “is precisely what the book is about.” He said it was untitled until a few weeks before publication.
There’s little doubt of the book’s point of view — and that its provocative premise has helped Shapiro promote it, particularly in conservative media. It comes from HarperCollins’ conservative imprint Broadside Books.
But some TV creators in the book reject the premise of an “institutional bias against right-wingers in Tinseltown” as just not true, particularly in a business dictated by ratings and advertisers.
Marta Kauffman, the co-creator of “Friends,” said it was all “much ado about nothing.”
“I don’t think there is any collaboration among liberals to keep conservatives out of Hollywood,” she said in an interview with Variety. “I think that’s silly.”
She said that storylines for “Friends” were rooted in writers’ experiences and stories that they wanted to tell. “The idea that we are pushing an agenda is nonsense,” she said. As for whether writers were selected based on their politics, she said, “I have never asked someone that question during an interview any time in my life.” Often the big concern was whether a writer could endure marathon hours, or “whether we could spend 18 hours in a room with someone.”
“The truth is I can’t think of a conservative who would want to do ‘Friends,'” she said. “It was a show that was highly sexual.” Some conservatives were critical of the fact that it came on at the start of primetime viewing hours, she said.
“The dangerous thing about the book is it implies we don’t want a dialogue. We want a dialogue because it’s the only way liberals and conservatives will be able to meet somewhere.”
George Schlatter, the creator of “Laugh-In,” is quoted making barbs at conservative figures like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.
But speaking to Variety, he said that Shapiro mistakes Hollywood for a cabal that is somehow conspiring to shut out the conservative point of view.
“Who is ‘Hollywood’? That is what I want to know,” Schlatter said. “Hollywood is the name of an industry. Hollywood makes a lot of mistakes, but it’s not a philosophy; it’s a business.”
Schlatter noted that during the days of “Laugh-In,” they strove to maintain a balance, not only by hiring Paul Keyes, Richard Nixon’s joke writer, but by featuring quips on such volatile issues as abortion that took a conservative bent. Nixon had his famous pre-election appearance on the show, along with William F. Buckley and even the Rev. Billy Graham.
“We got a 50-share. You can’t maintain that if you are one-sided,” Schlatter said.
He challenged the subtitle of the book — how the left “took over your TV” — given the proliferation of Fox News and a bevy of other conservative commentators.
“They are guilty of everything they accuse the left wing of,” Schlatter said.
Like Di Bona, Schlatter said that Shapiro presented the book as a history of TV, but did not tell him the title.
Had he known, Schlatter said, “I might have said the same thing, just a little stronger and funnier.”