Top TV production vets David E. Kelley, Steven Bochco and Dick Wolf have backed the right to take ethical risks in making an impact on auds — even though Congress partly blames screen violence for the Littleton, Colo., school shooting.
Speaking during the Museum of Television & Radio-sponsored Tuesday and Wednesday seminar series “The Television Author: Shaping Character and Conscience,” Bochco (“NYPD Blue”) admitted, “When we think about the power of television, I know that it’s popular to talk about TV’s negative impact.” However, “when I see the extraordinary work that’s out there, I’m still proud to be part of this community.”
The panelists — including producers Tom Fontana (“Homicide: Life on the Street,” “Oz”), Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick (both of “thirtysomething”) — certainly have the credentials to argue on TV’s behalf. The group has 22 Emmys for dramas that morally challenged viewers every week.
Fontana showed family members attempting to forgive their children’s murderers in “Oz.” On “The Practice” and “Ally McBeal,” Kelley routinely spins stories about courtroom brawls. And over a period of eight years ago on “thirtysomething,” Herskovitz and Zwick pushed aud buttons by showing two gay men in bed together.
“We just tell as much of the truth as we can muster,” explained Fontana. “You shouldn’t censor yourself out of fear of what someone else may take from it: … just tell the story the best way you can.”
Bochco added, “Norman Lear once told me that you’ll get furious letters from people. But don’t be fooled that if they’re angry they’re unhappy with the show.” In fact, “that anger is an index of just how much they’re involved.”
While welcoming controversy, the panelists still feel a certain protective responsibility toward their audience. On “Law and Order,” “the one show we haven’t done is teen suicide,” said Wolf. “With all these school shootings now, it may seem attractive for kids to go out in blazing glory. But doing these stories may trigger an imitative response in kids.”
Is biz to blame?
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is asking the Federal Trade Commission to determine how much blame the biz deserves for today’s violent youth. Wolf asserted that “the numbers for this are still microcosmic to the society at large.” And to the cheers of the audience, he continued, “The Supreme Court can’t protect children by taking away adults’ rights to see things.”
Giving an example of a senseless act of censorship, Kelley said, “The only (phrase ABC) wouldn’t let me have is ‘blow job’ … but the very next day there was a whole hour with Monica and Barbara Walters … and they weren’t talking about fashion.”
Expanding on that thought, Fontana remembered, “The network wanted to cut two ‘Homicide’ episodes because of what was going on in Colorado (yet) ‘Dateline’ goes and does five nights of it.”
These panelists may be down about the recent attacks against their shows, but they’re not out — “This medium, while kicking and screaming, is getting dragged into the realm of creativity it’s never seen before,” Bochco said.
And although “there’s the same political hypocrisy, at least we’re talking about the issues,” said Wolf. “We’ve come a long way.”
The two-day MTR seminar was live at the museum’s New York location and transmitted via satellite to Los Angeles.