Matthew Weiner: ADL panel examines the portrayals of Jews on the small screen

The Anti-Defamation League hosted an interesting discussion about how Jews are portrayed on television as part of the org’s annual meeting this week at the Bev Hilton.

It was interesting mostly for the caliber of the people who were doing the discussing: Former Los Angeles Times chief TV critic Howard Rosenberg pressed “Mad Men” creator/exec producer Matthew Weiner and Roz Weinman, the former head of standards and practices at NBC and a former producer for the “Law & Order” troika, to go beyond the obvious and really examine the question of how the portrayals of Jews have changed over the years, and why.

The hourlong sesh, held Friday ayem, seemed particularly relevant given the milestone the country has reached in its long and tortured history of race relations with the election of our first black president. It was not, however, the kind of discussion that lends itself to snappy soundbites or easily distillation of main points.

Weiner made the observation that as part of the cultural assimilation process, Jews and every other ethnic, racial or religious minority at some point seek to downplay most of their differences from mainstream WASP culture in the effort to blend in and be accepted. On television it is only in the recent past that shows built around distinct ethnic subcultures have been widely accepted, Weiner said, citing the “The Sopranos” as a prime example.

“When the specificity of who people are is part of the commercial appeal — that just means we’ve changed” as a culture, Weiner said. “I was surprised to see ethnic identity come back into entertainment with ‘The Sopranos.’ I guess it meant the public was ready for it.”

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