Television producers are considered a liberal bunch.
That isn’t surprising. But conservative columnist Ben Shapiro believes this doesn’t have to be. In his new book, “Primetime Propaganda: ’The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV,” the Harvard Law graduate said conservatives need to break through this hegemony.
“I want conservatives to stop seeing entertainment as something to shy away from,” he said in a phone interview last month. “We keep saying TV is horrible. Let’s boycott shows! But you can’t boycott them all. You’re handing the weapons to the liberals. They can say, ‘Well, you’re not boycotting this show. It must be okay.’ ”
Conservatives do exist in Hollywood. Some even thrive. But they are often in the shadows, Shapiro said.
As a result, liberals, he said, have slipped their ideology into shows over the years from “The Twilight Zone” to “All in the Family,” from “Friends” to “Glee.” (Interestingly, he interviewed Earl Hamner, the creator of “The Waltons,” considered the epitome of conservative TV, who said he consistently promoted liberal messages of tolerance of everyone, even criminals.)
To market the book, published by Broadside, Shapiro posted audio of interviews he did with producers who freely admit and often laud their liberal ways. For example, Vin Di Bona, creator of “MacGyver,” was asked if there is left-wing bias in Hollywood. His response: “Well, I think it’s probably accurate and I’m happy about it.” [Since the interview came out, he later tried to clarify his position. He also complained to Daily Variety that Shapiro did not clearly represent what his book would be about.]
Shapiro, an aspiring scriptwriter, has direct experience. He was close to getting in the door with CBS’s “The Good Wife,” but then got a cold shoulder. He had no idea why until his agent told him another agent at his firm Googled him and discovered his political leanings.
“I’m not sure we can represent you because he thinks your political views will make it impossible for you to get a job in this town,” the agent told Shapiro.
This book is not revenge against Hollywood, he said. In fact, he is often complimentary of many of the producers who agreed to talk to him. Most, he said, were kind: “I don’t think Hollywood is made up of mean people. They’re just ensconced in their own bubble.”
He did admit that his Harvard Law cap and Jewish last name may have disarmed many of his subjects to be more honest than they might have been. Some have since said they were misled. “So does that mean if they knew I was conservative, they would have lied or not done the interview?” he said.
In the book, he talks about whether TV is a reflection of society or can actually shift attitudes. Many producers feel it’s heavily reflective. Shapiro argues otherwise. “For people in L.A., they feel TV reflects their lifestyles. But that’s not necessarily the lifestyle of Birmingham or Peoria,” he said. Murphy Brown two decades ago made being a single mom more acceptable, he said. And an openly gay teen on the show “Glee” could make people more tolerant of teens coming out.
He thinks the growth of reality television is a response to some viewers sick of liberal messaging in scripted TV. Most reality programs are assiduously apolitical, from “Pawn Stars” to “American Idol.”
Shapiro, who grew up watching tons of TV, believes cable networks (Spike TV and ESPN for guys, Oxygen and OWN for the ladies, MTV for teens) have splintered families. “It divides us,” he said. “It turns everyone into a perennial adolescent.”
Below, Bill O’Reilly interviewed Shapiro, where they discuss how the “Family Ties” creator wanted Michael J. Fox’s character to be a villain yet he was so lovable, he became a hero to many, including Ronald Reagan. They also talk about liberal messages in “Happy Days” and “Mary Tyler Moore.”
By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog