Dear TV Executives:
The television season is revving up and all over Hollywood you number-crunching executives – along with hungry writers and nervous actors – anxiously await to hear if your entertainment offerings will be the next Grey’s Anatomy or the next Second Chance. With hundreds of cable channels, YouTube and behemoth streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, the competition for audiences is fiercer than ever. TV is getting racier, steamier, scarier – all in an attempt to capture the viewer and demand their undying allegiance through an entire season…or at least 8 hours binging on the couch.
I know you probably don’t need any advice from a 40-something, bedraggled, wine-soaked housewife, but my youngest is home with constipation today and I’ve talked about nothing but poop all day. I’m in need of a distraction and this is your lucky day because I’m going to give you some quick tips on how to keep great ratings, great stories and not turn away half of your audience by offending them. You can thank me later.
1. Let the Muslim Dude be the terrorist.
I love a great mystery. I love piecing together clues alongside the protagonist and figuring out whodunnit after an entire episode of red herrings and misdirects. However, I’ve noticed a trend in writing lately in which any plot that involves terrorism goes to great pains to avoid making the Muslim character the culprit. Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t really care about the politics of it all. Yes, most terrorism in the modern world is perpetrated by Muslims but to use a cliche, not ALL Muslims are terrorists. I don’t want you to become Islamophobes. I frankly don’t care about the politics of it all. My problem is that if I’m watching a mystery, if there is a Muslim character in the show I can be almost certain he will not be villain/terrorist. Conversely, the villain/terrorist is almost ALWAYS the uptight, right-wing nut-job, evangelical Christian who quotes the King James Bible with a ridiculous southern accent. THE CRAAAAZY CHRISTIAN! The worst part is that there’s no mystery. I know who did it from the opening credits. It’s never going to be the Muslim. Anyone quoting a Bible verse or holding a Bible will almost surely be the bad guy, or at least will get some type of humiliating comeuppance at some point. It’s BORING. Shake it up a little; surprise us. Just once let it actually be the Muslim dude, for no other reason than we won’t expect it.
2. Don’t make every power-hungry politician a Republican.
The same problem from my first example applies here as well. In TV land we the audience are frequently asked to assume that a good politician is a Democrat and a bad politician is a Republican. There are is no mystery left. If there’s a Republican character, I know he/she is either the antagonist or hiding something scandalous, and like the CRAZY CHRISTIAN they will get their comeuppance. The Democrat character, on the other hand, will always be idealistic, generous, open-minded, kind and well-liked. A real liberal hero. Like Strom Thurmond. Once again, it’s boring. That’s what is so fascinating about House of Cards. By making Frank Underwood a Democrat, the writers have removed the comfort of any stereotypes the viewer may have. We are all forced to interact with the Underwoods as simply bad people – not just the typical bad Republicans. By shifting their politics, the writers have also managed to shift the way the audience relates to the Underwoods. We can’t just blame their behavior on them being “dirty, old Republicans!” – they are all of us in some small way. That’s always the best kind of story.
3. Tell your actors to shut up about politics. Seriously.
I’m as driven by celebrity culture as the next person. It makes no sense that we place so much value on the utterances of people who pretend to be other people for a living, and yet we do. That’s just the way it is. We love celebrities. It is for that very reason that I suggest you tell your actors to avoid all questions about politics and social moors when doing press junkets. We entertainment junkies hang on their every word. So when your sexy new action star starts spouting off about how he would never be friends with a Republican or your perky new sitcom star won’t stop blabbing about how everyone but her own bodyguard should be banned from owning guns, we hear all of it. Your audiences will connect the actors’ comments with the characters and just know that this country is split almost evenly liberal/conservative. It’s never a good thing for your product when the talent is calling half their viewing audience “morons.” Just tell them to shut up and look pretty.
4. NO MORE KARDASHIAN CAMEOS…EVER.
NOT EVEN CAITLYN JENNER. Oh, they’re still (and forever will be) tabloid fodder and with an estimated 684 reality spin-offs on air, product endorsements, and the Kim and Kanye circus, they still remain at the top of the famous-for-being-famous food chain. However, their brand has fallen flat. In the beginning, having a Kardashian cameo in your show meant you had the money and the connections to pull down America’s hottest new celebrities. Nowadays having a Kardashian onscreen is always a “wink-wink” with the audience. It’s a comic beat, a singular commentary on the shallow nature of both celebrity and the show we are watching. Also, it’s tiresome. Caitlyn Jenner was the final nail in the coffin. We give up! Mercy! My kingdom for a Kardashian-free hour of television!
5. Sell us America – she’s a been a winner since 1776.
I think people are tiring of being told by their favorite characters how bad America is and has been and will always be. It’s rare to find a show involving national identity/politics that doesn’t present the American position or action as ignorant, corrupted or downright evil. Viewers will overlook that to an extent if the storytelling is good enough, but I think we tire after too much “America sucks so bad.” We do live here, after all. It’s not perfect but it’s home and there aren’t many people dying on boats and dehydrating in the desert to get out of the country. Right or wrong, people love to be patriotically inspired. Summer shows like Falling Skies and The Last Ship draw loyal audiences because they are unapologetically, refreshingly American. America sells. We know it because everyone else in the world is falling all over themselves to get here. American culture played just as large a part in the demise of the Soviet bloc as military might. American spirit is a commodity. Don’t squander it; take advantage of it. Hollywood made its name selling dreams. Sell the American Dream. You might be surprised how many people would buy it.
So there you have it – my best advice given between administering laxatives. That and $5 will get you a box of Ex-Lax.
Waiting for a great mystery to solve,
Photo: ridofranz / Getty Images
Kira Davis is a writer, video blogger and homeschool mother of two. She has interviewed President Obama and appeared on Fox News, The BlazeTV and the Dr. Phil Show. Kira is a dog person but she owns a cat anyway. You can find her on Twitter @RealKiraDavis.
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