Here's an incredible article from the New York Times. The headline?
Many Who Voted for 'Values' Still Like Their Television Sin.
I believe the challenge for Christians is to live what they believe (actually, you're not a disciple of Christ if you don't). What are you watching?
The results of the presidential election are still being parsed for what they say about the electorate's supposed closer embrace of traditional cultural values, but for the network television executives charged with finding programs that speak to tastes across the nation, one lesson is clear.
The supposed cultural divide is more like a cultural mind meld.
In interviews, representatives of the four big broadcast networks as well as Hollywood production studios said the nightly television ratings bore little relation to the message apparently sent by a significant percentage of voters.
The choices of viewers, whether in Los Angeles or Salt Lake City, New York or Birmingham, Ala., are remarkably similar. And that means the election will have little impact on which shows they decide to put on television, these executives say.
It is possible that some secondary characters on new television shows will exhibit strong religious beliefs, and an occasional plotline may examine the impact of faith on some characters' lives. But with "Desperate Housewives" and "C.S.I." leading the ratings, television shows are far more likely to keep pumping from the deep well of murder, mayhem and sexual transgression than seek diversion along the straight and narrow path.
"It's entertainment versus politics," said Steve McPherson, the president of ABC Entertainment. He dismissed the notion that program creators might be developing ideas specifically to chase voters who claimed moral values as an important issue in this election. "I have not heard an idea of that kind,'' Mr. McPherson said, "none whatsoever."
As much as network entertainment executives believe in taking note of trends, the rating figures from Nielsen Media Research remain their bible.
"They tell you more about creative values than anything that's in the political zeitgeist," said Dana Walden, the president of one of the largest production studios, Twentieth Century Fox Television, which produces shows like "The Simpsons" and "N.Y.P.D. Blue." "It's those values that are striking a chord with the American people," Ms. Walden said.
So if it is true that the public's electoral choices are a cry for more morally driven programming, the network executives ask, why are so many people, even in the markets surrounding the Bush bastions Atlanta and Salt Lake City, watching a sex-drenched television drama?
"Desperate Housewives" on ABC is the big new hit of the television season, ranked second over all in the country, behind only "C.S.I." on CBS. This satire of suburbia and modern relationships features, among other morally challenged characters, a married woman in her 30's having an affair with a high-school-age gardener, and has prompted several advertisers, including Lowe's, to pull their advertisements.
In the greater Atlanta market, reaching more than two million households, "Desperate Housewives" is the top-rated show. Nearly 58 percent of the voters in those counties voted for President Bush.
And in the Salt Lake City market, which takes in the whole state of Utah and parts of Nevada, Idaho and Wyoming, "Desperate Housewives" is fourth, after two editions of "C.S.I." and NBC's "E.R."; Mr. Bush rolled up 72.6 percent of the vote there.
"We say one thing and do another," said Kevin Reilly, the president of NBC Entertainment. "People compartmentalize about their lives and their entertainment choices."
Regional differences, of course, do exist in the country's entertainment choices. Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" and Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" both took in staggering profits, but the busiest theaters for "Fahrenheit" were in Democratic territory, like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, while "The Passion" performed best in Republican states like Texas, Ohio and Florida.
But moviegoing requires active and out-of-home decision-making, and has a price attached, unlike broadcast television. Watching television has always been a passive activity, with people selecting their entertainment in the privacy of their homes.
Even on television there are modest discrepancies in the popularity of various shows. "Desperate Housewives" may make it into the top 10 in Birmingham, Ala., but in the eighth spot. And "Will and Grace," the NBC comedy with two gay main characters, ranks in the top 10 in New York but just 22nd nationally.
Any geographical differences are overwhelmed by the distinct viewership patterns among blacks and whites. A study conducted last year by the advertising-buying firm Initiative Media found that while "Friends" and "E.R." were among the top-rated shows among whites, they were much less popular among blacks. And the highest-rated shows among blacks, like "One on One" and "Girlfriends," could not crack the top 100 of network shows.
The divide between what people accept as proper in public and what they choose to enjoy in their private lives is, unsurprisingly, nothing new in the history of the world or this country.
"When the Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock left behind writing, it was William Bradford's, and you can clearly see what they believed in and what their values were," said Robert Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University, referring to the colony's first governor. "Then you look at the court records and you see all kinds of fornication, adultery and bestiality."
Herbert J. Gans, professor of sociology at Columbia University and the author of "Popular Culture and High Culture: An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste," said, "For some people it's a case of 'I am moral therefore I can watch the most immoral show.' ''
That point was echoed by Gary Schneeberger, the senior manager of issues for Focus on the Family, an influential evangelical Protestant group that urged its supporters to vote on values. "History has shown that even people who could be described as values voters are prone to sinful behavior and watching representations of sinful behavior," Mr. Schneeberger said. "Is it shocking that people would be enticed by it? It's not shocking, but it is tragic."
He said he understood how some viewers might enjoy the murder-mystery aspects of "C.S.I.," the No. 1 show his group has assailed for its graphic depictions of violence, even though justice is served most weeks. But, he added, "is it worth having to go through all this garbage to solve a mystery?"
Mr. Schneeberger said he was encouraged by the criticism heaped on ABC last week for using a sexed-up opening for its "Monday Night Football" coverage, which included one of the stars of "Desperate Housewives" dropping a towel and jumping, apparently naked, into the arms of a football player. But even while ABC was apologizing for the segment, cable news and sports networks like ESPN (which is owned by ABC's parent, the Walt Disney Company) were incessantly replaying the offending scene. It is a contradiction played out again and again in popular culture, where for all the backlash against everything from Murphy Brown's single motherhood to Janet Jackson's exposed breast, the boundaries of what's acceptable keep being pushed by the increasingly graphic shows on cable, like FX's "Nip/Tuck," and even offerings from the networks.
There have been successful series with religious overtones, like "Touched by an Angel."
But since that show went off CBS, the record is less impressive, said Leslie Moonves, the co-president and co-chief operating officer of Viacom, which owns CBS and UPN. On the CBS show "Joan of Arcadia," God is a recurring character. But he is not pulling in the viewers, and that goes for almost all states.
If moral and religious values were truly what people most wanted to see depicted on television, Mr. Moonves said, "I guess we'd be seeing 'Joan of Arcadia' doing better than 'C.S.I.' ''
Mr. Moonves said his network had no plans to tinker with its shows. "As soon as you think of something that makes you start putting other things in a show, you change the nature of the show," he said.
Mr. Reilly of NBC, however, said, "I do think we tend to give short shrift to certain areas of the country."
"One of the things we're playing with is having characters with strong religious beliefs included in some of our new shows," Mr. Reilly added. "This would not be the premise of the show, but we could have a character who simply has this strong point of view."
And over at Fox, Preston Beckman, the executive vice president for program planning, said he had some advice, however marginal, for producers pitching the networks. "Make sure that a lot of them are at least located in red states," he said. "And give the characters a dog."
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