ED081497b:TV Prime Time: Biting the Hand that Feeds Them

COMMENTARY Political Process

ED081497b:TV Prime Time: Biting the Hand that Feeds Them

Aug 14th, 1997 2 min read
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.


Edwin J. Feulner is the founder and president of The Heritage Foundation.

If you were writing a story, which kind of person would you probably make the villain: a business executive--or a convicted career criminal?

If you were looking for a high-paying job in television, you probably made the wrong choice. You thought a career criminal makes a better bad guy than a businessman. This will never get you a job in Hollywood.

you take a look at prime-time network television these days, you'll see shows like Fox's "Melrose Place" portraying businessmen as the dregs of society--the robbers, cheaters, infidels, rapists and murderers among us.

The Media Research Center recently conducted a study of 863 prime-time television programs on the four major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) over a period of 26 months. The center found that characters who own or run businesses were depicted as villains more often than characters from any other profession--three times more, in fact, than characters whose profession was career criminal! Even when these fictional small-business owners and corporate executives were not engaged in explicitly criminal behavior, they were often shown as unscrupulous corner-cutters operating just over the line. This is certainly a curious depiction of a profession without whose advertising dollars television would not exist.

Now I have heard the rumor that many television executives in Hollywood--those with whom the shows' writers must work--charitably could be referred to as a bunch of weasels. Maybe that's what prompts TV writers to promote the larger stereotype that all businessmen are sleazy.

For example, on the June 7, 1995, edition of Fox's "Beverly Hills 90210," notes the Media Research Center study, the husband-wife owners of an import-export business used their company to import drugs and had previously kidnapped the sister of one of the main characters. Another example: On the May 1, 1996, edition of NBC's "Law & Order," a shoe manufacturer murdered one of the co-ed call girls he had hired for his clients.

The study found that television's attitude toward capitalism in general was made clear in its depiction of stock brokers and other investment professionals. Of 22 characters who were investment professionals, 10 were criminals (including seven murderers), 13 cheated to get ahead, and none were shown meeting the needs of society through their work.

TV writers need to visit real America. To their great surprise, and horror, no doubt, they will find that most Americans involved in commerce are the virtuous backbone of our country: good people who work hard and are engaged in activities that demand honesty, diligence and integrity as prerequisites for success.

Of course, business-bashing on the part of America's cultural elite is nothing new. The irony is that the capitalists these "artists" scorn are the very people who have built and maintained the kind of society in which writers, musicians and other artists are able to thrive.

Businessmen certainly need artists to entertain, teach, and add beauty to their lives. And the artist needs the businessman to build the theaters, buy the tickets, and patronize the performances.

A society that embraces free markets, the open exchange of ideas, and the development of a healthy economy is a society in which the arts flourish, even trash TV. After all, you don't often hear of script-writers reclining in grassy meadows, lamenting the passing of Soviet-commissioned military documentaries.

Unfortunately, too many writers and producers prefer biting the hand that feeds them. In doing so, they smear the image of the honest, hard-working businessman.

Maybe it's time for a few of these businessmen to explain to the networks the connection between art and commerce--by withdrawing their sponsorship.

* * *

Note: Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute. Additional information about The Heritage Foundation can be found on the World Wide Web (www.heritage.org).


August 14, 1997