Much has been said and written about the broadcast networks’ perceived need to compete with cable as a justification for pushing the boundaries on broadcast television. Most recently, NBC Entertainment division chairman Bob Greenblatt spoke of the challenges broadcasters face in trying to compete against cable at the Emmys. There is a coolness factor that is clearly of paramount to concern to Greenblatt and his peers, and a small cadre of Hollywood insiders, but is of little interest or concern to the vast majority of television viewers. At the Television Critics Association (TCA) tour, Greenblatt recently said, “Cable can be darker, more interesting, feels cooler than some of the things we can do, it’s just a fact of life.”
So here again is proof that Hollywood is less interested in programming for viewers at home than in programming for themselves and their Hollywood insider peers. It matters not one bit that an average episode of NCIS brings in three times as many viewers as the Emmy nominated Game of Thrones, or that the average television viewer doesn’t perceive frontal female nudity, explicit sex, and the ability to drop the “F-bomb” every thirty seconds as an indicator of great writing or quality programming.
And so the networks continue their program of blurring the lines between broadcast television and cable. The latest case in point is the new NBC comedy Marry Me which made liberal use of the “f-word” in the pilot episode, which was seen by television critics at the Summer TV Press Tour. One critic pointed it out to series creator David Caspe, and asked, “Are you going to be writing it this way, and… let Standards cut it out?”
Caspe answered, “I haven’t thought about it much. Maybe a little bit, here and there, and then I cut it.”
But this is only a sign of things to come. According to television critic Lisa de Moraes:
During a session for new drama State of Affairs, executive producer Joe Carnahan said his goal for the series was to push content boundaries to create a drama that would “out-do what cable has become, (which is), let’s face it, the standard bearer.” To which, his fellow State of Affairs EP Ed Bernero, responded, “We have to use a little bit different language, and can’t show sex as much,” but the biggest difference between cable drama and broadcast is that both start with characters that are “messed up” but cable shows make the character “more messed up” while broadcast series feel the need to “fix them right away.”
“There’s nothing cable can do that we can’t do,” Bernero concluded. “Except show boobs,” series star Katherine Heigl muttered.
The conversation carried over into the Marry Me session. “I think ‘f***’ is NBC-friendly now,” joked Ken Marino, who stars as the romantic lead, opposite Casey Wilson, in the single-cam comedy about a young couple who, after dating six years, get engaged and realize it’s harder than it looks.
One critic wondered whether this comedy series would be an historic standards moment in TV.
“I would love to say ‘fuck’ on NBC but I don’t think this is going to be the groundbreaking. If want to make sure it sounds like people talk – people tend to swear a little,” exec producer Caspe said.
“And, if you don’t like it – fuck off!” joked star Wilson.
“Not you!” Caspe hastened to tell TV critics, adding, “We love all you – fuck on!”
But where does this boldness come from in so aggressively asserting their intent to push content boundaries? It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Remember just a few years ago when the networks were challenging FCC indecency fines in the courts, the standard line was that even if they could use more explicit sex and profanity doesn’t mean they would. But now that we’ve gone for years without any FCC enforcement, the networks are no longer shy about revealing their true agenda. And Hollywood’s vision for the future of broadcast television will soon be reality if we don’t speak up against it now.