Two weeks ago, a headline in the L.A. Times blared, “Why Vanessa Hudgens and the other stars of Fox’s ‘Grease Live!’ won’t ‘clean up’ the show”.
According to the Times, “The creators of ‘Grease Live!’ are planning some changes to the Broadway musical that inspired it, but don’t worry. The show will still be plenty naughty.”
…A lot of other stuff is still in there too, like the boys using off-color language to describe their cars and asking in song whether heroine Sandy (Julianne Hough of “Dancing with the Stars”) “put up a fight” when boyfriend Danny (Aaron Tveit) put the moves on her.
Fox, in an apparent effort to capture some of the success NBC has enjoyed with recent live productions of The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, and The Wiz, announced plans last year to stage a live production of Grease. But with themes of teen sex, a pregnancy scare, and suggestive lyrics in many of the songs, Grease is no Sound of Music.
Despite Fox’s clear intention of keeping Grease as close as possible to the original stage production, offensive lyrics and all, advertisers clearly put some pressure on producers to tone it down.
AdWeek reported that producers “toned down some of its racier lyrics” in order to “make the show more palatable for broadcast audiences and advertisers.”
Vanity Fair reported Executive Producer Marc Platt told AdWeek that corporate sponsors like Coca-Cola forced the show to tone down some of the language. “It’s going to be a very family-friendly show, but with the appropriate edge that it needs to have.”
Viewers may have noted Coca-Cola’s advertising popping up throughout the show. “The production will include iconic Coca-Cola signage and performers will ‘taste the feeling’ of Coca-Cola on-stage during the show,” Coca-Cola vice president Katie Miller said.
With it’s brand so prominently on display, Coca-Cola wanted to ensure that the content would not reflect badly on their brand. By making these changes, Grease became something that would appeal to a broader swath of viewers, leading to ratings success for the Fox network.
For years, the PTC has been working closely with advertisers to remind them that because they are the ones paying the bills, they are in a unique position to influence TV content for the better. They do not have to merely hand over their checks and meekly submit to whatever the networks want to do – regardless of the damage it may do to their brand name and corporate image, they can – and should – use their influence to push the networks in a more positive direction.
The example of Grease Live shows the power of advertisers who exerted their influence in order to make sure the show wouldn’t offend the broad, family audience Fox and the advertisers were seeking. Furthermore, the advertisers, such as Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, and General Mills, were mindful to make sure that the content was consistent with their corporate image.
What’s also clear is that, left to its own devices, Hollywood will push the envelope rather than reach and entertain the largest possible audience. But guess what? Toning down the language on Grease Live did not diminish the program one iota. Adults understood what was going on without it being shoved in their, and in their children’s, faces.
We applaud the Grease Live advertisers for ensuring that families would enjoy the program without unnecessary racy language. In doing so, the advertisers ensured that their corporate brand is aligned with TV content that’s consistent with that brand. It was a win-win situation.