• TV Dramas Fumble the Art of Spin

    by  • September 27, 2016 • ABC, Broadcast Decency, CBS • 6 Comments


    Both CBS’ Bull and ABC’s Notorious deal with trial-by-media; but neither is compelling or appropriate for families.

    In today’s charged political atmosphere, in which the media is both horse and rider simultaneously, it’s almost surprising that narrative television has taken so long to belly flop into the media manipulation game. This season that changes, with shows like Bull and Notorious hoping to make the kind of splash Scandal achieved by seeking to capture the confusion of perspectives – and the puppet masters who try to spin them – ubiquitous on the 24 hour news cycle and elsewhere. The source for drama is palpable because of that ubiquity, but as the wannabe Aaron Sorkin dialogue and lurid twists unfold in the same predictable fashion, it ends up begging the question, “Did they take long enough?” The bottom line for parents – nope.

    Both CBS’ Bull (Tuesdays, 9:00 p.m. ET) and ABC’s Notorious (Thursdays, 9:00 p.m. ET) depend on two current realities in the culture for their premise and tension: the general distrust by the average citizen concerning the legal and political systems, and the power players preying on that distrust to further their agendas. Both shows tackle these issues from different angles but with the same overall thrust. Dr. Bull (guess which show he’s in) is a jury consultant, or a guy who gets hired to rig juries in favor of his client. Julia George and Jake Gregorian of Notorious are a news producer and lawyer, respectively, who have formed a symbiotic relationship in which one feeds stories to the other, in order for Julia to get exclusive scoops and Jake to control the narrative. 

    Like ABC’s Scandal, both shows feature main characters that are incisively smart, amoral, and high-functioning, despite past trauma or insecurity. There’s a lot of pseudo-technical talk, power walking through hallways where no one gets to finish a sentence, and self-righteous speeches – usually from the main character. There’s also a lot of sexual innuendo, illicitly-taken photographs of titillating bedroom acts (if bondage is your thing), and betrayal. All this without really making a salient comment about the theme in question, the engine meant to be powering the narrative. In short, these shows are predictable in that they’re treading the same water their modern predecessor Scandal already did, and that water has gotten stale.

    It’s sad, really, because the theme is so ripe for a Good Wife-level treatment, something that actually trusts an audience enough to ask pertinent questions and not lazily offer up the same lurid, low-hanging fruit that is TV’s go-to when the going gets tough. Both programs’ content should put these shows on notice to conscientious parents. While the pilots of these shows weren’t the absolute bottom of the barrel, the first episode of Bull did feature teen drug use, bondage sex, and murder, and the premiere of Notorious was similar. There’s a strong likelihood that such content could grow even worse over time, since the premise of both shows requires a constant influx of new sordidness to keep the story moving. Parents should take note, especially considering that the storytelling isn’t compelling enough to make up for the tawdry content.

    Both Notorious and Bull try to capture the current zeitgeist surrounding the ongoing media tangle – and both fail. The methods these programs employ to seduce the viewer are boring and racy enough to motivate parents to look elsewhere should the theme be interesting to them.



    Brady Nelson is an Entertainment Analyst for the Parent’s Television Council. He’s a graduate of Emerson College, with a degree in Film and Writing Literature Publishing.

    6 Responses to TV Dramas Fumble the Art of Spin

    1. Mary Goodman
      October 1, 2016 at 6:32 am

      My family and friends will boycott your channels and supporters the
      This country was built on Christian morals, ethics. And character.
      We want our country back

    2. Mary Goodman
      October 1, 2016 at 6:28 am

      Shameful. I will boycott your channels and your advertisers. Why are you bent on destroying the very things this nation was built. Decency and moral and Christian ethics.

    3. October 1, 2016 at 6:24 am

      It’s shameful the way the media is helping those bent on destroying decency and the principles this country was founded upon.
      STOP IT .
      I will avoid your supporters. Bad your channels. Promise

    4. John Boulton
      October 1, 2016 at 6:04 am

      I think it’s shameful that our law system runs like this. There is no justice… just manipulation. I don’t know… the show may expose the problem (hopefully); but then it may only spread an idea.

      America should be ashamed of itself the way law and order is governed nowadays.
      And the problem begins with corrupt lawyers and corrupt politicians along with corrupt business leaders.
      Truly shaemful.

    5. Norma Geiger
      September 30, 2016 at 4:48 pm

      I know nothing about NOTORIOUS, haven’t watched it and don’t intend to, but I am extremely disappointed in BULL. Manipulating a jury in my opinion is almost criminal and should not be glorified. Although I suspect this does go on in the real world it is not right. I do like Michael Weatherly but he should do without the scruffy look–was much “cleaner” on NCIS.

    6. Eliza Siegfried
      September 30, 2016 at 2:56 pm

      First let me say that I am no fan of Dr. Phil. However, his new show, Bull, has now made me into a strong opponent of his. Dr. Phil is one of the producers of the program as well as one of the show’s two writers. Being a psychologist, does he really feel as if talk of anal sex and using words like “prick” when referring to a male sex organ are appropriate for 14 year olds? Yes, of course it was rated TV-14. I don’t believe his grandchildren are anywhere near 14 yet, but I wonder if he’d allow them to watch his show. I sure hope that he wouldn’t! I turned Bull off after watching only 20 minutes of it, and even that was too much.

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