But Hollywood keeps trying to remake the world in its own image, even if it doesn't sell to the viewing audience. And it's not just political shows that fall flat. NBC's new series "The Book of Daniel" has not only flopped in the ratings battle, it has scared off viewers and sponsors with its in-your-face iconoclasm. The main character, the Rev. Daniel Webster, played by Aidan Quinn, is a pill-popping Episcopal priest with a gay son, a drug-dealing daughter and an alcoholic wife. Jesus -- more of the Jesus Christ Superstar variety than a biblical interpretation -- makes regular appearances on the show to dispense Dr. Phil-type advice, but He, too, seems aimed more at irritating than attracting believers to the show. At a press conference with NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly this week, one TV critic noted that a recent episode ran virtually without ads: "Your commercial breaks were a festival of NBC promos; I think you had maybe one national ad in the whole show. Can you afford to keep putting that show on, or have these pressure groups . . . driven off literally all the advertisers?" A better question might be whether network executives are willing to air shows that drive viewers away if it suits their political agenda.
Hollywood used to try to entertain Americans, now it tries to indoctrinate them. And it has had some success. Shows like "Will & Grace" have made homosexuality appear non-threatening, indeed endearing, for example, advancing as well as reflecting greater tolerance toward gays. But the last four federal elections suggest Hollywood has yet to convince a majority of voters that Republicans are all simple-minded, greedy autocrats. They keep trying anyway, failing to advance their politics at the polls and losing viewers all the while. Maybe one day, they'll get back to trying to win audiences, not elections.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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