The Magazine

Unchanging Channels

A look at television’s insular universe.

Nov 7, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 08 • By TEVI TROY
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Shapiro details these dike-blowing efforts in that section of the book in which he engages in a content analysis of various shows to demonstrate how they attempted to project their particular visions into American living rooms. While there are plenty of obvious instances of politics driving a show—All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Murphy Brown—Shapiro believes that even purportedly nonpolitical programs have political messages. Happy Days is thought to be “innocent,” for example, but its creators injected the subtext of a pre-Vietnam innocence into Richie and Fonzie’s adventures.

Shapiro does manage to introduce a few optimistic notes. At times, he finds, the attempt to propagandize backfires. The hyperliberal creators of The Cosby Show thought that they were making a subversive left-wing program about racism but found, to their dismay, that viewers liked the show’s underlying conservative message of a strong, hard-working American family. In addition, Shapiro has a series of recommendations that he feels can fix TV. Some of them are unrealistic—his admonition that Hollywood liberals stop discriminating, for example—but others are either taking place or distinctly possible, such as his suggestions that consumers get more choices, conservatives engage Hollywood more vigorously, and advertisers wake up to the myth that liberal ideals sell on television.

Shapiro closes with an appendix of the best conservative shows ever—including Magnum P.I., 24, The Simpsons, and South Park—that will make conservatives smile. But the pleasure readers take from the list suggests that books on Hollywood are much like the programming they deconstruct: full of supposed political intent, while viewers (and readers) just want entertainment.

Tevi Troy is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.