The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, November 05, 2003

CBS and Reagan: The Miniseries - can someone please explain whodunnit?

As late as October 29, AP were suggesting that the projectile defecation from the massed ranks of the usual suspects would do nothing but boost CBS's revenues:
"The bottom line is, the more attention it (the miniseries) gets, the more people are going to watch it," said television analyst Marc Berman of Media Week Online. That spells opportunity for sponsors and ad dollars for CBS, he said.

And now the big cave-in.

What I've yet to see is any analysis of how Rush and the boys did it. Presumably, they (who exactly? - no Grassy Knoll stuff, please!) persuaded a sufficient body of advertisers (again, who? and, those vacated spots couldn't have been filled at the same rates?) to threaten to pull their business unless the Reagan piece was canned. (Mere viewer write-ins wouldn't have been enough, surely?)

But why would advertisers kow-tow to the Rushies? Do they represent a significant demo? Or is it just a desire for a quiet life?

A piece on the Weekly Standard site details the travails of Rod Serling in the 1950s to get ABC, and then CBS, to greenlight a play on the Emmett Till case. Before he heard back from ABC it says Serling asked himself
what could possibly be controversial...about dramatizing the evil of lynching? Who was going to be offended? The lynchers themselves? Apparently. Soon came word that the network and sponsor demanded wholesale changes in the script.

And, by coincidence, there was a programme on BBC radio this week about Amos 'n' Andy [1], the TV version of which was famously cancelled in 1953 as a result of pressure from the NAACP and other Negro organisations. I can find no explanation of how, back in the Jim Crow era, such groups could have had sufficient leverage to force the programme off the air [2].

By way of racial balance, and still in the Golden Age of Television, the Nat King Cole Show was cancelled after one season - supposedly because Southern audiences didn't like his duetting with white women! Again, no explanation that I can see of how this was brought about.

(Surprisingly, neither Cole nor Amos 'n' Andy appear in the index of Erik Barnouw's Tube of Plenty - not, at least, in the edition I remembered I had a copy of! The NAACP rates one entry, relating to the 1960s.)

It seems to me there's a parallel here between the arcane manner in which Reagan got booted and the way government information is disseminated, in particular, the currently controversial use of anonymous sources - Valerie Plame, Jayson Blair, et al: the grubby mechanics all kept within the charmed circle, the humble reader or viewer patted on the head and spoonfed the agreed pap.

So, from the Pulitzer-hungry, any danger of some 5Ws on the Reagan rumpus?

  1. Streamed here - scroll down - for the next few days.

  2. There is a lot of Amos 'n' Andy material - as well as some appetising links to stuff on other 1920s and 1930s US radio topics - here. A long piece on the Amos 'n' Andy radio show starts here. The bibliography page mentions
    Thomas Cripps, Amos 'n' Andy and the Debate over American Racial Integration in American History, American Television: Interpreting the Video Past,edited by John E. O'Connor, New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. 1983.
    as being
    A carefully researched discussion of the 1951 NAACP protest...
    against A 'n' A.

    A copy of the NAACP statement from August 1951 takes things not much further.

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