The Mass Media in Liberal Democratic Societies
by Stanley Rothman; Paragon House, 1992
In analyzing the social content of television drama, we are quite aware that the
television elite are operating under the constraint of audience reaction. For a show
to be successful, it must attract an audience. Therefore the producers, directors, and
writers may have to modify the messages embedded in their shows along the lines
of more traditional values in order to achieve adequate Nielsen ratings. An example
is "Cagney and Lacey," which began as an avowedly feminist show that
concentrated on breaking down stereotypes as the heroines broke up crime rings.
When initial ratings were poor, however, Cagney was recast with a softer, more
traditionally feminine actress in the part, although the character remained socially
and sexually liberated. Thus the fantasy world of prime-time is neither a pure
reflection of popular taste nor the product of a consistent ideological agenda.
Although the commercial requirements of American prime time television limit the
extent to which one ideological view predominates, our research shows that the
liberal, cosmopolitan attitudes of television's creators do make their way into
prime-time television shows.
Television has become more overtly political in the decade since Stein
examined prime-time, to the extent that Cagney and Lacey, the feminist successors
to Charlie's Angels, may help student demonstrators or sanctuary activists. But the
more general point is that things have changed since Marcus Welby regarded
homosexuality as a disease and Joe Friday viewed prostitutes as common criminals
rather than social victims.
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