With the recent attacks in Paris, the TV networks have turned to their standard protocol of reviewing their schedules and pulling episodes. On Friday, the cast of Undateable Live posed with the now famous “Peace for Paris” symbols created by artist Jean Jullien and posted the statement, “Out of respect for the victims in Paris we won't be doing a live show tonight. It's doesn't feel right.”
Saturday Night Live, which thrives on humour and the slightly offensive, began its show with Cecily Strong reading a statement of support for the people of Paris in English and then again in French.
Meanwhile, CBS decided that’s Monday’s Supergirl episode involving a National City bomber and NCIS: Los Angeles’ storyline about a teen recruited into terrorism were too close for comfort. So they replaced them with less potentially sensitive episodes.
And Homeland – which is all about terrorism – added a warning that the subject matter of its show might be upsetting to some viewers.
But while these moments of recognition and emotional support are lovely and certainly make people here at home feel all gooey and sanctimonious inside, are they really doing anything worthwhile?
Is anyone who wants to watch a comic book superhero on Monday night instead of CNN’s coverage of Paris really going to be offended by Supergirl? Are viewers less offended when the networks air that episode a few weeks later, after everyone has had a chance to cool down?
Perhaps the problem isn’t the episodes but the show themselves.
We try to tell ourselves we’re watching stories of heroes, of victory over hardships. We’re celebrating the idea of good overcoming evil. But in order to do so, there’s a lot of blood on our hands.
Recently, I was writing commercials for our nightly line-ups on both channels. I was overwhelmed by the number of times I saw the word “murder” or “killer.” I was actually challenged to find appropriate synonyms – slayed, executed, dispatched, slaughtered, and my personal favourite, snuffed-out – so that each show didn’t sound like the last.
The fact is, the majority of network shows focus on crime. Killers are everywhere on television from international terrorists to your next door neighbour. And the deaths are getting bloodier.
Why can’t we tell a good story without the violence? The Good Wife has managed to minimize it with solid ratings and a few Emmy nominations. However, it’s in the minority.
Bloodshed and violence have become such an integral part of our entertainment. We support it on television and in the movies every time we watch it and share it with others.
So isn’t it hypocritical to suddenly claim that one episode is too offensive, too insensitive because real-life carnage has been thrust upon us?
If we were truly offended, the shows would change or we’d change the channel. Instead we’re pretending it’s not there for a week or two, then going back to the status quo. The bloody status quo.
And that is more offensive than any single episode.