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Ed Driscoll

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July 18, 2011 - 1:45 am

Ben Shapiro’s Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV, released at the end of May, quickly became a sensation in the television industry last month, in large part thanks to its brilliant marketing campaign, which, as Ben mentioned during our interview, was inspired by Andrew Breitbart’s brillant, drip-drip-drip rollout of James O’Keefe’s ACORN sting in the fall of 2009. Just as O’Keefe exposed ACORN’s corruption, and Breitbart the Obama-friendly Ruling Class tilt of the media, Shapiro recorded many of the TV industry’s biggest behind the scenes players admitting on tape that of course primetime television skews left, as do the hiring practices of the industry that produces it.

Much like Bernard Goldberg’s earlier exposes on television’s news departments, this didn’t exactly come as a shock to any conservative who had been following television for the last several decades. But having industry insiders come clean was certainly a welcome change, and a turning point for both the industry and its critics.

But why does that bias exist, particularly when historically, so many of TV’s biggest hits have been more or less apolitical? That’s the subject of the first half of Shapiro’s book, which is a brilliant history of the politics and worldview of the primetime television industry, from the days of Uncle Miltie to M*A*S*H to Murphy Brown, all the way to the Obama era. 

In very tangible way, this portion of Shapiro’s book is both the sequel and conservative counterweight to former SDS member Todd Gitlin’s left-leaning earlier guide to the industry, Inside Prime Time, which has served as a college textbook (including one of the courses I took on the media a quarter century ago.)

When Gitlin wrote Inside Prime Time in 1983, cable was beginning its ascendency, but there was still plenty of money to be made by everyone in the TV industry. Today, as Shapiro writes, the handwriting is on the wall for television as we know it — and the last chapter of his book describes a sense of cultural exhaustion that pervades the industry today, in much the same way that so many of the products advertised on the networks aim for a rather venerable demographic. And when those viewers shuffle off to the great living room in the sky, television as we know it may begin to ebb away. (In a way, that process has already slowly begun, since terrestrial over-the-air-TV is no more.)

What comes next? As Shapiro writes in Primetime Propaganda:

As the television industry morphs into an Internet/television cyborg, the market is beginning to open for nonliberal creators and executives. The process we are watching in relation to the print medium applies also to television—more and more creative minds and sponsors are being given the means and the methods to contribute by the cheapness and convenience of the Internet. The Internet is Prometheus, and it has brought fire down from the television gods. All that is left is for men and women with diverse political viewpoints to learn how to use it.

If you’re thinking of taking him on the offer, Shapiro’s book should required reading to avoid the network mistakes of the past. And for the would-be television mavens of the future to avoid the biggest mistake conservatives make when they go into the entertainment industry: producing strident agitprop, instead of telling a great story that can grab an audience emotionally (or make them bust a gut laughing, or both), but one that just happens to be conservative.

In the meantime, click here to listen to our interview:

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(20 minutes long; 18.3 MB. Want to download instead of streaming? Right click here to download this week’s show to your hard drive. Or right click here to download the 5.75 MB lo-fi edition.)

Blogging since 2002, affiliated with PJM since 2005, where he is currently a columnist, San Jose Editor, and founder of PJM's Lifestyle blog. Over the past 15 years, Ed has contributed articles to National Review Online, the Weekly Standard.com, Right Wing News, the New Individualist, Blogcritics, Modernism, Videomaker, Servo, Audio/Video Interiors, Electronic House, PC World, Computer Music, Vintage Guitar, and Guitar World.
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