January 1997 – In the next few months you will be reading about the fact that 1997 marks the 20th anniversary of American Family Association. I hope you will indulge us as we do some reflecting and reminiscing about where we’ve come from and what all the Lord has brought us through since 1977.
But before I get started down that road – and I can do it easily and without much prompting – I can’t let a recent significant victory pass. On the front page of the Journal (see here), you will find a story about CBS cancelling the new show Public Morals.
If you receive AFA’s monthly letter from my dad, you remember this show was the issue we addressed in our October mailout. We learned in the middle of the summer that CBS had contracted with infamous and popular television producer Steven Bochco to create a half-hour sitcom to debut in the fall of 1996. The name of the show was Public Morals.
According to those who had seen the pilot of the show, it was to be the raunchiest 30 minutes on network television. To give you an idea of just how trashy this show was, the word wh--e was used 12 times in the pilot. And knowing Bochco’s reputation for pushing the limits of television in the past (NYPD Blue), what we were looking at was the most basic bathroom graffiti taken from the walls of a men’s dormitory and plastered on prime-time television for all of America to laugh at – including children.
When we had gathered as much information as we could, AFA went into action doing what AFA does best – taking out the enemy. The very idea that CBS would want to broadcast the kind of raw material that even mainstream media like USA Today and The New York Times were criticizing, was evidence enough that CBS did not care. CBS had made a conscious decision to push the limits of television content – namely language – to depths it has never seen before.
The first thing we did was write all television advertisers asking them to stay off Public Morals. We have built a reputation with the advertising community over the years and many companies listen to what we say. Now you would be hard pressed to get one to admit it, because they don’t like to be perceived as “giving in” to pressure groups, but nonetheless, many corporations do pay attention when we contact them asking them to stay away from a given program. If a program can’t find advertisers, it can’t survive.
Secondly, we wrote you – our supporters. We sent you all the information we had on the show from secondary secular sources. Then we asked you to contact your local CBS affiliate manager and voice your objection to Public Morals. We sent along a petition to the local CBS station, so you could get others involved. We learned that for many of the affiliates, this was the most contact they had had from the public on any particular show. (Incidentally, we ask you to thank them for quality CBS programs like Touched by an Angel and the new Cosby show.)
What this action accomplished is that these CBS affiliate managers then contacted CBS-New York and told them the kind of negative reaction they were receiving to Public Morals. Several affiliates had already said they would not be airing the program as it was. It would have to be cleaned up substantially before it would go on in their particular community.
For several weeks in September and October we waited as CBS delayed the show’s airing. We were hearing from some CBS affiliate managers that the network was making changes in the show, was finding it very difficult to secure advertisers, and had canned the pilot episode altogether. We began to feel encouraged.
Finally, in late October Public Morals debuted. The following week CBS said the show was going on hiatus. (This is where shows go to die, but the network has too much pride to admit it.) A couple of days later it was reported in the Washington Post that CBS was cancelling the network sitcom.
YES! WE WON! AMERICA’S FAMILIES WON!
Why is this victory so significant? Why am I taking this entire column to chronicle the events leading up to the cancellation?
For starters, CBS had 12 episodes of Public Morals already on the shelf. In other words, when you factor in the high price tag that comes with a producer of Bochco’s credentials, millions of dollars were already invested in the production of the series. Furthermore, CBS had to say NO to arguably the most powerful television producer in Hollywood.
There was much humble pie to pass around, from New York to Hollywood.
However, the bottom line to this story is that AFA took on CBS and Bochco head on – and we won in a knock out! Perhaps CBS and the other television networks will learn a lesson from this experience. We don’t need more sex, violence and profanity on television, we need less. We need more wholesome, uplifting programming which will condition our culture in a more family-friendly manner.
Hollywood and the networks also learned again, if they had forgotten, that AFA is still around. We will still fight for decency and civility for the sake of our children and this great country we love. And, at the risk of tootin’ our own horn, we can still win. We may not win them all, but we will always land a few punches and from time to time we will win outright.
Keep praying for us! Keep standing with us! Despite what we may think sometimes, our labor is not at
all in vain.