Ben Shapiro has a new book out. It’s called Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV.
Last week, I was happy to get the opportunity to interview Ben Shapiro about his book. What follows is a slightly edited transcript of our conversation. Enjoy!
There was a time when Hollywood was more patriotic, conservative and loyal to the country. Americans think back to all the World War II movies, for example, compared to the anti-war movies of Vietnam and the Iraq war while our troops are in the field. How did the Left take over Hollywood in the first place?
It was actually a generational change. If you take a look at the nature of Hollywood originally, all of the founders of Hollywood were very conservative men….I mean the only one of the major three networks that was headed by liberals was ABC and Leonard Goldenson. What ended up happening is that originally, the executives were always Republican and the creators were always liberal. The reason for that is because all of the liberals came from Vaudeville, which was largely a New York Jewish liberal contingent in many ways affected by socialism. So they came into the TV world and they provided the entertainment.
Pretty soon, however, the executive positions started to be filled by ad men. When you watch Mad Men, these are the kind of fellows who ended up taking over TV. There were a lot of young go-getters who happened to be more politically liberal and who had creative tendencies. They weren’t just in it for the money. They were in it for both money and for the artistic value.
Now once you had the merging over the creative and the executive functions, then you started to lose the kind of battle back and forth that you needed in order to maintain a semblance of mainstream conservatism on television. Pretty soon it was obvious that the executives were actually pulling in the same directions as the creators.
Sometimes they would battle the creators if the creators were doing something totally crazy. Carl Reiner famously had a bunch of battles with big executives on the new Dick Van Dyke Show, for example, and he actually walked off the show and quit the show after they refused to allow a scene where Dick Van Dyke was schlepping his wife. …So you get conflict like that….Norman Lear used to have conflicts with the network on what he wanted to do with All in the Family sometimes, although rarely.
But for the most part creators and executives, in the late 60′s, early 70′s, began to work in tandem toward the fulfillment of liberal goals. I think part of that had to do, believe it or not, with a very famous speech by Newton Minow. He made the famous “Vast Wasteland” speech in which he saw a vast wasteland populated by horrible shows and said we need more social value on television. At the time it certainly was not a vast wasteland. I mean you’re talking about a time when it was Gunsmoke and when you were watching Twilight Zone. There were a lot of good shows on TV at that time. But what he was basically saying is we need more social value on television.
Liberals in the industry kind of picked up that call and started to really champion that. It really became the rallying cry of the liberal establishment in Hollywood. By the time you move everything out to Hollywood in the mid-50s, you’re starting to build an echo chamber — and that’s what Hollywood remains today. It’s a total echo chamber. Everybody has the same opinions, everybody has the same parties, everybody has the same set of friends. There are cliques, but everybody has the same general basis of opinion. If you hear somebody, for example, in Hollywood today who believes that gay marriage is not actually a good thing, there is no chance you will get work because you’re outside the mainstream of Hollywood and they actually believe that most Americans think like they do….
So basically, people tend to think that conservatives get blacklisted in Hollywood; you’re saying it’s absolutely true?
That’s right. I wouldn’t say that there is an actual list that people look at, but I can tell you as a fact that there’s no question that if you’re a conservative, it is very difficult to work in Hollywood, especially if you’re openly conservative before you become prominent. Everybody likes to point to the Gary Sinises, Kelsey Grammars, or the Patricia Heatons and say conservatives are working.
Well, first of all Patricia Heaton came out two weeks ago and said that she had been discriminated against. I knew that already. She told that to me and then she asked me not to write that in the book because she was afraid she was going to lose work. All those people became prominent and then they came out as conservatives; so they were able to maintain their work. But anybody who comes out as conservative — it’s going to be very difficult to break in. I mean, I had this experience myself.
I opened up the book with a story; I was not interested in writing for TV. That was not the purpose of the book by any means. I was hired to write the book by Harper Collins and then it just so happened that one of the interviews that I did was with Leonard Goldberg, who sits on the board of CBS, and is the producer of Blue Bloods, Charlie’s Angels and a number of other major shows. We hit it off and he suggested, “Why don’t you write me a pilot based on Harvard Law School?” I figure, “Okay well, he’s Leonard Goldberg. Sure, why not? How is that going to hurt?” So I started writing my pilot, we go into development on it, and it gets sidetracked. I find an agent because I figure as long as I’m doing this, I might as well see if I can actually get some work in Hollywood out of this. So I go and get this agent, we have a meeting which is very difficult to get in the first place. I have a meeting with them and it’s a spectacular meeting. It was just a great meeting and he liked the writing. Everything is going swimmingly.
About three weeks later, he calls me back and he says, “I’m not sure we can represent you.” I said, “Oh really? Why is that?” He said, “Well, we started getting your stuff out to some people and we got a call back from a producer. The producer liked your stuff and he Googled you. When he Googled you, he found your political opinions online and he called us back and said I will never work with anybody of that political persuasion. I think it’s going to be very difficult for us to find you work in this town.” So, even if you get your toe in like I did, it will get chomped off by a liberal alligator. I have tapes to document this. There is no question that there is a vast liberal bias in the industry and that they will exclude you from the industry if you do not agree with their prevailing ideal.
What do you say to the argument that, “Oh, Hollywood isn’t liberal. The only color they see is green. So if they can make more money by pushing conservative themes, obviously that’s what they’d do.” What do you say to that argument?
That’s the most effective argument that they use – the so-called market argument. It’s really disarming because as conservatives, our tendency is to agree with that. I mean, why the hell wouldn’t we agree with that? We’re all for people going out and making a profit and our usual response is okay, that’s a good argument and we kind of move on. Half the book is dedicated to that argument specifically because there are many flaws in it. The first and foremost flaw is that they’re actually defining the market they’re catering to.
What I mean by that is that when they say, “Yeah, our shows are successful. Yeah, this is what the audience wants.” First of all, the audience generally doesn’t even know that they’re being propagandized. So it’s not what the audience wants. They want the entertainment and the liberalism is being slid in under their nose. Number two, liberals have utterly defined their own market here. I mean it’s the equivalent of what Gallup does with its polls. They take a poll of 70% Democrats and 30% Republicans and they say, “Well, look, there’s overwhelming approval for the President.”
That’s the same thing they do with the rating system. In Hollywood, the only rating that really matters is the 18-49 demographic. The 18-49 demographic and really, the 18-34 demographic, is considered more valuable than older demographics. So you’ll see shows like Glee that actually make more ad dollars than shows like NCIS because the conservative shows appeal to older audiences.
So if you’re skewing young, you’re inherently skewing liberal. This is why MTV as a network skews liberal. The key to that is that it’s utterly false. The 18-49 crowd is worth more than people who are 50 and up — it’s just not true. In fact…
Right, there’s more money in the over 50 crowd.
Yeah, that’s exactly right. It’s unbelievable that this has worked for 40 years. If you think about it for half a second, you realize, wait a second — people who are 18 have no money, they’re living in their parents’ basement. They’re not spending a lot because they have no money. They have no savings, they have no job.
Well I found out, this is the really fascinating part — this was a concerted scam on the part of the TV industry. This was not something that happened by accident. It’s no coincidence that the shift to liberal television happened at exactly the same time that the shift in the demographic appeal happened. It used to be that in the 1960s, television was for the most part conservative. By the time you got to the late 1960s and 70′s, it turned massively liberal. That’s because there were three networks at the time — ABC, NBC, CBS. ABC only had affiliates in the big markets. It had no affiliates in any of the rural markets. CBS had affiliates everywhere. It had rural, it had urban — it was kicking the crap out of ABC on a daily basis. The top shows in the country were shows like Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction…. They were for what people in Hollywood derisively called “rural trash.”
What happened is that ABC saw that it was getting its ass kicked in the ratings so they have to make their case to advertisers somehow. So they hire a guy to do a study for them that says that the young, urban crowd is actually worth more than the older crowd. So even if CBS is drawing bigger numbers by far, our audience is more valuable than their audience to you. …So they go to the advertising agencies with that. The advertising agencies which are generally staffed by people who happen to be young and urban say, “Well, of course I’m worth more than the schmuck who lives on the farm in Alabama.”
So, what they do is they start buying into the ABC view of advertising. Pretty soon, CBS looks at ABC, which is starting to gain in terms of advertiser revenue, even though they’re getting their ass kicked in content, and they say, “Okay we need to shift our orbit. We need to go totally liberal…” So they bought into the whole thing. It was an enormous scam.
Why couldn’t we see a Hollywood studio or channel do the same thing with entertainment that Fox has done with news? Why couldn’t we see a channel or a studio that has a slight rightward tilt instead of a big leftward tilt? Wouldn’t that capture a lot of audience that’s being lost?
It absolutely would, but here are a couple of problems. One is that when people watch news, they’re watching news because they’re interested in the political slant on the channel. Rightwing news picks up a lot of audience because a lot of people are dissatisfied with CNN. When people watch TV for entertainment value, the last thing they want is to be hit over the head with politics. That annoys them when they’re hit over the head with politics.
So if you make a conservative television channel, people are not going to tune in because it’s a conservative television channel. What they’re going to do instead is… they’re going to say, “Is it entertaining? Is it good? Is the content something that I would want to watch?” So, what we need is to create programming that’s entertaining first and conservative second. We need to enter the market place not on a self proclaimed conservative channel, but on mainstream television networks by going to places like Proctor and Gamble and places like Johnson and Johnson and getting them to sponsor family friendly programming that’s really good.
This is where conservatives go wrong. Conservatives want to think politically instead of thinking entertainment wise. Liberals always understood that the key here is to make something really entertaining that happens to also be incredibly liberal — whereas conservatives, they take precisely the opposite approach. I mean, David Zucker’s a friend and I don’t want to talk badly about American Carol, but that was a movie that took the opposite approach and it didn’t work.
Right. We need to be more like Avatar.
Right, exactly, exactly. I mean the most conservative movies ever made are things like “Braveheart,” “The Dark Knight.” I mean if you think in terms of TV shows, “24″ is a show that a lot of liberals liked — not because it was conservative, but because it was exciting and it had a good plot.
Ben, Thank you very much.
Terrific, I appreciate it.
Once again, Ben Shapiro’s book is called Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV