The TV Column: Networks scramble to be sensitive; viewers still watch violent shows


David Zayas as Angel Batista and Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan. (Randy Tepper)
December 17, 2012

The one-hour backdoor pilot for the reality series “Best Funeral Ever” profiles a funeral home that specializes in celebratory funerals. On Monday, Discovery-owned TLC network pulled Thursday’s scheduled premiere in the wake of the mass murder in Newtown, Conn.

But Discovery mothership network, Discovery Channel, itself insists it did not cancel the reality series “American Guns” after the Connecticut slaughter, maintaining that a press report to that effect is inaccurate.

“Best Funeral Ever,” which will air Jan. 6 at 10 p.m., features the staff at Golden Gate Funeral Home in Dallas staging home-going celebrations with Christmas, state fair and doo-wop themes. In ratings success, the special serves as a prototype for an ongoing series.

On Friday, Adam Lanza took his mother’s life and then gunned down 26 other people at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, including 20 first-graders, before committing suicide.

Funerals for the children began Monday.

Meanwhile, Discovery said Monday in a statement that “American Guns,” which wrapped its 16-episode second season in September, “concluded earlier this year” and that it “chose not to renew the series and has no plans to air repeats of the show.”

That appears to be news to some people, who, Fox News reported, flooded an “American Guns” Facebook page to demand the show’s cancellation. On the other hand, we found another “American Guns” Facebook page on which people were unhappy to learn it had been canceled. “Keep the show on the air you guttless [sic] Discovery channel [dweeb] executives,” said one such fan.

Discovery is just the latest TV company that is scrambling to stay on the right side of public opinion since the mass shooting.

Fox yanked Sunday’s episodes of “Family Guy” and “American Dad,” citing content concerns. On Friday, Syfy opted not to air a new “Haven” episode that included violence at a high school. NBC’s cold opening of “Saturday Night Live” featured a choir of schoolchildren singing “Silent Night” — and Samuel L. Jackson making one of his endearing potty-mouth appearances. CBS late-night host Craig Ferguson edited his traditional “It’s a great day for America!” opening out of Friday’s pre-taped episode.

And Sunday’s episode of Showtime’s serial-killer drama, “Dexter,” began with a disclaimer that “in light of the tragedy that has occurred in Connecticut, the following program contains images that may be disturbing.”

And how did America feel about viewing ultra-violent TV after the school shooting?

“Dexter” and “Homeland” delivered record-setting numbers, that’s how. The “Dexter” seventh-season finale clocked nearly 2.8 million viewers at 9 p.m. Sunday, which is 23 percent better than the serial killer’s previous season finale.

Ending its second season, Showtime’s terrorist-thriller “Homeland” scored 2.3 million viewers — 2.7 million including the replay. Compare that with the first-season finale’s audience of 1.7 million.

“Everyone was writing our obituary. Well, they’re not writing our obituary anymore,” Showtime CEO Matt Blank boasted Monday to Bloomberg TV about the Sunday numbers — marking a new milestone in TV-industry-suit foot-in-mouth insertion.

Scorsese’s Clinton docu

Martin Scorsese will produce and direct a documentary about former president Bill Clinton for HBO, the pay cable network announced Monday afternoon.

The docu is being made with the full cooperation of Clinton, the Time Warner-owned network said, adding that Steve Bing is producing.

Besides being a multimillionaire film producer, Bing is a major financial contributor to the William J. Clinton Foundation and has donated to former senator and onetime presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is now secretary of state. (Bing also was a financier/producer on Scorsese’s 2008 docu, “Shine a Light,” about the Rolling Stones’ 2006 performance at the Beacon Theatre as part of the group’s A Bigger Bang Tour.)

The docu will explore the perspectives of the country’s 42nd POTUS on history, politics, culture and the world, the network said.

“President Clinton is one of the most compelling figures of our time,” HBO chief executive Richard Plepler and programming president Michael Lombardo said Monday in a joint statement.

Scorsese called Clinton “a towering figure who remains a major voice in world issues” and “continues to shape the political dialogue both here and around the world.”

The Clinton pic continues an HBO tradition. Back in June, HBO telecast “41,” a look at the life of George H.W. Bush, POTUS from 1989 to 1993, produced by Jerry Weintraub, the former United Artists CEO and a Bush family friend. Jeffrey Roth directed that one, which was made with Bush’s full cooperation.

Before that, there was HBO’s “Reagan” in February 2011.

The Clinton docu will mark Scorsese’s fourth collaboration with HBO, including “Public Speaking,” “George Harrison: Living in the Material World” and the mobster series “Boardwalk Empire,” for which he serves as an executive producer, as well as winning an Emmy for directing last year.

To find the last time a documentary about Clinton aired on TV, you have to look way back to — February, when PBS broadcast a four-hour Clinton docu under its “American Experience” brand.

To read previous columns by de Moraes, go to washingtonpost.com/ tvblog.

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