Like the DNA test you gave your dog to learn how many noble breeds came together to create one dumb mutt, the spit test on this year’s wide variety of TV controversies seem to all lead back to Donald Trump.
Attacks on TV news? NFL ratings slump? Relentless march of powerful TV industry men accused of grabbing, groping, sexual assault and harassment?
Trump, Trump, and Trump.
Here is a look at some of the big TV controversies of 2017:
In October 2016, the Washington Post published the Access Hollywood tape in which Donald Trump boasted he was so famous he could grab women “by the p*ssy” with impunity. He acknowledged its authenticity, dismissed his sexual assault boast as “locker room talk.” One month later, he was elected President of the United States.
Not coincidentally, journalists began looking into persistent grapevine rumblings of other powerful men who had gotten away with sexual harassment/assault for years. One year later, The New York Times published its blockbuster report about Harvey Weinstein having paid off sexual harassment accusers for decades, followed closely by a New Yorker article in which additional women made similar claims against the Hollywood producing mogul. Weinstein has denied all claims and has not been charged with any crimes. The #MeToo hashtag, launched a decade earlier by activist Tarana Burke, blew up as other women came forward with their own reports of sexual harassment and abuse.
Among the high-profile TV industry names ousted in 2017:
In October, Netflix announced that Kevin Spacey, star and executive producer of House of Cards, would no longer be involved in the series if it hoped to continue on the streaming network, after multiple credible sexual misconduct allegations. He’s not, and it is, for one final season. Netflix also pulled the plug on its Spacey-starring movie Gore, which had been in post-production.
Same month, Roy Price resigned as head of Amazon Studios, days after details emerged about his having allegedly propositioned The Man in the High Castle executive producer Isa Hackett Dick. At about the same time actress Rose McGowan tweeted she’d told Price that Weinstein raped her and he should not do business with the mega-producer — after which, she claimed, her Amazon project was killed.
October also saw reality TV personality/actress Ariane Bellamar make specific accusations on social media that CBS’ Wisdom of the Crowd star Jeremy Piven groped her on the set of Entourage and at the Playboy Mansion several years ago. CBS said it was “looking into the matter,” and next month said it was not moving forward with additional order after first 13 eps, while not specifying if that was due to allegations, modest ratings, or both.
Same month, Louis C.K.‘s comedy empire began unraveling when New York Times published an exposé that included multiple allegations he masturbated in front of women, often colleagues from the comedy world. The Orchard canceled the New York premiere of his film I Love You, Daddy, subsequently terminating its release (and later confirming it was wrapping a deal to sell global rights back to C.K.) Meanwhile, FX cut ties to the actor-writer-producer, Netflix canceled his stand-up special, Night of Too Many Stars, dropped him from the lineup, HBO removed his past projects from its on-demand services. C.K. issued a statement saying that after spending “my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want, I will now step back and take a long time to listen.”
Also in November, CBS News terminated Charlie Rose, citing a Washington Post report about “extremely disturbing and intolerable behavior” alleged by eight women. PBS announced it cut ties to Rose a couple hours later.
NBC News sacked Matt Lauer a week later, over credible claims of sexual misconduct. He was axed just before reports from Variety and The New York Times alleging sexual harassment claims against the news division star; sources report that NBC News execs had been aware publication was imminent.
Not quite a month after jettisoning Rose, PBS suspended distribution of Tavis Smiley’s late night talk show after looking into allegations of sexual misconduct. He has threatened to sue, warning “millions of taxpayer dollars are going to be spent by PBS defending itself.”
In December, E! parted ways with The Royals creator/EP/showrunner Mark Schwahn due to sexual harassment allegations against him made by female cast and crew of his previous series, One Tree Hill. The Royals producer Lionsgate TV and Universal Cable Productions also fired him.
Fox News Channel parent 21st Century Fox cut ties with Bill O’Reilly in April, ending his 21-year run as host of flagship show at the country’s most watched cable news network. The stunning decision followed a New York Times report that O’Reilly and FNC paid nearly $13M to settle cases with five women going back 15 years. Some industry pundits called O’Reilly the flotsam and jetsam of the Murdochs’ pending $14 billion takeover of European pay-TV provider Sky and a deadline for British media regulators to decide whether the Murdochs were fit to own the huge media property.
COVFEFE OVER “FAKE NEWS”
The fun began the day after Trump was sworn in, when White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, in a hastily called Saturday briefing, blasted the press for reports that Donald Trump’s inaugural crowd had not matched former President Barack Obama’s first inauguration:
By February, Trump had taken to calling the press the Enemy of the People:
It went over so well that Trump used it to wow the crowd at the the Conservative Political Action Conference – the first time a first-year president had addressed CPAC since Ronald Reagan:
It appears somebody got to Trump and impressed upon him his “enemy of the people” gag came with a certain amount of baggage, having been much used by Stalin, for example, when trying to de-legitimize foreign governments, opposition parties and dissenters. Trump mostly has beaten the “fake news” drum since, taking credit for coming up with the phrase. In the real world, however, “fake news” was used before Trump glommed onto it, to describe the horseradish being ladled out by various alt-right sites and gulped up by Trump followers. Trump took it up in another show of his brilliant rhetorical maneuver, in which whatever you say about him he will say right back about you.
As Trump’s war on “fake news” reached a fevered pitch in May; Trump’s re-election campaign got gobs of free publicity when it refused to remove a graphic from a 30-second ad in which headshots of journalists from CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC and CNN were plastered with the words “FAKE NEWS” in big red letters, then getting undie-bunched when those nets said the graphic had to go before they’d run the spot.
The Trump campaign’s enjoyed a full week of chest-thumpery, spearheaded by Eric Trump’s wife, Lara, who was billed as a campaign consultant. She took her outrage to Friend of Trump, Sean Hannity, to call it a “chilling precedent against free speech.” In one of those incredible coincidences, Hannity’s was the only news net missing a headshot in the graphic.
On the bright side, Trump’s War on “fake news” launched a fun new promo campaign on CNN:
To which Trump responded in December, retweeting a message in which a bloody CNN logo is seen on the bottom of his shoe:
NFL RATINGS FUMBLE
Trump took a victory lap when NFL’s TV ratings took a dive in 2017, closing the year down 9% compared to 2016. His attack on the league began days after he struck a surprise deal with Dem leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to package nearly $8 billion in Hurricane Harvey relief with a three-month extension of government funding and increase in the debt ceiling; it looked suspiciously like a bright shiny base-shoring-up light.
At a campaign rally for Alabama Senate candidate Luther Strange, Trump told fans he’d love to see NFL owners say “get that son of a bitch off the field right now. … He’s fired!” next time a player took a knee during the national anthem. Crowd roared in approval as country’s TV Ratings Forecaster in Chief urged viewers to boycott and forecast lousy ratings for that Sunday’s NFL games. Taking Trump’s bait, many more players kneeled during the anthem at games, and even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell denounced POTUS’ attack. When you have lost the moral high ground to Roger Goodell, you’ve accomplished something, and Trump went to bed claiming victory.
It’s unclear, however, if Trump deserves all the credit for the NFL’s ratings. Pundits also credit NFL greed and the decision to over-saturate the airwaves in 2017. You can no longer throw a dead cat without hitting a football game somewhere on the TV landscape, they note.
NEIL GORSUCH WINS EXTREME MAKEOVER: SCOTUS EDITION
Even the snootiest Washington correspondents have begun to acknowledge that they are covering The Trump Show, no longer able to ignore that the former Apprentice franchise star behaves more like a Kardashian than a Kennedy.
In January, Trump announced he will reveal the winner of Extreme Makeover: SCOTUS Edition, to be carried live by the broadcast networks, the cable news networks, and streamed live on Facebook. Following the traditional reality TV competition series format, Trump had narrowed the field to Neil Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman, from 21 Supreme Court hopefuls selected for him by a field of experts — aka conservative think tank — to take the seat on the Supreme Court that has been vacant since the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. Trump’s reality-TV maneuver shocked TV news talking heads and Supreme Court scholars, including top-court biographer Joan Biskupic who marveled on air, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
JAMES COMEY: WORST DINNER GUEST EVER
In a May episode of The Trump Show, POTUS boasted to NBC’s Lester Holt that he had fired FBI Director James Comey as he was overseeing an investigation into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russians who meddled in the presidential election because “this Russia thing, with Trump and Russia, is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost and election.”
Once that Stupid Pill wore off, Trump decided he’d better intimidate Comey, in case the press followed up on his blockbuster boast, tweeting tantalizingly:
Instead, Comey testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that, when he saw Trump’s tweet, he gave a copy of a memo he wrote following his dinner with Trump in which he demanded the FBI chief’s loyalty. “My judgment was I needed to get that out into the public square … so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter,” Comey explained. “I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”
Congress gave Trump a June 22 deadline to hand over those Comey Tapes. That day, Trump tweeted that he had no tapes of his Comey conversations, shocking no one.
JIMMY KIMMEL’S POLITICAL DEBUT
The late-night host, who largely has stayed away from politics on his ABC show, made headlines by speaking emotionally during his monologue about his days-old son being born with a congenital heart defect. No child should be denied the life-saving medical care he could afford for his son due to parents’ lack of funds, Kimmel told viewers emotionally:
Opportunist Sen. Bill Cassidy, seeking to capitalize on all that Kimmel publicity, announced he would support no health care plan that did not pass what Cassidy called” The Jimmy Kimmel Test.” Kimmel bit and had him on his show. When the bill Cassidy co-authored with Sen. Lindsey Graham flunked the test entirely, Kimmel began blasting him regularly on air. Cassidy responded patronizingly that Kimmel, being a late-night host, did not understand the bill; Washington Post insisted Kimmel understood the bill’s impact better than Cassidy and Graham.
Trump jumped in, tweeting: “Senator (Doctor) Bill Cassidy is a class act who really cares about people and their Health(care), he doesn’t lie-just wants to help people!”
Shot back Kimmel: “For Donald Trump, this isn’t about the Graham-Cassidy bill. It’s about getting rid of Obamacare, which he hates, primarily because Obama’s name is on it. … He’d sign copies of the Koran at the Barnes and Noble in Fallujah if it meant he could get rid of Obamacare.”
FCC PROBES STEPHEN COLBERT’S POTTY MOUTH
In May: Trump marked his First 100 Days as POTUS with a series of interviews. On CBS, he told Face the Nation anchor John Dickerson he liked to call his show Deface the Nation, as Dickerson persisted with questions about his unsubstantiated claim Obama wiretapped his Trump Tower office during the campaign. Trump finally declared the interview over, retreated behind his Oval Office desk and pretended that Dickerson had left the room.
“Let me introduce you to something we call The Tiffany Way,” an angry Colbert said on The Late Show that night. “When you insult one member of the CBS family, you insult us all.”
Then, Colbert treated Trump to a series of Rabelaisian insults, starting with, “Mr. Trump, I love your presidency. I call it Disgrace the Nation,” and culminating in the studio audience gasp-inducing, “You talk like a sign-language gorilla that got hit in the head. In fact, the only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c*ck holster.”
The naughty word was bleeped in the broadcast, and Colbert’s mouth was pixilated. Nevertheless, the FCC said it received a thousand complaints, media reported breathlessly that Colbert was under FCC investigation, Trump said Colbert has a “filthy mouth,” and a good time was had by all.
Days later, the FCC put an end to the fun, having determined “there was nothing actionable under the FCC’s rules.”
Here’s the monologue that launched a thousand complaints:
MEGYN KELLY LEARNS DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FOX NEWS AND NBC
Megyn Kelly was a successful primetime anchor on Fox News Channel, but Donald Trump made her a TV star when he told CNN’s Don Lemon, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her — wherever” after she co-moderated the first GOP debate and pressed him on misogynistic comments he had made in the past, calling some women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.”
NBC News hired her away from FNC, to host a Sunday show and the third hour of Today. Sunday show debuted first, and its start was inauspicious but exploded in headlines when she booked Infowars chief Alex Jones, aka America’s Best Known Sandy Hook Denier. NBC News recruited Tom Brokaw as olive branch to Sandy Hook elementary school parents during the Father’s Day broadcast; he delivered an editorial at the program’s end, arguing the “reach and the poisonous claims of Jones and others like him” made him an important subject for a news program and that it was time to step up and take on these threats. NBC’s Connecticut station stepped up by declining to air the program. Viewers stepped up and expressed their views on the much-publicized interview by staying away; only about 3.5 million viewers tuned in that night.
KATHY GRIFFIN KILLS CNN CAREER “DECAPITATING” DONALD TRUMP
Anderson Cooper has a new New Year’s Eve co-host – Andy Cohen – after CNN severed ties to Kathy Griffin, one day after she decided posting video of her holding a mock severed Trump head was a good career move. Griffin apologized after seeing the blow-back from both the right and left (including Cooper) – alas, too late:
“I sincerely apologize. I am just now seeing the reaction of these images,” Griffin says in a video released several hours after her grisly stunt caused her to trend worldwide on Twitter. “I crossed the line. … I went way too far.”
Three months later, she took it back, calling the outrage “B.S.”and adding: “President Trump just pardoned Joe Arpaio, who was essentially running a concentration camp in the Arizona desert. … He said there are some good Nazis, and he’s kicking out young adults who were brought here as kids by their parents – and I’m the one who has to continue to apologize?”
THE CARMICHAEL SHOW N-WORD:
In June, NBC’s The Carmichael Show aired a racial slur in prime-time about six times in an episode, because “The N Word” is “childish” creator star Jerrod Carmichael explained, adding, “We know what we’re talking about; we’re not speaking to children.” The episode ran with a parental advisory, in its regular 9 PM ET Wednesday time slot. The use of the word is not unprecedented – see All in the Family. But that aired “before political correctness,” Carmichael cast member Loretta Devine told reporters at an NBCU Summer Press Day, acknowledging she thought it never would actually air.
BILL MAHER N-WORD:
A couple weeks before NBC’s The Carmichael Show used the slur six times in primetime, Bill Maher apologized for using the word once on premium cable, in his late-night HBO talk show Real Time. Maher had used the word during an interview at the top of his show, in conversation with Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse.
“I regret the word I used in the banter of a live moment,” Maher said. “The word was offensive and I regret saying it and am very sorry.”
HBO condemned Maher’s uses of the slur, which came after Sasse told Maher he could visit Nebraska and “work in the fields with us.” Responded Maher: “Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house [n-word],” drawing gasps from the live studio audience, then some applause.
“Bill Maher’s comment last night was completely inexcusable and tasteless,” HBO said in a statement. “We are removing his deeply offensive comment from any subsequent airings of the show.”