The Case for a Clean TV Show

                     Have these words ever issued forth from your mouth, “Boy oh boy, this would be a great TV show if it didn’t have all this moral rot in it?” Do you find yourself sighing deeply with a sad indefinable longing when you see “The Andy Griffith Show” reruns? Have you ever thought to yourself, “Why don’t they make shows like this anymore?” All the evidence indicates your thoughts and deep sighs are being systematically ignored. Take “Breaking Bad,” a heart warming drama about a high school science teacher who takes up making and selling meth. (It would be much more fun if he were a math teacher selling meth, but poetry seems to have died with morality.) No matter the show’s ethical conclusions, there can be no argument that “Breaking Bad” depicts certain images and language to which many people do not want their brains subjected. If this show were a TV enigma, an isolated event, there would be no problem. But “Breaking Bad” is not alone. In fact, it is nigh impossible to find a sitcom or drama currently being made that would be unquestionably acceptable to a Christian with a sensitive conscience. We only need imagine Saint Francis’s shock at seeing “Modern Family,” or “The Walking Dead,” never mind his shock at seeing a television. The only place for a morally sensitive individual to find a current scripted show without objectionable content is on Sesame Street or with Dora the Explorer on her bilingual escapades. Traditional morality has, for the most part, been relegated to children’s entertainment—not the first viewing choice of an average adult. 

            Why this influx of questionable material on television? Why have television producers rejected so completely traditionally moral shows like “Andy Griffith” and “Leave it to Beaver?” There are two major objections that seem to crop up when “the old shows” are discussed:

            1. “They are simply not realistic! People don’t want to be shown a perfect life that they can never hope to live themselves. We make realistic shows now. We’re not hiding anything anymore.”

            2. “Those shows promote bad things like female subservience and even worse, male chauvinism. Also, they don’t deal with the issue of racial diversity.”

            Actually, both of these statements are mostly true. No one has a mother as perfect as Joan Cleaver (except me, of course); chauvinism is wrong no matter the sex, and racial diversity should be addressed in a sensitive way. But none of those are compelling or even rational reasons to avoid making clean shows.

             Maybe “The Andy Griffith Show” is unrealistically happy-go-lucky and trouble free, but “Breaking Bad” is equally unrealistic in the opposite way. Ask your local high school science teacher. Furthermore it may be extremely rare to find individuals as chaste, and fair-mouthed as The Cleaver family of “Leave it to Beaver,” but it would be equally hard to find a group of adults as oversexed, and foulmouthed as the characters of “Mad Men.” It is understood by unspoken consent that television shows are unrealistic. In the real world Doctor House would have had his license revoked and his face punched in long ago. We all understand without expressing it that scripted shows are not accurate depictions of real life. That is why the vast majority of viewers make dinner on their stoves instead of cooking Meth on them after watching “Breaking Bad,” and why they choose not to cheat on their wives—at least outwardly—after watching Mad Men. The question must be asked, if most scripted shows are basically unrealistic, why are most of them unrealistically nontraditional in their morals? Would it not be logical and profitable to make a few shows that are unrealistically good as they did in days past, while keeping the quality modern technology allows?

            And for those who say, “Drugs and sex and violence and cheating and casual sex are part of reality and must be depicted. We don’t avoid topics anymore like those old shows do.” The response is simple. You are avoiding many things—the merry, virtuous, sexually uncharged, happy, functional, drug free, peaceful sides of life. Those moments are equally real, and incalculably more precious, but modern television seems to have rejected those moments for what is called “true” reality. We have all heard of the baby who was thrown out with the bathwater, but it is something new to throw out the baby because he is too clean and keep the bathwater because it is so dirty.

          The second objection on chauvinism and racial insensitivity of the old shows is even weaker than the first. Of course those things are wrong, but no worse than much of what is piped daily into living rooms across the fruited plain. Why not reject the old vices as well as the new, not in all shows, but one or two?

            Now, if a TV producer were to make a show as clever, funny and well-written as “The Office” or “Parks and Recreation” and as clean as “I Love Lucy,” or an action drama as intriguing as “NCIS” and as clean as “MacGyver,” they may have a problem finding enough space in which to fit their ratings. Why? To borrow from tax terminology, they would broaden their base. Grandma, grandpa, mom, dad and all the kids would feel comfortable gathering around the television together, guilt free. It is just silly logic to think that potentially objectionable, controversial material is the primary driver of high ratings. If that were true, ABC’s “The Playboy Club” would still be on the air, and thriving. Solid writing and producing drive solid ratings. Coincidently, this has been tried in the feature film industry with great success.

           These clean shows need not be preachy, corny nor cheesy, just not vile and vulgar. Yes, this is a call to represent traditional Judeo-Christian values in a television show, but only because of the shocking underrepresentation they have received of late. This is not a call to end morally deviant television shows (God will do that in his own timing), but only to add some traditionally clean options. There is an eager target market, just itching to bring ratings and revenue to the producer who will dare give traditional morality a voice. At least I hope there is.


R. Eric Tippin
In "The Study" on 8th Street
October, 2012