Advocacy Groups and the Entertainment Industry

By Michael Suman; Gabriel Rossman | Go to book overview

15
Advocacy Groups Confront CBS: Problems or Opportunities?

Carol Altieri

It is fall 1972. Five prominent New York rabbis enter the office of Thomas J. Swafford, vice president of program practices at CBS, demanding that a new situation comedy entitled Bridget Loves Bernie be expunged from the airwaves. Mr. Swafford, a man of enormous charm and intelligence, listens closely to their concerns about the comedy program which features two young people who embark on an interfaith marriage. The show deals with how the couple and their respective families cope with the differences in their cultural backgrounds. One of the rabbis, outraged, exclaims, "Take this blasphemy off the air or YOU will be responsible for finishing the work that Adolph Eichmann started."

It is fall 1973. CBS is deluged with 500,000 pieces of mail in a two-week period as a result of an organized letter-writing campaign launched by a Southern preacher who has accused CBS of "putting X-rated movies on television." The film, directed by Luchino Visconti, was entitled The Damned. It chronicled the slow, steady moral decay of the German elite in the early days of the Third Reich as experienced through the lives of a prominent Berlin family. Conveniently ignored by the good Reverend was the fact that the movie was scheduled for 11:30 P.M. and had been so heavily edited that it could easily have been retitled The Darned.

It is spring 1974. The CBS program practices staff meets with the Gray Panthers, who complain that the only commercials they ever see featuring seniors depicts them as either constipated or addle-brained. "We have a LIFE!" said Lydia Bragger, then director of the organization. "I'm 70 years old and the fires definitely have not burned out yet!"

Between 1971 and 1974, I was Tom Swafford's executive secretary at CBS in New York, and I am glad I paid attention. I learned about "pressure groups," "special interest groups," or, as they are now called, "advocacy groups" at the foot of a master who knew virtually everything there was to know about every facet of broadcasting. While he was extremely sensitive to the diversity of America and to "hyphenated" sensibilities, he was, and to this day remains, a self-described "militant" broadcaster. He believed that broadcasters of course have a sobering

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