There are many fine mystery programs on television these days but probably the biggest television mystery is this: whatever happened to shows about traditional families?
You’ll no doubt remember that when the Morally Challenged Poobahs of the Left were doing their Sherman’s March through American Culture back in the sixties and seventies, we were frequently told that such programs as Father Knows Best, and Leave It To Beaver, were sinister in their dishonesty. Real families, we were told, weren’t like that. They were oppressive matrices of insanity. Real fathers not only didn’t know best, they didn’t know nothing. When they weren’t abusing their children, they were enslaving their wives by forcing them to (gasp!) cook dinner—yes! dinner!—and take care of children and make a home for their spouses and offspring and heaven only knows what other unforgivable atrocities. Those real families were bad and those old shows were bad for not telling the truth about them!
So instead we got shows like All In The Family and One Day At A Time in which the—no doubt exaggerated—family ideal of most Americans was replaced by the images of paternal abuse and happy-ending divorces that peopled the imaginations of our creative elites.
When Home Improvement was about to go off the air in 1999, I happened to be in LA to pitch a movie. Sitting in a coffee shop reading the trade paper Variety, I came upon an article declaring that, even though Home Improvement was still popular and had won many awards, television executives had decided they would no longer do shows about intact families. It had nothing to do with the market for such shows which, obviously, was still large. They just weren’t doing them anymore, that’s all.
Now, of course, Seventh Heaven—a show not only about an intact father-led family but about a family led by a Christian minister, for goodness’ sake!—continued successful until 2007. But when you look at the TV landscape today—with a few borderline exceptions—the happy, traditional family has been largely erased from the scene. Indeed, one show—How I Met Your Mother—deceptively uses a traditional sounding title to mask the fact that it’s about the hook-up culture.
Now this may be the result of an evil plot by the left to erase the one institution that stands between them and their dream of the state-dominated individual. I certainly wouldn’t put it past them. But even if that’s so, there may be something else at work as well.
Not very long ago, I sold a mystery script that centered around a very traditional family. It featured a woman who had won the adoring love of her husband and children by dedicating her life to caring for them and their home. When I handed in the first draft, the producers and executives—four Hollywood men—praised it very highly. But then they said—and I’m not making this up—“It’s not realistic. There are no modern women like that. We wish there were. But there aren’t.”
I know from happy experience that this is wildly untrue. But I also strongly suspect that these four men were speaking honestly from their own experience. They can’t imagine any sort of world but theirs.
It would be a shame if the limited and, dare I say unwholesome and unfulfilled, lives of a small cadre of people in a single city were setting the paradigm for an entire nation’s entertainment.
I hope all my fellow Dads had a Happy Father’s Day!