5 Creepy Changes The Government Forced On Movies & TV Shows
Some shows and movies put their agenda right in your face: Transformers was made to sell toys and Camaros, Battlefield Earth was made to placate the space aliens that live inside John Travolta, and Alvin And The Chipmunks 3: Chipwrecked was blatantly advocating for the total genocide of the Danish people. But sometimes a TV show or movie's agenda isn't so clear, because it has been influenced at the highest levels by people you wouldn't expect ...
The Government Made Networks Add Anti-Drug Messages To Their Shows
In 1997, the Office of National Drug Control Policy decided that Americans weren't sufficiently terrified of drugs, so they got Congress to give them a billion dollars to buy ad time from networks. They then insisted that the networks do their civic duty and sell the time for half-price. Because when you run the whole country, every day is Black Friday.
The networks obviously wanted that space to be used for something more profitable, like ads for Windows 98 and Pogs. So the ONDCP made them an offer -- work anti-drug messages into the scripts of their shows and they could get their ad slots back. The networks made money, the government got their PSAs, and the people of America learned about the dangers of drugs from the best possible source: sitcoms!
"Remember, Billy, don't do drugs or you'll end up like Tim Allen."
The ONDCP came up with guidelines and a formula to figure out the monetary value of each "Just Say No" moment. This anti-weed argument on Home Improvement, where Tim Allen's son accidentally makes some compelling counterarguments, equaled $525,000 worth of ad time, this Sports Night monologue about the dangers of getting high and driving scored a $450,000 credit, and this 7th Heaven episode about how you should narc on your weed-dealing friend was only worth $200,000, because even the squares at the ONDCP know what boring looks like. Even The Wayans Bros. was paid for an anti-pot episode, which is ironic considering that an impossible amount of drugs is the only logical explanation for White Chicks.
Also white: The mountains of cocaine.
Sometimes producers were explicitly asked for anti-drug episodes, like when Chicago Hope, your mom's favorite '90s hospital drama that didn't star George Clooney, dug up an old script about a mass overdose at a rave that had previously been rejected for being irredeemably terrible. The ONDCP also reviewed scripts to portray drug use "accurately" (read: hyperbolically ruinous).
Kids who go to raves would obviously view these characters as authorities on the subject.
The number of shows with anti-drug messages tripled after the ONDCP started their initiative, but everyone involved insisted that this was all a complete coincidence. "We just happened to realize drugs were terrible at the exact same time this bag of money arrived!" Hollywood said, unconvincingly. Obviously, the initiative was a bust: After a few years, the ONDCP analyzed their data and cancelled the program, concluding only that they had vastly overestimated the persuasive power of Tim Allen.
The U.S. Military Supported Black Hawk Down In Exchange For The Removal Of A Rapist
The Pentagon and the CIA have offices dedicated solely to providing technical consultation, equipment, and other support to movies in exchange for script edits that make the military look better, which is how Top Gun became a recruiting tool for the Navy as well as vaguely homoerotic beach volleyball leagues. At first, Black Hawk Down seems like an odd project to support, considering it's about the Battle of Mogadishu, which is widely considered a first-class fuckup. What was supposed to be a quick raid to capture key militants descended into a daylong battle that left 18 Americans, two U.N. soldiers, and hundreds of Somali fighters and civilians dead. No Kenny Loggins power ballad could gloss over that.
The highway to Mogadishu's danger zone has significantly more corpses than it does guitar solos.
But the Pentagon liked how, in-between firefights, the characters exchanged grizzled, patriotic man-ologues that were the verbal equivalent of having an American flag shot into your chest by a T-shirt bazooka. They figured that regardless of the politics surrounding the battle, we should still be proud of the soldiers who fought it ... except for John Stebbins, who was later sentenced to 30 years in jail for repeatedly raping his 6-year-old daughter.
Yeah, it's hard to root for a violent, incestual pedophile, no matter how many stirring speeches he gives. The Pentagon pressured the movie's screenwriter to change Stebbins' name and, because they were providing military equipment and training to the actors, he had little choice but to agree. So John Stebbins became John Grimes, a rookie soldier who learns valuable lessons about combat, camaraderie, and most importantly, not raping children.
"Oooooh. Do not do that. OK, got it!"
The Red Dawn Remake Changed The Villain To Avoid Angering China
The 2012 remake of Red Dawn, which made Rocky IV look like a nuanced meditation on Cold War politics, needed a new enemy for a new century. So after a screenwriter Googled "communism" and selected "newest results first," Red Dawn went into production with China as the updated 21st century invaders of America. Unfortunately, the screenplay for this delirious xenophobic fever dream leaked and angered one of China's state-run newspapers, which accused Red Dawn of planting "hostile seeds against China" that would "sprout beanstalks of capitalism" and "unleash the giant bees of Western civilization to pollinate the minds of the proletariat."
All right ... maaaaybe we made up the last two quotes.
Studio executives, not willing to risk offending a foreign nation (and, more importantly, its massive box office), ordered the invading country changed to North Korea in post-production at a cost of $1 million and what little credibility the movie was clinging to. This mostly involved digitally editing all the Chinese flags to Korean ones and coming up with a new opening that explains how North Korea was suddenly capable of occupying the United States despite being so underfunded and technologically backwards that they'd have trouble invading your personal space.
North Korea can't afford that many new flags.
"We were initially very reluctant to make any changes, but after careful consideration we constructed a way to make a scarier, smarter and more dangerous Red Dawn that we believe improves the movie," said the producer of a film that was universally panned for being idiotic nonsense and made $44 million against a budget of $65 million. After all the delays and work put into watering down the film's baffling political message, it ended up not even being released in China, because while the movie was no longer actively offending the Chinese government, their citizens continued to not give a shit about the terrible reboot of an '80s political exploitation flick.
Hey, did we mention that in the original script, China was able to invade because they controlled America's economy?
Playmakers Was Cancelled For Making Football Look Bad
ESPN's 2003 drama Playmakers followed the exploits of a fictional professional team called the Cougars. The series showcased the cornucopia of backdoor dealings, drugs, booze, and sex that we all expect -- nay, demand -- from our professional sports teams. The series also managed to win a GLAAD Media Award for its portrayal of a closeted gay wide receiver at a time when "gay wide receiver" was the punchline to a homophobic joke and not a serious possibility. Basically, it was almost everything controversial about football rolled into one melodramatic package, so it's not a huge surprise that the NFL convinced ESPN to cancel it after 11 episodes.
Playmakers got solid ratings and decent reviews, but the NFL hated it with the fire of a thousand suns. First, a call from the NFL's commissioner to the CEO of ESPN's owner, Disney, resulted in ESPN pulling ads for Playmakers from its Sunday night football broadcasts. But that was nowhere near enough for the NFL, whose relentless criticism continued.
"We just think it's more dramatic when real players commit crimes and suffer horribly."
"It's our opinion that we're not in the business of antagonizing our partner, even though we've done it, and continued to carry it over the N.F.L.'s objections. To bring it back would be rubbing it in our partner's face," said an ESPN executive vice president of the show that just happened to be cancelled in the middle of negotiations with the NFL over a $1.1 billion Monday Night Football contract. Now, ESPN said that "not for a minute did imply that the future of our partnership would be based on this program," but if you rely on someone for the majority of your livelihood and they've made it clear that they don't like what you're doing, you don't push your luck. It's like how you can't get away with leaving your dirty dishes for your roommate to clean when you're a month behind on rent.
The CIA Made Zero Dark Thirty's Torture Look Good
2012's Zero Dark Thirty was a movie about the hunt for and, reality spoiler alert, killing of Osama bin Laden. It was an award-winning critical darling, and the CIA had enough involvement in it that they probably had a hand in writing some of those acceptance speeches.
Zero Dark Thirty's director and screenwriter had a long and controversial relationship with the CIA, who wanted to look as awesome as possible in the movie, so they let the filmmakers see reams of stuff Uncle Sam otherwise wanted to keep hidden. Some of what they did was standard film industry protocol, like buying agents lunch and bottles of tequilas in exchange for insights on the script. (Side note: We will also read your script in exchange for tequila.) But the ZDT team also got crazier privileges, like access to classified documents, in exchange for one itty-bitty concession: The movie had to made torture look effective.
"Kathryn Bigelow was the first to make Keanu Reeves look like an effective lead. She can do this."
The CIA maintains that without its "enhanced interrogation techniques," bin Laden never would have been found, a claim the movie backs up by having key information come from waterboarding. This account is disputed by a variety of analysts and politicians, who argue that torture only produces useless false intelligence, and is also kind of a shitty thing to do.
Kind of a waste of water too. You know, while we're on the subject.
The ethics and efficacy of torture aside, expecting to get an accurate version of a controversial series of events from the agency directly responsible for them is like expecting to write an accurate dramatization of a high-profile murder case by only interviewing O.J. Simpson.
Blair is on Twitter. When not obsessing over pointless pop culture trivia, Henrik Magnusson also enjoys harassing the Internet with his comics. No charges have yet been filed. Ray McBride enjoys peeping into other people's lives and having abuse hurled at him by strangers; this is why he's on Twitter. He also has a Hub Pages account for stuff too good for any other website to publish.
Thankfully, there are some filmmakers out there that fight against change. Like the makers of South Park continually pushing the envelope or Stanley Kubrick insisting elevator blood is just rusty water. See what we're talking about in 6 Sneaky Ways Movies And TV Shows Outsmarted The Censors and 6 Brilliant Ways Movies & TV Shows Stuck It To The Censors.
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