Social Issues and TV – At Least Some Showrunners are Trying

Since the beginning of television addressing social issues has been a constant problem for those working in TV. Back in the day, rebellious writers had to depend on executive producers who were little more than salesmen when it came to convincing networks that relevance mattered. Now that writers have taken over most of the executive producer chairs, writers have to fight their own battles. How are they doing?

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How the Biggest TV Shows are Weaving in the Big Issues
by Jennifer Swann

ring the season finale of the hugely popular Fox soap opera Empire Wednesday night, the show sent more than a few socially charged messages to its loyal audience of more than 16 million. During a press conference in one scene, the singer Patti LaBelle gives a shout-out to Black Lives Matter by announcing that proceeds from a concert with Rita Ora, Juicy J, and Jennifer Hudson will benefit the activist movement.

The hip-hop family drama not only blends real-life pop stars into its fictional record label but also folds of-the-moment issues such as LGBT rights and mental illness into the glitzy, melodramatic story lines—without interrupting the show’s fantastical narrative, which often hinges on sex, money, drugs, and violence.

Empire isn’t the only show on television that’s seamlessly integrating social issues without relying on them to advance the plot. We’ve rounded up advice from the minds behind some of TV’s most innovative shows to talk about addressing race, gender, and sexuality while keeping the story specific and authentic.

Danny Strong, cocreator, Empire: “One of the great things about our show is we can do that. The finale is not a race episode whatsoever, but, all of a sudden, we can just throw that in, and it’s perfectly organic to the storytelling. In Empire, we’re able to look at social issues that are important and to keep discussing them in a way that’s not preachy or in your face. It’s just completely organic, because in the real world that would happen. I love that we get to do that on the show.” (via Deadline)

Lena Dunham, creator, Girls: “I and we do care deeply about politics and do care deeply about things that are happening in the United States right now, particularly to women, particularly to women of color, particularly when it comes to reproductive rights…. So while we don’t set out to be didactic or turn our show into a Trojan horse about all our ideas about who you should vote for, the natural truth about our politics comes through in what we are doing so we can fully tell stories. We tell stories not just about the world we live in but about the world we want to live in.” (via The Hollywood Reporter)

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