How, and why, Hollywood reacted to Newtown tragedy
05:00 AM, Dec 18, 2012
Canceled movie premieres. Yanked TV episodes. Tunes pulled off radio. Touching tributes and angelic choirs. Warning labels on TV screens.
The entertainment industry is reacting to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Conn., by revealing its sensitive side. Experts say the move is prompted by genuine concern for the public coupled with a dose of marketing prowess.
Mass murders have happened before, “but this one is different,” says Howard Bragman, vice chairman of Reputation.com and a veteran PR manager (who was in Newtown on Tuesday). He cited factors such as the number and youth of the victims, the closeness of the Christmas holiday and the town’s proximity to New York media central.
“Enough is enough,” Bragman says. “What the media did is wisely listen to the public. A marketing or PR person’s job isn’t just to present your product or client to the public, it’s to read the tea leaves of the public and tell people what they’re walking into.”
The shootings happened on Friday morning. By Saturday night, TV’s leading purveyor of snark, Saturday Night Live, went on the air with an angelic choir of New York City schoolchildren singing Silent Night. Fox’s live episode of The X Factor Thursday night also will include a tribute to the dead.
Usually cool stars, such as David Letterman and Ellen DeGeneres, are sad and saying so. Letterman spent nearly seven minutes talking about kids, schools, guns, the holidays and more in the opening of his show Monday night.
DeGeneres said she wanted her Tuesday show to help people feel good for an hour. “I want it to be a safe zone. I want it to be light and filled with joy. I want you to know that you can watch with your family.”
The Weinstein Co., which produced the film Django Unchained, canceled Tuesday’s Los Angeles premiere out of respect for those in mourning and not because of the violence in the movie. Paramount Pictures also cited respect for the families of the victims as the reason for postponing the Jack Reacher premiere.
“It’s such a tough situation for a movie studio to be in,” says Dave Karger, chief correspondent at Fandango.com. “Obviously the films were filmed months before a tragedy occurs. But movies don’t exist in a vacuum. Movies with violence in them run a very distinct risk of upsetting viewers, and studios run the risk of appearing insensitive to tragedy.”
Two weeks ago, Ke$ha’s Die Young was the No. 1 song on USA TODAY’s Top 40 airplay chart until Newtown. Top 40 airplay of the song dropped 24% during the first two days of this week compared with the same time in the previous week, more than double the number of any other record in the format over the same period of time.
An RCA Records spokesman for Ke$ha declined to comment, but the singer, 25, tweeted, “My heart goes out deeply to the people of Newtown, Connecticut” and linked to a fund to help the victims.
On NBC Monday night, the hosts, coaches and contestants on The Voice’s final live performance of the season led a candlelight tribute in a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
“We started Monday’s Voice live show with 27 names, held by 27 singers, in front of 27 candles,” said executive producer Mark Burnett in a statement Tuesday. “May God’s light heal the broken-hearted.”
David Reiss, a psychiatrist and expert on trauma and grief who was in Newtown this week helping people cope, says the entertainment industry’s actions are propelled by “legitimate sensitivity to the public” and “decisions made by marketing people and attorneys rather than grief counselors.”
“They’re not entirely insincere, but I bet the marketing people have a lot of input,” Reiss says.
But soon the entertainers will move on because the show must go on, he says.
“It’s not really their place to manage this national grief,” Reiss says. “Their tears may be sincere, but their eyes are still on the ratings.”
Don’t expect the entertainment industry to rethink its menu of violence in movies, TV and video games, Bragman says.
“Let’s be real,” he says. “It’s not the answer anyway. Realistically, the responsibility goes to parents. If we never made another violent movie or TV show or video game ever again, there is still enough product out there that our grandkids will see plenty of violence.”
Contributing: Carol Memmott, Brian Mansfield, Bryan Alexander and the Associated Press