It hasn’t hit the air yet, but The New Normal is already the most controversial new show of the 2012-2013 season. With watchdog groups blasting it and a station in Utah refusing to carry it, the comedy about a gay couple who use a surrogate to have a baby has already had to defend itself repeatedly. Other shows that have seen the same sort of criticism have failed in their first season - last season’s The Playboy Club for one. Do protestors waving the family values flag really have an impact on how a new series will be received?
Last year it was The Playboy Club that drew the ire of groups like Morality in Media and The Parents Television Council. Even famed feminist Gloria Steinem got in on the action, calling for a boycott. Then the very same Utah station that has recently banned The New Normal, KSL in Utah, banned the series. Advertisers dropped out. The show premiered to 5 million viewers and then dropped off drastically, resulting in a cancellation after only 3 episodes aired. The protesting groups celebrated their victory, but was the victory really theirs?
The question facing a controversial show like The New Normal is whether its predecessors, who have come under fire, went down because of the pressure from these groups, or because those who tuned in to the premiere simply disliked it. Certainly the impact of a campaign like the one being waged against NBC’s new comedy can’t be ignored. In an election year where gay rights are among the big topics dividing Democrats and Republicans, it’s an even bigger question. Will those gearing up to vote for an anti-gay rights platform in November vote a little early by refusing to give The New Normal a chance?
The series follows the lives of two gay men who turn to a surrogate to add a baby to their family, a reality that has become more common in recent years. The protest argues that showing a gay couple preparing to raise a baby contributes to the decay of family values, and that gay couples shouldn’t be portrayed as normal. Odds are good that those who already agree with that view weren’t going to watch the show anyway. Their opinion shouldn’t prevent those of us who support gay rights, and support good television no matter what the sexual orientation of the main characters, from getting the chance to watch The New Normal and judge it on its merits.
The truth, in my opinion, is that The New Normal, like other shows prominently featuring gay characters before it, provides anti-gay groups with an opportunity to make some noise and get some press. That press can encourage those who were already not likely to watch the show to cement their views, but could also provide an opportunity for a vote with your remote in the other direction. The New Normal could be damaged by the bad press, but it could also see even better ratings as a result of the backlash. Just as the anti-gay groups can refuse to watch, those in support of gay rights can choose to watch as a show of solidarity.
Protests like this are only likely to have an impact in the early part of the season. The watchdog groups will move on and find a new target if the show survives the initial attack. In the end, The New Normal will have to stand or fall on its own strengths – the things a show should be judged on such as the skill of the cast, good writing, and interesting plot lines. This new comedy should be judged just like any other. Check out the trailer below to help you decide if you’ll tune in.
The New Normal premieres on NBC tomorrow night, Tuesday September 11th at 9:30 p.m. before moving to its regular time slot at 8:30 p.m.