In an exclusive
interview, Ally McBeal co-executive producer Alice West talks to David
Chambers for a six-months-later perspective on the role Hollywood might play
see related article:
Will Hollywood Go to War?
Ms. West, during the panel on December 5 last year, Jeff Zucker, president of
NBC Entertainment, stated, "We are not culpable for the images we portray on television.
News informs the American public and keeps our politicians honest. Entertainment
entertains the American public. The point is that we do it freely. Saturday Night
Live made fun of Osama Bin Laden, as did Jay Leno and David Letterman. That's
what great about this country, that we can do that." What is your take on Zucker's
comment: should Americans take responsibility for the images they portray on TV,
to American or other audiences?
West: How do you
I remember a few years ago Barry Norman of BBC Film interviewing Oliver Stone
when Natural Born Killers came out. Mr. Norman cited several instances of violence
and death which involved people immediately after viewing that film and asked
Stone whether he felt any responsbility: Stone said no. Do you agree with Stone?
West: I think there
is always a degree of responsibility, but I think that is always very, very dangerous,
because you don't want to lose your freedom [of artistic expression]. It's the
same thing as when they've tried to make recording artists responsible in those
situations when teenagers have tried to act out based on what they allegedly heard
[in the songs of recording artists]. I personally would not go see Natural Born
Killers. The point is, you have the choice to see it or not see it.
the panel, you explained how, like most TV series, the current shows of David
E. Kelley Productions were already 5-6 episodes into the new season by 9/11. In
The Practice, however, you would deal with 9/11-related issues like the constitutional
rights of races. In Ally McBeal, however, because Ally simply has her own inner
world unaffected by things like 9/11, the show would not portray Ally thinking
about 9/11. Yet, even though Ally herself may live in her own, the show Ally McBeal
does deal with real-life personal issues such as obesity or racism, she does have
a real job, and they deal with legal clients with real problems. Why couldn't
Ally or a colleague be deeply touched by such a giant world event and spend some
time asking some of the questions posed during the panel by Bryce Zabel and Mort
West: We don't
talk about 9/11 in an overt way, but it is referred to occasionally in a script,
like "Since 9/11…" There are those kinds of references to it, but it is not something
our characters sit down to and discuss at length.
TBS: Why not?
West: I think that
might bring us too much into the real world. We have referred to it in an episode,
and that "9 1 1" episode is one of our proudest episodes. I thought we dealt with
it all quite well at the time. [In the "9-1-1," Episode 97, which aired December
10, 2001, Ally helps a minister who was fired from his church for not believing
in God, dating from the time of his wife's brutal murder. Meanwhile, John takes
a case opposite a mayor who cancelled the Christmas parade of his town due to
a disaster in which people died. Very moved, John proves that Christmas is what
they need the most in this time of deep grief.]
You look at the other
shows that are going on that are comedyand we are a comedy, don't forget,
even though we are also in the drama categoryand they have not done it.
It's very difficult. Part of it is because, don't we all want the world to feel
somewhat the same. There is some comfort in that. We're not ignoring it, but we
are not going to sit down and talk about it [on the show].
Chambers Were you
aware that Ally McBeal has been aired on two regional TV channels, one out of
London called MBC and the other out of Hong Kong on a channel in the STAR-TV network?
West: Yes, I do
in countries like Iran and Afghanistan have figured out ways to hide their satellite
dishes. And during the panel, you expressed deep concern and sympathy for Afghanis,
particularly Afghani women. Since you know that some number of Afghanis, including
Afghani women, have most likely seen your show, what do you hope their reaction
asked panelists, "How are we perceived, as a concern to our Industry?" and then
stated, "There is a message we can send to the American public; there is also
a message we can send overseas." Would you consider developing new TV shows that
have not only American but foreign audiences in mind?
West: That is not
something that I personally do, develop new shows. Still, I think that budgets
have gotten so much tighter since 9/11, since the economy was damaged, but I don't
know how that works. All the pilots I have heard about are being done in the tradition
sense. I don't know in this new season of pilots whether they have looked at foreign
divisions of their media empires for co-financing of any of shows. It's a good
do you think Afghanis would make of a TV series like CSI? [The series features
the night shift of Las Vegas crime scene investigators (CSI) and how they use
science to solve crimes.] What relevance would such a show have for them?
West: I have no
idea. Their culture is so different from ours, I would not feel qualified to answer
that. I would hope that they would get that we are caring and not as evil as we
are made out to be.
Chambers: Do you
think that is part of the role of American TV?
West: Yes, I think
that is part of the role.
are other parts?
West: I don't know…
Chambers: If you
recall during the panel, we saw a clip from the Emmy Awards when the master of
ceremonies Ellen DeGeneris said, "I'm in a unique position as host, but just think
about it: what would bother the Taleban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit
surrounded by Jews?I like to do my part!"
West: And on Ally
McBeal, you've got a bright, successful woman attorney in short skirts.
is thumbing our noses or blowing raspberries at Osama and the Taliban an effective
West: I don't know.
Chambers: For whom
might that be effective? Is it cathartic for Americans because it's just good
comedy plain and simple?
West: I think that's
part of it. Also, I think it's about education, showing people that everything
is not one-sided, to be able to see both sides of the situation.
Chambers: How about
a woman on in a village on a remote Afghan moutainside?
West: I can't even
begin to understand what their life is like. We all know what we see on the news
and read in the papers. The hardship that those people are enduring that are unfathomable.
We may be showing them things that are simply unattainableI don't know.
Chambers: If Hollywood
is making more and more money on films at foreign box offices, with dumbed down
dialogue and heavy action that needs no translation, what is American TV doing
in terms of creating content that has international audiences in mind? And what
could American TV do to open up Americans to content that involves the rest of
the world? With 9/11, Americans have learned that the global village is not a
one-way street and that it includes sharing the world's woes. In that case, is
there any kind of education and awareness raising that might enter American TV
West: It's only
six months since the incident. As a country, we are still reeling. But I think
that will happen. In the episodic world, we are so far ahead of today, we are
shooting episodes to air two and three months down the line. But I don't know
how it is going to appear on television. TBS