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Another Actor Entangled in a Scandalous Headline -- Who Cares!? TV Ratings Don't Seem To

Written Tiring of Clickbait by Bridger Cunningham


Oh the horrors.  Another actor was busted misbehaving.  Let's write a sensationalist article and skewer some poor soul's personal character just to get an article read.  Sadly, this is much of what the media has been reduced to.  More like how they've been for decades, as the media relishes the opportunity to feed on others' misfortunes just so they have something to talk about.

Just this week, the news has reported Stranger Things' Charlie Heaton was "Banned" from coming into the United States as his luggage contained traces of a suspicious white powder resembling a narcotic.  Sounds like an ordinary 23-year old working in the entertainement industry.  "Banned" is a harsh term, especially when no time frame is given to go along with such a bold word.  Especially "Banned from coming into the United States."  Comic irony, as even our president (who holds a starchy stance on orders, immigration and customs) would have a laugh at the overdramatized tone of the "Banned" headline.  Evidently, Heaton was indeed prohibited from entering the country on October 27 for unfortunate circumstances.  But the headlines ambiguously lead readers to believe Heaton will never again be able to step foot into the country due to this incident.  The wording perhaps is a play to gain attention, as Stranger Things 2 made its anticipated debut the same day and was heavily hyped in news outlets and publications.

Netflix seldom publishes ratings, though has aluded to Stranger Things being a strong performer.  If the ratings do increase or decrease for the critically acclaimed series' 2nd season, it will not be because a member of its ensemble was tangled in a run of the mill negative headline.  It will be because of production, writing, acting and general interest in the premise.  Last year, it was reported 14.07 Million Viewers in the covered 18-49 Adult Demographic tuned in for Stranger Things, the third highest season delivery behind Fuller House' 1st Season Premiere and Orange is the New Black's 4th Season Premiere.  In lieu of Heaton's headline, no one will care, as they care more to watch the art he crafted for viewers to enjoy.

Would "Lindsay Lohan Peacefully Walks Her Dogs in London and is Looking Fabulous" catch the eyes of readers frequenting a media outlet?  Nahh....  Instead, that headline would read "Lindsay Lohan Spotted Exiled in London Walking Dogs and Looking Dated."  This is the cruelty the media exhibits for the sake of earning a temporary grab for attention.  TV Ratings Guide spent the entire summer profiling historic ratings patterns in Broadcast Network Television History, thus far displaying data spanning back to 1965 ( http://www.tvratingsguide.com/1971/07/historical-ratings-database.html ).  Through that fortune, viewers are able to traverse history and notice patterns and relive both positive and negative media coverage and how it affected television shows.

With various displays of 52 years' Nielsen reports, it is evident harsh media reports cannot affect how the general public enjoys television programming.  The mid-1990's to early-2000's featured a proliferation of Televised Newsmagazines such as 60 Minutes, Dateline NBC, 20/20 and 48 Hours covering 4-5 evenings with the same franchise marqueed in the title.  Is the 1995 OJ Simpson due credit for this development?  That is a stretch, considering headlines surrounding him cooled following 1997.  The cause of that proliferation was these outlets were highly-rated, and networks struggled to develop desirable productions to air in their problematic timeslots.  The hype cooled when Reality TV became the latest fad in scheduling, and the referenced franchises descended downward in the desired 18-49 Adult Demographic.  There were plenty of headline-grabbing stories since OJ's infamous trial.  But the ratings indicated people could care less about another shameless play for attention.

The problem with suggestive headlines in media stories is it does not affect the production, but rather the artists who make the magic happen.  In Heaton's instance, the general public best remember they do not have all of the facts.  Is Heaton a recreational drug user? Did someone in his entourage have access to his luggage and he was the herring needed to make an example?  Or is he another example of a young person who made a bad choice and now must deal with it in the public eye?  No one knows the complete story and the public needs to keep speculation to a minimum.  Thankfully, these headlines will not damage nor destroy Heaton's career or the public's love affair with Stranger Things.  Even Heaton's on-screen mother, Winona Ryder, helmed negative headlines from 2001-02 due to a shoplifting incident.  The Nielsens indicate everyone could care less about what Ryder did in her 30's, as they are infatuated with her prickly portrayal as single blue collar mother Joyce Byers.  And if anyone dares to throw that incident in Ryder's face, she has earned the right to turn her nose up and ignore salacious attempts to damage a weak spot in her personal life years past.

Image result for mackenzie phillips one day at a time
Heaton is one of many young starlets dealing with these harsh headlines in the public eye.  Mackenzie Phillips was a 1970's A-Lister due to her lauded performance in 1973's American Graffiti.  Unfortunately, she was an impressionable teenager growing up in the public eye and battled persona and addiction issues.  From 1975-80 and 1981-83, she starred in CBS sitcom One Day at a Time as Julie Horvath Cooper.  During these runs, her brushes with the law and addiction cast a notorious shadow over the show.  Apparently, American audiences did not allow this to detract from their enjoyment of her show, as it remained a top 20 player from 1975-83, only dropping to 44th Place in its 1983-84 season.  Phillips remained in the headlines beyond her 1980 and 1983 firings, but ODAAT enjoyed 9 durable seasons.  And thankfully, Phillips' personal troubles appear to have subsided, as she made a glowing cameo in the One Day at a Time reboot in 2017.


Image result for tim allen home improvementEven one mild brush with the law can grab headlines with an actor's misfortune if they are the star of a highly-rated show.  Tim Allen is no stranger to criminal records, having served 28 months in prison for felony drug trafficking from 1979-81.  That did not detract from enjoying the highly-rated spoils of sitcom Home Improvement from 1991-99.  During that run in June 1997, Allen was arrested for a DUI in Michigan, having a blooc alcohol content of 0.15.  How did it affect the ratings?  The show did indeed lose viewers between Season 6 and 7, but everyone else did, and Home Improvement was mounted in 9th Place in the Nielsen register for both seasons.  No one tuned out because Allen had a personal downturn, as his alter persona Tim The Tool Man Taylor entertained the masses.

Sadly, some shows can endure damaging affects due to an overwhelming scandal.  Bill Cosby holds a place in NBC history as the driving force which drove the show from 3rd to 1st Place in the 80's, thanks to his family-friendly sitcom The Cosby Show.  The franchise endured for years in syndication and was a beacon of positive television history and nostalgia.  Then, a barrage of sexual assault allegations in 2014 forever tarnished the show's legacy.  The ensuing media storm forced TV Land and other outlets to pull the franchise as Cosby's name was an unfortunate reminder of a blight on the entertainment industry.  The same fate befell 7th Heaven after actor Stephen Collins' history of sexual abuse came forth, and the show experienced the same shuttering.  Both shows' images have yet to recover due to the nature of these incidents.

Having referenced these two unfortunate examples of headlines destroying careers and franchises, is one actor's bad choice really worth the vicious headlines from media outlets?  Hopefully, the notoriety will cool down fast, as Charlie Heaton is delivering a tragic, prickly performance as conflicted teen Jonathan Byers on Stranger Things.  And the public is best to acknowledge the youthful Heaton is not a lone culprit for his controversial misfortune.  Thousands of younger actors dabbled in substance abuse or had members of their production circling near who exposed them to it.  The good news for Heaton is the next time a celebrity passes gas on the red carpet or vomits on their Uber driver, Heaton may be forgotten for this laughable headline.  And let this serve as a lesson to viewers how misleading and headlines can be and to think twice before judging the actors who deliver us art.

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Sources:

 Holloway, Daniel (August 25, 2016). "'Stranger Things' Ratings: Where Series Ranks Among Netflix's Most Watched"Variety. Retrieved August 26, 2016.