The Fault Lies Not in ‘Saved by the Bell,’ But in Ourselves

Yesterday, I came across an article about Greg Plageman, an executive producer for the CBS series “Person of Interest” starring Jim Caviezel, Michael Emerson and Taraji P. Henson. The article was about how he got started as a writer, but this is the quote that speaks volumes to me – and should to everyone else as well.

Plageman said, “I was getting paid $17,000 teaching French in Louisiana. The kids in my class were talking about this TV show called ‘Saved by the Bell.’…Whoever was writing this show in L.A. was having more of an impact on the kids than I was. And I thought: ‘I could write that, too.’ So I drove to LA and started going to studios. I showed up at the office of ’90210,’ and that’s how I got into the business.”

When I posted that quote on Facebook, my friend Mike Hayes commented, “What gets me is that ‘Saved by the Bell’ has any influence at all!”

I was surprised too, though I guess I shouldn’t be considering that I wanted a leather jacket like Fonzie when I was growing up – and that, as a teen, I wore the same kinds of ties Alex P. Keaton wore. But it’s still a wake up call regarding the influence pop culture has on young people. That’s one of the reasons I often comment that more Christians need to get involved in popular media and entertainment. Not only the niche Christian stuff; the mainstream entertainment industry.

All the types of programs that tend to get criticized by Christians – the ones they claim are the reason they don’t own a TV or, if they do, only watch the religious channels on cable – those are the shows impacting the world at large. Even a show like “Saved by the Bell” was influencing ideas and behaviors at that time. It’s pretty wholesome, but the point is that it still had an impact, just like TV has always had an impact. It’s easy for adults to dismiss the idea that a Saturday morning show will have much influence over their kids, at least in any meaningful way. Then again, you’re welcoming these likeable, funny characters into your living room every week, if not every day. Kids look up to them in a way and will copy what they see. It’s simply human nature.

That still holds true. As my friend, Rosario Rodriguez, commented on Facebook yesterday, “Today it’s the Twilight saga and the Kardashians that have more of an influence than teachers. I can tell by what my younger cousins and youth group kids are posting on [Facebook]. Scary!”

That’s why turning off the TV or keeping kids away from certain books isn’t enough. It may help keep your kids away from undesirable stories, but there’s still a huge number of others being exposed to them. Therefore, storytelling in general needs to improve. And storytelling in general will improve when the quality of storytellers improves. Good intentions aren’t enough to cut it. We need talented people with an understanding of the entertainment business and of their own craft to make it happen.

Anyone who’s read this blog lately can tell that I’m a TV fan, especially of shows like “Person of Interest,” “Once Upon a Time,” and “Fringe.” They tell engaging stories that occasionally offer some moral or spiritual relevance. It would be great if more shows were able to do that, not just for adults, but young people as well. The characters or reality stars they see on TV are role models that will shape them in some small or large way. And while you’re better off with the influence of Screech than a Kardashian, the truth is there’s always room for improvement.

There are a lot of young people with the potential to be writers, directors and producers out there today, ready to be encouraged and improve the entertainment industry from the inside (See Act One Program and Hollywood Prays). Give them the support and the tools they need to follow through. They could have a major influence on the next generation.

About Tony Rossi

After graduating from St. John's University in New York with degrees in Communications and English, Tony Rossi found a job at the Catholic media organization, The Christophers, that allowed him to indulge his interest in religion, media, and pop culture. He served as The Christophers' TV producer for 11 years, and is currently the host and producer of the organization's radio show/podcast Christopher Closeup, writer and editor of their syndicated Light One Candle column, and producer/scriptwriter of the annual Christopher Awards ceremony.


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