by Graham Pierrepoint
It can be hard to tell exactly what will sell and what will sink on TV in 2016. Some shows have really made a bolt from the blue and have become overnight successes – the chatter and critical applause over recent Netflix mystery serial Stranger Things is one such example of a runaway success – but there are some themes, and some formats, that really should be left on the whiteboard, or wiped away for good. NBC realized this recently, as they quickly decided to pull a forthcoming sitcom from their line-up just 72 hours after it had been announced – as a result of high-profile and widespread protestation.
Mail Order Family was set to be a sitcom based around the early life of writer-producer Jackie Clarke – who wanted to put the experiences she had with her father and his Filipina mail order bride to the small screen with a comic slant. As news of the green-light for the screen spread, it quickly gained considerable negative attention from a number of sources, and not just from social media – as Gabriela USA, a Philippine women’s rights association, created a petition to have NBC remove the proposed show from its future scheduling – on the grounds that it stood to present and perpetuate stereotyping of women abused and exploited via people trafficking.
The petition argued that mail order brides ‘are victims of human trafficking as they are forced into sex slavery and domestic servitude. Mail order-brides are vulnerable to violence because of the fundamentally unequal nature and imbalance of power where money is exchanged for an arranged marriage’. As a result of the negative press and widespread outcry that quickly took to Twitter and elsewhere, NBC were quick to cancel the show on the grounds of having ‘taken the sensitivity to the initial concept to heart’. However, for many people, the very fact that the show passed through NBC’s quality control and greenlighting highlighted that changes may need to come to prevent like-minded series from reaching the air in future.
It is not often that a TV show is cancelled before it has chance to reach the air – but thanks to the prevalence of the internet and social media, it appears that those opposed to what may have been insensitive programming have succeeded in using platforms such as Twitter and online petitioning to their advantage.