The Hollywood Reporter
October 25, 2001

EIC: Guns are no boxoffice draw

By Josh Spector

Producers who have long assumed that a hail of onscreen gunfire is a surefire way to capture an audience are sure to be shocked at the Entertainment Industries Council's just-released study on audience perceptions of gun violence.

Gunplay is far from a major audience draw, the EIC study found, actually doing more to keep crowds away than bring them back for more. The council presented its findings Wednesday at a forum called "A New Way of Looking at Violence."

After a presentation of the study, leading members of the Hollywood creative community took part in two panels -- one reacting to the study and the other assessing the impact of the terrorist attacks on entertainment content. The first panel was moderated by Robert J. Dowling, editor-in-chief and publisher of The Hollywood Reporter, and the second by Mary Murphy, senior writer at TV Guide.

The study's findings were presented by Barbara Demming Lurie, EIC director of programs and research, who noted that only two of the 15 top-grossing films of 2000 contained any gun violence.

Among the study's key findings, Lurie said, were that gun violence "may be more of a turn-off than a turn-on" to audiences, that the context of the violence is more important than the amount and that while "television and the movies are not the most influential factors on the viewing public, they are not at the bottom of the list, either."

The day's first panel kick-started the analysis of the findings, as Dowling led the panelists -- including director John Badham, writer-producer Christian Taylor and NBC internal ad agency president John Miller -- through more than an hour of discussion.

"You have to think about anything you put on the screen and the potential effect it can have on people, unless you are arrogant enough to just say you're an artist and therefore it's not your responsibility," Badham said.

Taylor took it one step further, comparing the power of entertainment to that of the advertising world.

"We can't forget that the television and film world is essentially another form of advertisement -- that it has the same effect," he said. "We've got to account for our children and people who watch what we make in times of stress."

In the forum's second panel, director Peter Hyams, the WB Network standards and practices vp Rick Mater, USC Annenberg School of Communications director Martin Kaplan and John James of the Grief Recovery Institute discussed the impact of Sept. 11 on entertainment content.

The panelists touched on several scenarios ranging from censorship to the role of entertainment as a healing device but seemed to agree that the future of content will be determined by the audience instead of the industry.

"People need to remember that entertainment is a business, and it's one of the biggest businesses in America," Kaplan said. "People make programming decisions not out of the goodness of their hearts but because they want as successful a quarterly report as they can get -- and that's not a bad thing. That's why whatever will happen now will be driven by the people in the driver's seat -- the audience."