‘American Family’ Testing ‘Credit’ Limit

Oct 20, 2003  •  Post A Comment

When “American Family” returns to the air, it is expected to have a new character-a Latino soldier who served with the U.S. Army in Iraq. It’s an interesting story line, but one that has been the subject of controversy.
The problem began with the standard PBS sponsor’s “credit” (PBS’s term for televised promotions), which limits what can be said and shown. A consultant for a PBS program producer, desperate for sponsorship money, went so far as to suggest to a large buying service agency that her client, the U.S. Army, would see its messages embedded in the story line. A memo called for the creation of a character who would embody the spirit of the Army.
Although the effort was nixed at higher levels of PBS, it sent shock waves through the system and put a spotlight on how problematic sponsorship guidelines have become for entities trying to raise significant new revenue.
The character will appear on the show, but PBS’s Jacoba Atlas strongly denies that the military character’s addition had anything to do with a sponsorship. “We are sending a character to Iraq, but this was not done for the U.S. military,” she stressed. Producer Gregory Nava had always planned to create such a character to emphasize the role Latinos play in the American military, she explained, adding: “We are completely free of product placement.”
She now chalks the entire controversy up to a misunderstanding on the part of the relevant agency.