Did you know there were actually two animated situation comedies that premiered on broadcast TV networks in January, 1999?
One you might have already known about was FAMILY GUY, which joined what was at the time the number one Sunday night TV destination, premiering following Super Bowl XXXIII, and later pairing quite well with a couple of other pre-existing animated comedies, THE SIMPSONS and KING OF THE HILL. A boldly original, well-written show with a traditional 2-D look, it was an instant success, has made billions for FOX and its creator, Seth Macfarlane, and it is already renewed through next season assuring it will be around for at least a quarter-century.
The other premiered six days earlier on UPN’s Monday night sitcom lineup, which rated a poor third among other sitcom options in its 8 PM time slot behind NBC’s SUDDENLY SUSAN, which somehow made it through four seasons with Brooke Shields as a comic lead and Kathy Griffin as her confidente, and a god-awful successor to the COSBY SHOW, merely called COSBY, that featured Bill as a cantekorous middle-class man in Queens rather than a successful doctor in Brooklyn. That other show was based on what was at the time a very successful comic strip called DILBERT.
If only that show had translated better to TV. If only its creator, Scott Adams, hadn’t directed its producer, Columbia Tri-Star, to take UPN’s guarantee of 13 episodes from a much weaker network rather than a lesser offer from FOX to have given it the same kind of shepherding and upside that Macfarlane ultimately got. If only UPN, having seen the success its arch-rival The WB was having with primarily African-American appeal live-action comedies, hadn’t decided to turn its Monday night lineup over to that strategy and build out what ultimately was a higher-rated strategy for them, with a new, far more popular leadoff show the following fall called MOESHA, a more fondly remembered show among that audience than was DILBERT.
Perhaps DILBERT wouldn’t have moved from its reasonably successful time slot, perhaps it wouldn’t have failed miserably on its new night, with the outrageous and forgotten fellow Columbia comedy SHASTA MCNASTY as its lead-in and perhaps the DILBERT TV series wouldn’t have died after just 30 episodes. Perhaps Adams wouldn’t have developed such a bitter taste about the experience as the version he recounts on the show’s Wikipedia page for the show’s relative short life as compared to the comic strip that, at least until this week, has continued with far greater success:
On June 28, 2020, Adams claimed on Twitter that the show was cancelled because he was white and UPN had decided to focus on an African-American audience, and that he had been “discriminated against”..
Ironically, 14 years earlier, in another interview, Adams somewhat more accurately remembered why the show died prematurely:
On November 22, 2006, when Adams was asked why the show was canceled, he explained:
It was on UPN, a network that few people watch. And because of some management screw-ups between the first and second seasons the time slot kept changing and we lost our viewers. We were also scheduled to follow the worst TV show ever made: Shasta McNasty. On TV, your viewership is 75% determined by how many people watched the show before yours. That killed us.
Something changed between that date and June, 2020. Hmmm…was anything else going on in the pandemic locked-down world at that time?
DILBERT built its popularity in daily newspapers (remember them?) by giving a satirical glimpse into a white-collar, micromanaged office (remember those?) with a nondescript, seemingly lonely bespectacled nerdy engineer as its central character. Much like other cartoonists, including Garry Trudeau of the even more successful DOONESBURY, DILBERT was able to give its creator a voice and an alibi for expressing personal opinions through something that didn’t actually exist. That creative freedom is exactly why Macfarlane, as well as THE SIMPSONS’ Matt Groening, can feature its nerdy leads frolicking naked with their respective pannises covering their respective penises and not violate any obscenity laws. Because, as MacFarlane has often testified, ink and paint aren’t flesh and blood.
DOONESBURY has lasted more than half a century and endured at least 27 different incidents that called for the strip’s discontinuation. In many of those cases, newspapers controlled by conservative family publishers dropped the strip when those incidents, often revolving around the Yale-educated, Jane Pauley-spoused Trudeau using its characters to offer liberal viewpoints on the Vietnam and Iraq wars, abortion, and even the allegatioms that then-Vice President Dan Quayle had ties to drug dealers. In almost every case, the strip was ultimately restored to the newspaper. Because those “opinions” were not being offered by an actual human being. They were being offered by ink and paint. And, perhaps, because liberals are a notch more passionate about justice when it involves opinions they share?
Even a more conservative-leaning comic strip of more recent vintage, MALLARD FILLMORE, has been able to sustain itself in a shrinking comic strip ecosystem because the viewpoints of its Rush Limbaugh-like “Amphibous American” were ultimately being filtered through a cartoon duck. That strip is still available in many newspapers today as well.
But DILBERT no longer is. Because Scott Adams, as Scott Adams, on a video podcast that’s seen by roughly 5 per cent of the audience his TV series’ first episode reached, chose to offer up this news nugget and personal opinion, as Todd Spangler of VARIETY! reported last weekend:
On his YouTube show on Wednesday, Feb. 22, Adams claimed that a recent survey found nearly half of Black people do not agree with the statement, “It’s okay to be white.” (The survey, fielded by conservative polling company Rasmussen Reports, found that 26% of Black respondents disagreed with the statement while 21% said they were unsure; 53% of Black people surveyed agreed with the statement.) The Anti-Defamation League has called the phrase “It’s okay to be white” a “hate symbol” that was popularized in late 2017 as a trolling campaign on 4chan.
“Based on the current way things are going, the best advice I would give to white people is to get the hell away from Black people. Just get the fuck away,” Adams said. “Wherever you have to go, just get away. Because there’s no fixing this. This can’t be fixed. So I don’t think it makes any sense as a white citizen of America to try to help Black citizens anymore. It doesn’t make sense. There’s no longer a rational impulse. So I’m going to back off on being helpful to Black America because it doesn’t seem like it pays off.”
The response from those same newspaper chains this time around, including many that still carry DOONESBURY, but ever sensitive to the feelings of liberal America, was swift and immediate, as Spengler further spouted:
Gannett Co. — the largest newspaper publisher in the U.S. — on Friday said the USA Today Network will cease publishing “Dilbert” immediately. The USA Today Network includes USA Today and more than 300 local media outlets in 43 states. “Recent discriminatory comments by the creator, Scott Adams, have influenced our decision to discontinue publishing his comic,” Gannett said in a statement. “While we respect and encourage free speech, his views do not align with our editorial or business values as an organization:
On Friday, Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer announced that “Dilbert” will no longer be published in the newspaper because of Adams’ “racist rant.” Chris Quinn, VP of content for the Plain Dealer/Cleveland.com, wrote in a note to readers that other papers owned by parent company Advance Local also independently made the same decision to stop running the strip. That includes Advance Local newspapers in Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Alabama, Massachusetts and Oregon.
“This is not a difficult decision,” Quinn wrote. “We are not a home for those who espouse racism. We certainly do not want to provide them with financial support.” He added, “Until we decide what to replace ‘Dilbert’ with, you’ll likely see a gray box where it has been appearing.”
An empty gray box seems somewhat apropos for a dying industry once more successfully open to a diversity of opinions, in a landscape appropriately black AND white.
No one, certainly not me, can defend Adams’ viewpoints. Especially since they were offered up by ADAMS. And regardless of what Adams’ personal experiences have been, he was inexcusably out of order for choosing to offer them in the manner that he did.
But was the survey that he quoted that forged his opinion completely inaccurate? Do 47 per cent of African American respondents indeed disagree with the statement “It’s OK To Be White”? What did they interpret that phrase to mean? Was any qualitative component of that research done to give, forgive the phrase, color commentary to what may have driven that disturbing percentage? Has such follow-up research even been thought of being commissioned, especially in light of such dramatic and draconian results?
And what if Adams was more skilled in using his talents to offer his “opinions” through the filter of Dilbert, rather than make an even more feeble attempt to use TV than he chose to do when he opted for a short-term financial hit a quarter-century ago from a network that didn’t survive another decade on its own?
Scott Adams appears to have little remorse for his statements, and is apparently financially well off enough to not give a rat’s ass what anyone else may think, regardless of ethnicity or ideology. No one will or should cry him a river, or be tolerant of his ill-conceived choice to voice his personal opinions.
But what’s gonna happen to Dilbert? Does he deserve the same fate of the office itself? After all, we really don’t know what he thinks. We just know he needs to iron his ties a tad better (not that a lot of men wear ties, or often even pants, to work much any more).
Since Adams appears to be out of pocket, and since what’s left of publishing appears determined to personally cancel him in a way they never saw fit to do to Trudeau, or many other cartoonists, even in more jingo-istic eras of days long before DOONESBURY, I’ll merely offer up to our sad little nerdy engineer that this might be a time to actually give context to what the real issue worth reporting seems to be.
Do 47 percent of African Americans really believe it’s NOT OK to be White? And, if so, why the f–k do they?
I’d love to spearhead an objective, intelligent follow-up study on that. Yeah, I know, that might actually require a media company to make an investment. Probably not the economic climate to think that should be a priority. I’d argue it would a timely and worthwhile exploration for SOMEONE to do. Both hands raised if SOMEONE with clout might agree.
So maybe we just have to let Adams live with the reality that he threw his doppleganger out to sea, never to return? After 34 years of indentured servitude, Dilbert was probably eligible for early retirement anyway, and given his office was supposedly set in Silicon Valley humans are probably on the way to being fully replaced anyway. That pandemic sure has accelerated those kinds of efforts, and they’ve probably been engineered by folks with Dilbert’s skill sets working far, far away, and probably wouldn’t be invited to lunch by Adams any time soon. Cuz we kinda know what Adams thinks of people who don’t look like him or Dilbert,
So, then, let’s just ask this little fella what he thinks?
Assuming, of course, we want to know what and why any species thinks the way it does these days at all.
I’m merely asking. I have no worthwile opinion. I wish Scott Adams didn’t have his. I’m more concerned about those he referenced. So should you.
Until next time…