'13 Reasons Why': Conservative Group Asks Netflix to Delay Season 2 Until Suicide Drama Deemed "Safe"

13 Reasons Why Still Katherine Langford - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Netflix

The Parents Television Council wants Netflix to hit pause on the second season of its hit teen drama 13 Reasons Why.

Ahead of its expected second-season premiere this year, the conservative and publicly funded group on Wednesday urged the streaming giant to hold off on releasing the Brian Yorkey suicide drama until "experts in the scientific community have determined it to be safe for consumption by an audience that is comprised heavily of minor children."

After becoming an instant phenomenon, 13 Reasons Why found itself thrust into a global conversation about how some of its tough subjects in the high school drama were handled, specifically the graphic depiction of teenager Hannah Baker's (Katherine Langford) suicide. The series revolves around Hannah's unexplained suicide — which was shown up close — and the 13 audiotapes she left behind for her classmates to decipher and ultimately understand why she took her own life.

In response to the backlash, Netflix added warning cards and crisis hotlines cards to season one and, last month, released the findings of a global research study the streaming giant commissioned with Northwestern University’s Center on Media and Human Development, "Exploring How Teens and Parents Responded to 13 Reasons Why." In response to the study, the streamer announced a wave of changes that included a custom introduction for each season from the cast about the nature of the show, an online hub of resources at 13ReasonsWhy.Info that includes a downloadable discussion guide created with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and a season-two aftershow to continue the conversation with castmembers, experts and producers on some of the show's tough topics.

On Wednesday, the PTC commended Netflix for the new viewer protections, but asked the streaming giant to add additional safeguards. “The impact of season one of 13 Reasons Why, which culminated with a graphic suicide scene of a high school-aged character, was powerful and intense: millions of children watched; the Google search term for how to commit suicide spiked 26 percent; and there were news reports of children literally taking their own lives after the series was released,” said PTC president Tim Winter. “We may never know the full extent of how grave the influence was, but we do know it was enough for Netflix to commission a research report on how the show has impacted the lives of its viewers — especially young viewers — in positive ways."

Referencing the study, led by Dr. Ellen Wartella, the center's director, Winter said the report "proved just how powerfully the program impacted its viewers, and how much stronger the emotional connection to the series’ characters was for children aged 13-18 than for young adults or adults." He added that Netflix can not "now feign ignorance should tragedy strike."

Citing a PTC study centered on the access children have to adult content on streaming services, Winter highlighted some of the group's own recommendations that they would like to see Netflix add as well. In addition to having scientific experts determine that the show is "safe," the group wants Netflix to implement a pricing structure to allow subscribers to opt out of adult or explicit programming in exchange for a reduction in price; work with a filtering service provider to allow consumers to censor explicit content; and participate in a national symposium to "develop and identify effective protective measures for children and families," citing the Child Safe Viewing Act.

When announcing the results of the recent Netflix study, creator Yorkey said the show's authenticity would remain in tact for season two and cited the findings as lining up with both his and Netflix's vision.

"The challenge of when you are making a piece of entertainment for young viewers is that you want very much to make something that has a positive impact on their lives, but the instant that you become instructive and try to tell them the message that you want to convey and the right choices to make, they will tune out. They will feel pandered to," he said during a panel attended by THR. "From the beginning, we knew that we had to tell the stories as honestly as we could, that we had to portray these characters and the things that they go through with as much authenticity as we could bring to it, and especially that these tough topics deserved the most honestly in order to make something that teens would look at and recognize in this show their lives, themselves, people that they know and things they are going through. That was our mission from the very first moment, and it's really exciting to see that born out of the research."

Speaking with THR after the panel, Netflix original series vp Brian Wright added: "The content of the show hasn't changed, but the research showed that people are craving more information and they are craving help. I've always felt this show had the ability to start a really important dialogue. I do think that's what we saw born out of season one and through the research — that it made people talk. I never would have predicted that it would have done that extra thing, which is to make people act more kindly to each other, and we've also seen that in the research and for me that is incredibly powerful. That's the power of art."

Netflix did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the PTC's requests.