NBC Executives Dispute Link Between Violent TV Content and Rash of Shootings

With the serial killer drama "Hannibal" on tap for later this year, NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt warns against making "the leap that a show about serial killers has caused violence in our country."
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NBC's Robert Greenblatt at the TCA Press Tour on Sunday.

The elementary school massacre in Connecticut has spurred a debate about the level of depravity and violence the entertainment industry markets to audiences. And it is likely to become a theme at the semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour with NBC and Fox introducing midseason dramas that revolve around serial killers.

NBC’s Hannibal is based on the books by Thomas Harris and centers on a psychiatrist-turned-killer played by Mads Mikkelson (the villain from James Bond’s Casino Royale), and Fox will bow the Kevin Bacon thriller The Following on Jan. 21.

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“I think it weighs on all of us,” NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt told reporters gathered Sunday in Pasadena for the first broadcast network session of the tour. “Most people at this network have children and really care about the shows that we’re putting out there. It’s always in our mind. This just brought it to the forefront.”

Most of the criticism in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting -- during which 20 6- and 7-year-olds and six teachers and administrators were killed by a suicidal gunman with a semi-automatic rifle -- has centered on violent video games and the National Rifle Association’s aggressive lobbying tactics. And Greenblatt noted that broadcast television, unlike cable, is governed by FCC-imposed parameters. “I would look to movies and, dare I say, video games,” he said.

Greenblatt, who developed the serial-killer drama Dexter while head of Showtime, admitted that cable content is “no holds barred.” But he questioned a causal link between violent television and violent behavior.

“I’m not a psychologist,” he said. “So I’m not sure you can make the leap that a show about serial killers has caused violence in our country. There are many other factors including mental illness and guns.”

Greenblatt also took a swipe at Criminal Minds, saying the CBS drama “is worse than Dexter ever was.” And NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke defended Hannibal, saying it’s not a “shoot-'em-up show.” She added that the network constantly assesses the content on series including Law & Order: SVU, which centers on sex crimes, and noted that NBC is not necessarily trolling for violent programming.

“We’re not out there saying, ‘Can we get some more serial-killer shows because we really love this Hannibal one'?”