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If you haven’t seen a commercial for Unplanned, an anti-abortion movie critical of Planned Parenthood, it isn’t for lack of trying on the part of marketers, whose efforts have been consistently rebuffed by TV networks.
Pure Flix, the distributor behind the box office hit God’s Not Dead and other movies aimed a Christians, opens the movie in 1,000 theaters today, but outside of the Fox News Channel, every other mainstream television outlet has declined to air the ad.
Lifetime, for example, told the film’s marketers that they declined to air the commercial due to the “sensitive nature of the film,” the ad buyers tell The Hollywood Reporter. The marketers, though, note that the network — which is owned by A&E Networks, a joint venture of Walt Disney and Hearst Communications — previously promoted an interview with Scarlett Johansson where she pitches Planned Parenthood.
The Travel Channel, Cooking Channel, HGTV and Food Network, each of which are owned by Discovery, also refused to sell ad time for Unplanned due to the “sensitive nature” of the movie, say those who tried buying air time.
Other networks that refused to advertise the movie include the Hallmark Channel and USA Network, the latter of which is owned by NBCUniversal.
“We were looking to spend money, but they didn’t want to get involved,” said John Sullivan, a producer of Unplanned. THR reached out to all of the networks; Lifetime declined to comment while the rest did not respond.
“Most of the networks didn’t go into detail beyond citing the subject matter of the film and that they didn’t want to get into politics. But we don’t believe we’re in the political category,” said Joe Knopp, an Unplanned producer.
Marketing Unplanned has been an uphill battle for a few months now, since the MPAA saddled the film with an R rating, which filmmakers say will chase away a key demographic: Christians. Indeed, Up TV cited the R rating when it also rejected the commercial, as did several Christian radio channels that also refused to air ads for Unplanned.
The rating also put family-friendly Pure Flix in the uncomfortable position of having to distribute and market an R-rated movie for the first time.
Along with Fox News, The Christian Broadcast Network accepted ads, as has conservative talk radio, with Glenn Beck taking a particularly active role in promoting the movie, including his hosting of a special screening of the movie in Salt Lake City scheduled for tonight. One of the rejected TV commercials, in fact, features a blurb from Beck that reads: “You have never seen anything like this.”
Due to the lack of commercial airtime available to the film, marketers have been relying on more innovative techniques. Pure Flix, for example, debuted the film at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.
Mike Lindell, the founder of My Pillow who invested $1 million in Unplanned, is also promoting the movie, which tells the true story of former Planned Parenthood executive Abby Johnson, who quit the organization to become a prominent pro-life advocate. Unplanned also got some publicity at its Hollywood premiere when singer Joy Villa attended in a dress emblazoned with the title of the film and the phrase, “F*CK Planned Parenthood.”
Similar to the networks taking a pass on selling ads, Unplanned previously had no luck licensing mainstream music for the movie, as a half-dozen major music labels said no to the filmmakers, including Disney, Universal Music, Sony/ATV and Round Hill Music.
Planned Parenthood issued the following statement about Unplanned, “The claims in this film are simply false. Planned Parenthood is proud to provide expert, high-quality health care to our patients, including safe and legal abortion, in a safe and compassionate environment. The movie promotes many falsehoods including most importantly, distortions and incorrect depictions about healthcare.”
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