by: Joel Makower
The entertainment industry and the environmental movement have long had a strong relationship, one that, for my money, is double-edged. On the one hand, Hollywood has enormous communications clout, to say the least. Through movies, TV shows, fashion, and celebrity status, the industry and its members have both mirrored and fomented social change.
Hollywood helped break racial barriers through movies, popularized the antiwar movement, and shined a Kleig light on everything from political corruption to nuclear waste.
On the other hand, the last thing the environmental movement — always struggling for relevance as a mainstream force in America and elsewhere — needs is a closer alliance with the left-leaning Hollywood elite.
Still, honor is due — and no one is better at honoring the show business crowd than themselves — so it’s great to see that Variety, the industry standard, this week has published a special section on the greening of Hollywood. It’s got the usual array of celebrity, including profiles of 20 leading showbiz eco-activists, a piece on the move by studio and production houses to go carbon neutral (turns out that Hollywood is the second-largest emitter of CO2 in Los Angeles, just behind the petroleum industry), and a piece featuring the growth of green buildings among studios.
There’s also an article about the upcoming wave of green TV shows — "a jam-packed reservoir of eco-friendly programs are in the works for the coming year," as Variety puts it. Everyone from ABC to the Weather Channel has some new program in the works.
I’ve been receiving advance materials about many of these shows, and have met with producers of several of the series. Some of them seem quite earnest — Sundance’s "Channel Green," for example, which promises to meld Robert Redford’s longtime commitments to both environmental activism and independent filmmaking. Sundance’s 13-part original series, tentatively titled "Change Agents," from "Queer Eye" producer Scout Products, will focus on designers, products, and "regular people who are creating different ways to live their lives in a more eco-friendly way."
But others leave me a little concerned. There’s "Living with Ed," for example, a "hit reality TV show" starring the ubiquitous Ed Begley Jr., in the works for HGTV. I’ve seen the promo material. To wit: "It’s the reality comedy about everything everyone’s obsessed with: hybrid cars, recycling, global warming." The show will "present the funniest mixed marriage in Hollywood." The über-plot: "How about having a spouse who times your showers, weighs your trash, double-checks your recycling, and ultimately drives you crazy? That’s living with the Begleys."
I’m afraid it’s driving me crazy just thinking about how much this could potentially turn people off to going green.
And then there’s "E-topia," another reality series, this one by the (also ubiquitous) Leonardo DiCaprio.
"E-topia" will chronicle the eco-friendly reconstruction of an American town as it is transformed into a "’green’ utopia of tomorrow." The project, being shopped to broadcast networks, will document the monthslong endeavor in a town yet to be determined as teams of construction workers and laborers unaccustomed to the demands of a "green" lifestyle work with passionate eco-idealists, planners and architects.
You get the idea. There are others, several with a green building, "This Old Green House," sensibility.
It’s unclear whether any of these will actually get greenlit. There are just so many sponsors — and so many viewers — ready, willing, and able to commit to environmental themes. But I’m rooting that at least one of them catches fire and helps to build a new green meme. If that happens, the "good" Hollywood — the consciousness-raising communications machine — will win out over the cult of eco-celebrity.