Last week the stars of CBS’ sitcom “Mom,” Allison Janney and Anna Faris along with Executive Producer Chuck Lorre, made a big announcement: they were spending the budget they’d been given for an Emmy campaign on a $250,000 donation to Planned Parenthood instead.
For some folks outside the industry, it may come as a surprise to find out that TV shows pay a lot more than most peoples’ annual household income on pitching themselves to Emmy voters. But it’s common practice. The average Emmy campaign costs between $150,000 and $500,000. So when I say this was a cheap publicity stunt, I mean cheap in the scale of Hollywood world, not most of our lives.
And mark my words, publicity is what they’re doing. This is a show that has a few Emmys under its belt already and that consistently performs well in ratings, that can probably afford expect the high end of the marketing scale. So $250,000 is not a huge lift for anyone involved in this decision. They’re spending relatively little to look good and make a splash.
But I’m here for it, because what they’re doing can make a huge impact at a time when the Trump Administration has just made it possible for states to defund any clinics that perform abortions. Following that, Texas is now fighting to restore Federal funds it lost under Obama era regulations that were meant to protect providers. Just days after Mom’s announcement, the Texas legislature passed sweeping regulations that would ban the safest and most common procedure for second trimester abortions, require fetal burial or cremation, and ban any use of fetal tissue for medical research.
And Texas is one of many battlegrounds in this critical fight for basic access to reproductive healthcare. In Iowa, several clinics are closing their doors, leaving patients with nowhere to go, following a series of TRAP (Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers) laws similar to those in Texas.
But perhaps the most terrifying place in need of reproductive healthcare is Vice President Pence’s home state of Indiana. The state is facing its third legal challenge in about a year about abortion restrictions. Laws that would have required ultrasounds be shown to those seeking an abortion various bans, as well as one that criminalized collection of fetal tissue for research have all been struck down by courts.
Now Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are suing Indiana over a new law about parental consent. Under this new law, judges could disclose that a teen sought their consent for an abortion to their parents. This judicial procedure is most commonly used when teens are fearful of seeking consent from their parents for abortions.
This crusade against reproductive health in Indiana crescendoed in 2013, gutting funding for Planned Parenthood and leaving rural Austin, Indiana (among other places) without an HIV testing center. Between that and a growing opioid epidemic, Austin was facing an outbreak of HIV—that’s right, HIV—by 2015.
Reflecting this world of addiction and complex family dynamics, “Mom” is an unusual sitcom even for Lorre, who is known less gritty shows like “The Big Bang Theory.” Sure, it has the hallmark laugh track, but it also has heart and the courage to tackle some pretty serious issues, like addiction and teen pregnancy.
Allison Janney has been transparent about her own personal and family struggles with addiction, naming the loss of her brother as a key reason she took on the role of Bonnie, a recovering addict working to repair her relationship with her daughter, now also in recovery. There’s another layer to it too, literally, which Janney joked about in an Emmy acceptance speech- that she felt old playing a grandmother, but now she’s actually a great-grandmother on the show.
So in that sense a contribution to Planned Parenthood, is really the show putting its money where its mouth is. With that in mind, is it really fair to call the contribution a “publicity stunt?”
Only if you think of it as zero-sum.
The fact is, “Mom” got great publicity out of their donation, and not only did Planned Parenthood get $250,000, they got visibility and a new fundraising campaign. They got to bring attention to the dangerous attacks on reproductive healthcare that are so frequent they can be hard to keep track of.
Television and movies can tell great stories. They give us a lens to see our world through. And sometimes, they can bring us a little closer to things that need our attention. Some people who have seen the clear-headed treatment of abortion on “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Private Practice” may not be surprised to learn that Shonda Rhimes joined the national board of Planned Parenthood earlier this year. Millenials now make up the bulk of the 18-35 market, and we want to support social responsibility.
The fact is, support for Planned Parenthood is not controversial. 75% of Americans, including a majority of republicans support federal funding for Planned Parenthood. So with this contribution, maybe “Mom” is making a play for more than just Emmys, maybe they’re aiming to capture some new viewers. I know they’ve at least added one new member to their audience.