WDBJ Shooting: Inside Networks’ Rapid Response to Bump Shows Too Similar to Crisis

“The outside world and the entertainment world are no longer in separate bubbles,” brand expert Linda Ong tells TheWrap after tragic shooting forces tough TV scheduling decisions

Documentary Now Mr Robot

On Wednesday, USA Network pushed back the season finale for “Mr. Robot,” as one scene was eerily similar to the Virginia TV reporter shooting earlier in the day, which claimed the lives of WDBJ employees Alison Parker and Adam Ward. On Thursday, IFC delayed “Documentary Now!” episode “Dronez,” which depicts several journalists being killed.

The tragedy is clearly heartbreaking. The entertainment industry’s reaction only reinforces how often these incidents plague our society, brand consultant Linda Ong told TheWrap.

“It’s just a sad indicator of where we are as a culture right now, which is that [these] things are becoming more commonplace,” the TruthCo. CEO offered, “where we have to cancel shows or cancel series as a result of the things going on in the chaotic world out there.”

In addition to the most recent fatal example, Ong cited Netflix and NBC parting ways with Bill Cosby following rape allegations and TLC cutting “19 Kids and Counting” after star Josh Duggar admitted to molesting several underage girls as two other examples of the blurred new world we live in.

“All the stuff that’s going on in the outside world and the entertainment world are no longer in separate bubbles,” she added. “It’s sad, but it’s really not notable anymore.”

But people do take note — both in the press, and at the networks. Ong admitted that Hollywood’s need to react definitely adds a layer to a programmers’ job that really wasn’t there before. She likened their social responsibility to that of a consumer goods company feeling pressure to go green.

“Consumers look to entertainment today … as more than just entertainment,” Ong explained. “They’re looking for responsibility in terms of how we’re moving the world forward. We want our television programmers to also act and program through their values, not to try to commercialize everything.”

Of course, this is a business, and there are concerns beyond just being good corporate citizens. But Ong doesn’t think the media coverage, coincidental storylines or last-minute scheduling change will make a difference for tune-in, good or bad: “I think it will be negligible,” she said.

That steady needle could be different if these were reality series, however, whereas the characters or personalities were directly involved. Or using the “Trainwreck” and “Batman” theater shootings as an example, Ong explained: “When a movie has a shooting, it’s bad for the movie industry, but it’s not the fault of the movie.”

The “Documentary Now!” episode will likely air next Thursday; the “Mr. Robot” finale is set for Wednesday night. But who is to say if one week is enough of an appropriate delay? Not Ong, and not really anyone individually, she suggested.

“I think we’ll only know a week from now,” Ong concluded. “If next week it is not the right time to show it, then [USA and IFC] will know that immediately.”