What Ben Shapiro's failed career as a 'dramedy' scriptwriter tells us about the American right

Greg Evans
Monday 15 June 2020 16:45
Showbiz

Of all the figures in the American conservative movement, for better or for worse, Ben Shapiro remains one of the most fascinating of the bunch.

For those familiar with Shapiro's work as a political commentator and podcast host, he won't need an introduction.

However, if you are unfamiliar with him lets just say he's hard to pigeonhole.

Who is Ben Shapiro?

We'll make no illusions about it, even though the man himself might, but Shapiro does come from a privileged background.

He grew up in LA where both of his parents worked in Hollywood; his father was a composer and his mother worked as an executive for a TV company.

In a strange coincidence, his cousin is Mara Wilson, who is best known for playing Matilda in the beloved 90s family film. However, if you have seen her Twitter page and the messages that she endorses it is fairly obvious that the two relatives share very different ideologies on life and society.

As a child, Shapiro was a prodigy and graduated from the Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles in 2000 aged just 16. He then went on to graduate from both the University of Los Angeles and Harvard Law School by the age of 23, studying political science.

In that time he had set up his own media consulting firm, Benjamin Shapiro Legal Consulting and had also written syndicated columns for national newspapers when he was just 17 years old and written two books.

Clearly Shapiro had an incredible talent and mind at a very young age so why isn't he more celebrated as one of America's great intellectuals?

Well, it won't take you long to figure out that much of what Shapiro stands for isn't very popular or agreeable.

For instance, his first book which was published in 2004 is called 'Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America's Youth' and makes bold claims about American universities being run by liberal elites and that students aren't given access to a variety of different points of views or arguments.

Needless to say, he doesn't agree with a lot of so-called liberal or left-wing politics and thanks to having a platform on conservative websites like Breitbart and The Daily Wire, as well as a short-lived series on Fox News in 2018 he has become a deeply unpopular and complex figure.

A good example of this comes from the 2016 presidential election, where he bizarrely supported Ted Cruz and claimed that Donald Trump's victory wasn't based on support by Republicans but a belief that Americans hated Hillary Clinton (despite the fact that she won the popular vote).

That actually doesn't seem that controversial in comparison to some of his most recent comments which have delved into the realms of conspiracy theories and far-right rhetoric, most in favour of defending the otherwise indefensible.

Some of the most alarming comments to come from Shapiro in recent years saw him claim that the American Civil War was an "apology for slavery" due to the number of US citizens that died in the conflict.

He dismissed the sexual assault cases that were lodged against Trump's Justice of the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh because nobody had been able to describe what Kavanaugh's genitalia looked like. You may not be surprised to learn that he doesn't believe in climate change either, claiming that if sea levels continue to rise, "people will simply sell their homes and move". Yeah, we're not sure it works like that.

There are endless examples we could give but trust us when we say that if there is a problem in the world Shapiro has an uncanny ability to find a way of making an excuse for it or blaming the left.

Thanks to the current climate in the US and the rise of the right, Shapiro's views are rarely questioned much beyond him getting trolled on social media after he says something daft. The rare time he does make a mainstream television appearance he often does a great job of embarrassing himself such as the time he appeared on the BBC and accussed Andrew Neil, of all people, of being left-wing.

Despite this success, things could have been very different for Shapiro, had he become a Hollywood screenwriter.

Despite his overwhelming success in the world of political commentary things could have been very different for Shapiro. Yes, there was a brief period where Shapiro could have become a screenwriter for television. Rather than plunging you right into this strange story, we'd like you to take a look at this clip that was recently shared by video editor and YouTuber Vic Berger.

That short but excruciating clip comes from an interview with Connie Martinson from 2011, which is just as excruciating but longer.

At the time, Shapiro was promoting his fourth book which was titled Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV. We won't bore you too much with what the book is about but as you can probably guess from the title it bemoans the lack of conservative voices in Hollywood television since the 1970s. However, as Matinson points out to him in that above video, his take on the industry isn't entirely accurate.

With this in mind, we can't help but be fascinated by what these so-called 'dramedies' would have been about or if they were any good.

At this point, we should probably tell you about how these scripts came about. According to the aforementioned book, after he graduated from Harvard Law School he began interviewing TV executives about liberalism in the television world. This is where he met Leonard Goldberg, who was the former head of programming for ABC and was once president of 20th Century Fox.

According to Shapiro, Goldberg proposed that Shapiro write a pilot episode for a show set at the Harvard Law School which he accepted. Shapiro wrote a spec script that was reportedly well received and began the process of finding an agent.

So what happened to his burgeoning career as a screenwriter?

It wasn't long after this that he got a phone call from a television agent, who according to Shapiro informed him that he had been "blacklisted". This comes from Primetime Propaganda and is supposedly what the agent said:

One of our agents Googled you​ and found your website. I’m not sure we can represent you, because he thinks your political views will make it impossible for you to get a job in this town​.

He also recounted this in more detail in the same book tour, this time in June 2011 during a talk at the Heritage Foundation where he claimed that a Hollywood producer was familiar with his work and told the agent to blacklist him, adding that hundreds of conservatives within the Hollywood system are too scared to express their views out of fear of the same thing happening to them.

This still doesn't entirely answer what this 'dramedy' was like and whether it did get canned because of Shapiro's views or for its quality.

We'll never fully find out as:

A) Shapiro is unlikely to tell anyone
B) Goldman passed away in 2019

However, we can speculate.

What was his failed 'dramedy' script actually about?

This brings us to an article that he wrote in National Review, once again in June 2011 (boy, this guy was busy nine years ago). In this article, Shapiro lists the 12 best TV shows that he considers having a conservative message. The list is topped by Keifer Sutherland's epic action thriller series 24, and features other shows such as Lost, Magnum PI and Walker Texas Ranger which few would consider being straight dramas or comedy, for that matter.

It does feature many comedy series and sitcoms, namely South Park and King of the Hill, as well as unoffensive family viewing like Everybody Loves Raymond, The Cosby Show, The Waltons and Leave it to Beaver.

Therefore we can only presume that Shapiro's Harvard would have somehow be inspired by these set of shows although we can't really see where the crossover is where the crass humour of South Park meets the in the good values and honest message of The Waltons but we are willing to be proven wrong.

Perhaps he would have given us a less raucous version of the American Pie movies, except with less sex and crudeness and more lessons and ethics and how the left is always wrong?

Yet he graduated in 2007 and that type of narrative had already had its day. We'd struggle to see why a major network would sign off on a story of that nature.

So, at the end of this investigation, we have learned that Shapiro did write a pilot for a drama-comedy series set at Harvard Law School that people apparently liked but was rejected because of his political views.

Rather than take this one on the chin he decided to write a book claiming he was blacklisted and never wrote another script again. Author K Thor Jensen echoes these thoughts.

What does this tell us about far-right punditry in today's America?

Much like Shapiro, the current president also had a relatively successful career in film and television which didn't leave him in any way disgruntled or bitter.

Although his five-second cameo in Home Alone 2 was probably one of his better performances, Trump is always happy to mention his run on The Apprentice and the high ratings he achieved compared to Arnold Schwarzenegger who followed him but failed to replicate the success.

Trust us, Trump will bring this up whenever he feels like it.

Now, Trump is widely ridiculed by the industry that once fostered him and gave him a prominent platform to speak from. Perhaps much of Trump's anger can be linked back to his time in this industry, which Shapiro believes is filled with liberals who aren't interested in promoting conservative values. It's hard to draw and direct comparison between these two men's experiences but this would appear to be something that they both have in common.

Much like Trump, he would have seen behind the curtain like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and realised that the people pulling the strings weren't all they were cracked up to be.

Although Shapiro had clearly set out an agenda and ideology for himself early on, things might have been different for him had his Harvard script been accepted and not been 'silenced by liberalism.'

The attitude that Shapiro has towards these type of industries which are viewed to be predominantly left-wing speaks for much of the US conservative media.

You only have to look at prominent figures from Fox News such as Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham to see that they all carry themselves with a certain swagger with the proverbial "chip on their shoulder" as if they are the only ones who are right and can "tell it like it is".

It's a mindset that has clearly filtered down to Trump's most ardent of supporters who seem willing to back the president on any issue, not matter the amount of evidence there is against him.

To say that the current breed of right-wing populism in the United States is down to a group of Hollywood executives cancelling a few shows and mocking conservatives on shows like Saturday Night Live might seem like a stretch but for some, like Shapiro, there is an undeniable correlation.

Although we'd remain sceptical of the quality of Shapiro's 'dramedy' until we saw it, maybe one day in the future he will have amassed enough wealth to actually finance it himself and really let some steam off, almost as if it were a form of therapy for cable television.

Ben Shapiro has been contacted for comment.

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