Reality TV gives gun-themed shows a rest

Discovery cancels two gun-themed reality series. They swear it has nothing to do with Sandy Hook

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published December 20, 2012 4:43PM (EST)


Somehow, reality shows about weapons just aren't as much of a draw as they were only a week ago. In the wake of the devastating school massacre in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, Discovery has canceled two gun-themed shows. Yet the network, hedging all its viewership bets, is cautiously not drawing any parallels between its programming decisions and current events. Stay brave, people who brought us "A Moonshiners Christmas," "Amish Mafia" and "Zombie Apocalypse."

On Monday, the network announced that "'American Guns' concluded earlier this year," adding, "Discovery Channel chose not to renew the series and has no plans to air repeats of the show." Yet Deadline notes that Discovery is conspicuously not airing reruns of the show as well. The network is likewise bidding adieu to "Ted Nugent’s Gun Country," with a confirmation that Nugent will not be returning any time soon. His rootin' tootin' show aired as a special in the fall, but at the time, the "musician/hunter" told Armed America Radio that Discovery "want[s] to do it as a regular feature," and to "expect that there will be at least a dozen shows a year." Also, there's an Armed America Radio.

Of course, it's easy to can a low-rated experiment – Discovery has also recently 86'ed "Dirty Jobs" and "American Chopper." And Deadline's Nellie Andreeva says of "American Guns" that "Discovery brass felt there was no story left to tell, contributing to the cancellation decision." It's likewise not much of a bold choice to ultimately decide not to give any further platform to a man who last spring got the attention of the Secret Service when he said that if Obama was reelected he'd be "dead or in jail by this time next year," and that the NRA should "chop their heads off in November."  But you'd think a network would have offered the slightest acknowledgment that images of Ted Nugent firing off action-movie-grade weapons while drooling over "the world of guns and America's obsession with guns" isn't really appropriate right now, an iota of recognition that we are in a sensitive cultural moment. Even TLC had the good taste to acknowledge that in light of the tragedy, it was postponing its pilot "Best Funeral Ever" until January, when it will air after a Honey Boo Boo special. And this represents the last time we are ever using the words "good taste," "TLC" and "Honey Boo Boo" in the same sentence. You'd think, maybe, that this would be an OK time to at least begin the conversation that this isn't about accusing television of inciting violence; it's about, as James Poniewozik puts it perfectly, how "it’s just freaking exhausting sometimes to live in a pop-culture whose aggression level is pumped up to 11." That we want better.

Yet despite its utterly mealy-mouthed refusal to risk alienating viewers who enjoy shows where people construct — WHOO HOOO! — "the most gigantic, epic gun," Discovery has nevertheless been taking heat this week from its audience. A Facebook user whose avatar is the Terminator mourned the loss of the "best pro-gun program on television," while another pondered, "What's next, should we ban GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, etc. because people die daily in car accidents?" Just think – if they're this upset when their gun-themed reality shows are taken away, imagine how pissed they'll be when we take their guns.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Discovery Editor's Picks Newtown Reality Television Sandy Hook Ted Nugent