There was a time in television history when the drunk character’s sole job was to provide comic relief. Otis Campbell (Hal Smith) on The Andy Griffith Show is the first character that comes to mind. There were many characters on shows like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie who would either promise to quit drinking or order another round when they saw some feat of prestidigitation. Later I noticed that if a show wanted to seriously tackle the issue of alcoholism or drug addiction it would be shown by having a visiting character suffer from the disease and then the problem would be resolved by the end of the episode. At the same time parents would complain that kids think all problems can be resolved in a half-hour. Later on I would see both comedies and dramas show regular characters deal with their addictions and recoveries. However, if the character is attractive, the show is accused of glamorizing the bad behavior. Just because bad behavior is shown on TV does not mean that TV is glamorizing the bad behavior. That is like saying that Archie Bunker (All in the Family) glamorized bigotry or The Sweathogs (Welcome Back, Kotter) glamorized remedial education.
Last season Desperate Housewives had a story line where Lynette (Felicity Huffman) became addicted to her twins' ADD medication. The story line took place over several episodes. After the first episode of this story aired, I heard complaints (Mostly from the Parents Television Council) that the show glamorized addiction and that the characters do not suffer any repercussions for their actions. Lynette eventually did pay the price for her addiction and Felicity Huffman won an Emmy.
This season, one of the American Family Association's many complaints about NBC’s new show The Book of Daniel was that, "The main character is Daniel Webster (Aidan Quinn), a drug-addicted Episcopal priest whose wife (Susanna Thompson) depends heavily on her mid-day martinis". Why can’t we show a priest and his wife with an addiction? I am sure that given time these addictions will be dealt with appropriately. I started thinking about last Sunday night where both Desperate Housewives’ Bree (Marcia Cross) and Crossing Jordan's Garret (Miguel Ferrer) were arrested for drunk driving and neither show resolved the issue in the course of the episode. I am challenging the PTC and the AFA to give these story lines a chance by letting them play out before you pass judgement. If the stories are handled responsibly, use your web sites to commend their social responsibility.
Finally I can’t seem to remember a TV show that dealt with a character who was addicted to television... then again maybe I’m just in denial.
To quote Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife,
Barney: You know we couldn't have given Otis a sobriety test last night.
Andy: Why not?
Barney: He was too drunk!