How The Allegations Against Chris Noth Should Affect How People Watch TV
But Let’s Be Real. It Won’t.
As the #MeToo movement has led to a reckoning of charges against so many major television and film stars — publicity wise; there remains a scarcity of any actual consequences — more often the viewer is forced to deal with the consequences to the shows and films they once loved.
But the thing is: will we really? The cultural record seems to speak otherwise. Despite the accusation that plagued Michael Jackson throughout his career, his music remains popular and a Broadway show about his career is planned next year. People who have been prominently accused of misconduct — like Louis C.K. and Kevin Spacey — are finding work again. And while Woody Allen may not be able to make another movie for the rest of his life, it’s not like the movies he did make have disappeared from streaming services.
The question of separating an artist from their art has been around for decades, if not centuries. No matter how horrible, if not criminal, their behavior was, it has done little if anything to stop the art from the public eye. Netflix might not publicize House of Cards anymore, but they haven’t dropped it from its service.
But with the recent accusations against Chris Noth, a television star whose career spans more than three decades and some of the most iconic series in the history of the medium, the constant viewer is now truly facing a judgment that they can’t truly walk away from. And how we the viewer — and perhaps just as importantly, the show’s creators and the people who syndicate the series — choose to deal with it, may truly answer just how much we’re willing to let someone’s truly repugnant behavior affect whether or not we watch their art.
The consequences for Noth have been immediate in a sense: as more and more accusations have come out, he has lost his current role on The Equalizer, he’s lost representation from the agencies that represent him, and members of Sex and the City are making public statements. The problem is, though, will this really make any difference in how the world of television views him?
Let’s start with his first iconic role: Mike Logan on Law & Order was one of the most worshipped characters on television in the early 1990s. Fan clubs formed around him, and millions were outraged when his character was written off at the end of the fifth season to the point that Dick Wolf wrote both a TV movie about him in 1999 and arranged for his character to return on the spinoff series Criminal Intent in that series’ fifth season. (The first accusation against Noth was made by an actress who guest starred on that series.)
Let’s state the obvious: Law and Order isn’t going anywhere. If anything, it’s become a bigger sensation when it was sold in syndication than it was when it was in the early years of its original run. Entire networks have blocks of it scheduled for its daily lineup. And it’s not like any of them are going to just stop airing the five seasons Noth was part of the show. (Exhibit A: One cable channel ran a marathon of the first season this past Thursday and will show Season 2 New Year’s Eve.) One does not remove over a hundred episodes of television series from syndication under any circumstances; it’s just not good business.
Now to make the obvious joke: Law and Order could — they do, after all, have another three hundred plus without them. And considering that the series is a procedural that doesn’t depend heavily on character arcs, one could do just that and few would know the difference. Hell, I remember my own frustration at TNT’s decision to do just that when they had the series in syndication.
But no network will do that and no streaming service will do it. There’s too much money involved. They’ll make the arguments that Law and Order is an ensemble show and that there was controversy among other figures during Noth’s run which isn’t entirely false: Michael Moriarty, who appeared in the first four seasons had a very public mental breakdown in which, among other things, he accused Attorney General Janet Reno of being a fascist. But it’s a false equivalence, and it won’t change the fact. There’s too much money involved. Theoretically they could remove the Chris Noth episodes of Criminal Intent from syndication, but I have serious doubts that’ll happen either.
Now I imagine at this point there are some readers out there who will make the argument that they don’t watch Law and Order or that they won’t watch Noth’s episodes. I find that doubtful in the extreme; as I’ve written in numerous articles I think everybody in America watches the reruns at some point and I’m not entirely convinced they’ll stop now. The bigger questions come with the series that Noth was most known for by female viewers: Sex and the City.
I’ll cut to the chase. No one’s going to stop watching Sex and the City. I won’t reproduce the arguments why they should have watched it in the first place and just how fake the whole things because it’s futile. Sex and the City may have ended its run a full six seasons before Law and Order, but if anything, it’s proliferated the culture even more than that series has. You don’t inspire two movies, a prequel series and a follow-up series if some part of the world isn’t hopelessly devoted to it.
And I absolutely refuse to believe any of those fans will stop watching the show even with the accusations that are now hitting Noth. I imagine they’ll have similar justifications — that the series was always more about Carrie and her gal pals, that it was really a woman’s show, etc. etc., But its not like they’ll be able to watch the series and pretend that Big had nothing to do with it. And its not like the people who have bowdlerizing the series for basic cable for decades are going to do the same thing and remove Noth — the entire show would come down to a run of about three hours.
No, if you watch Sex and the City you are in a way celebrating Noth. It is the fan base of this series that I think is going to have to take a very hard look in the mirror the next few months and years. The optimist in me wants to believe that seeing that a series so false in every aspect, that had so many problems with almost every single character, that had an ending where even the fans of the show believed it was false, will finally reject it. If nothing else, considering that there are now accusations by women behind the scenes about Noth’s behavior on-set back set, I would think they might seriously consider the hypocrisy of watching a show that was supposed about female empowerment that in actuality covered up the behavior of the romantic ideal. The cynic in me doesn’t believe that one bit any more than the idea that any of the services that have been streaming will get rid of it.
And I will confess: I am not immune to this hypocrisy. One of my favorite series of all time is The Good Wife of which Noth was by far one of the most important characters. Having heard the accusations against him (and I repeat that I do believe that they are credible) I find myself how I can in good conscience watch a series that has as one of its key premises, a DA who is sent to prison for illicit sexual conduct in the pilot and is redeemed politically to the point that he becomes a realistic possibility for President by the series final season. How can I watch a show that makes one of its core precepts a central character who stands by her husband despite his infidelities at first and gets to the point where she actively defends his corruption — makes it her brand, after a fashion? As anyone who watched the show knows, there is infinitely more to The Good Wife than that but can I in good conscience watch the series the same way? What will I do if a female working on that show accuses Noth of harassment?
And I don’t deny that I have similar issues with some of what I’ve discussed — I always preferred watching Law and Order reruns where Noth was a major character. (I also liked it for the presence of actors like Jerry Orbach and Jill Hennessy, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say a large part of my preference for the early seasons was Noth. And I’ll be honest; I probably won’t stop watching these reruns. I’ve had no trouble watching Kevin Spacey films like The Usual Suspects and L.A. Confidential years after the accusations and I’m still planning next year to do a House of Cards rewatch in part to try and answer some of the problems I raised at the start of the article.
So I guess in the end I really can’t answer questions I posed about whether there’ll be any kind of consequences or reckoning for Noth or any other of the actors I’ve mentioned at the start of the article. I don’t deny the fundamental unfairness of it — none of the accused seems likely to face any criminal charges; they’ll be in exile for a few years and then they’ll probably go back to working again somewhere. It’ll make news for awhile, and then when the outrage is buried by another one, the average viewer will probably go back to watching their art with little more than a shrug.
But I think, at some level, viewers like me must accept some responsibility in all of this. We may all say the right things when it comes to these kinds of accusation against these powerful men but at the end of the day we still don’t stop watching. I can’t help but wonder how many people who say they’re appalled by everything Harvey Weinstein did and then go home and put on a movie like Pulp Fiction or Shakespeare in Love. Maybe the most we can hope for when we see a Law and Order marathon is to think a little before we decide to just watch it. We owe all the accusers that much, since we can’t seem to give them anything else.