Greening the Screen

How eco-friendly sitcoms got that way

Jun 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

Sentient viewers of prime-time tv may have picked up on an intriguing trend lately. An electric car conspicuously parked outside the Friends coffeehouse. Fox Mulder and Dana Scully chasing a landfill monster that's terrorizing a subdivision on The X-Files. And in a Simpsons episode, Homer, mistaken for a celebrity activist and tied to a tree, protesting alongside Woody Harrelson and Ed Begley Jr.

Such go-green messages don't slip into scripts by accident. But unlike the "Just Say No" dialogue on ER last season, which turned out to be the product of a backdoor deal with the White House, most of the save-the-planet plugs sprinkled across television these days are the spin wizardry of the Environmental Media Association, a four-person nonprofit company based in Los Angeles. With a Rolodex of more than 10,000 industry contacts—including board members Ted Turner, Michael Eisner, and John Travolta—the EMA is greening Hollywood one script at a time.

The group has come to be the entertainment industry's most powerful programming lobby by eschewing public guilt and shame tactics and embracing flattery, humor, and good old-fashioned glad-handing. Take, for example, a February meeting with Marsh McCall, Kevin Slattery, Tom Maxwell, and Don Woodard, the executive producers of NBC's comedy Just Shoot Me. After she "did the schmooze first," EMA executive director Debbie Levin says she gave her eco-aware spiel. "I had an idea that Nina, a fashion editor on the show, hears for the first time that global warming exists," Levin recalls. "She comes into the office and panics that there won't be a four-season fashion year anymore.They said, 'Oh my God! That's so funny. We've got to figure out how to do that.'"

Beyond such backstage tête-à-têtes, the EMA calls press conferences, sends out bulk mail, and hosts the EMA Awards, an annual gala that each December generates the group's entire $350,000 operating budget. And later this month, it's launching a "Greening of Hollywood" campaign to applaud craftsmen who have made efforts to reduce backstage waste. Clearly, these enviros know how to work a room. "They speak Hollywood, as the best special-interest groups do," says David Finnigan, who covers marketing for The Hollywood Reporter. "Everyone in Hollywood likes to get an award."

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