Tuned In

Was All-American Muslim Too Controversial, Too Boring, or Too Good to Survive?

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TLC

All-American Muslim will not be back for a second season, The Detroit Free Press first reported yesterday and its network, TLC, confirmed. The report cited the show’s ratings, which dropped considerably from the show’s highly promoted debut. But the show got its greatest attention when a few advertisers, notably hardware big-box store Lowe’s, pulled advertising in response to a protest from the Florida Family Association (a conservative group that turned out to be essentially one guy). So it’s natural to wonder if the complaints against the show—here, that it presented middle-American Muslims positively without paying attention to Islamic fundamentalism—were the reason, or a reason.

I can’t say that the protests and controversy were not a factor at all; few networks, after all, are ever likely to say that they took a program off the air because of boycotts. But if there was pressure against the show internally, I never felt it from the network, which was pretty vocally supportive of the show through the Lowe’s brouhaha, and it’s hard to argue that the ratings were good, even by TLC standards: they dropped by more than half from its debut, and as TV By the Numbers notes, the final broadcast lost about half the audience of its lead-in, delivering a .3 18-49 demo rating, which is weak even by TLC standards.

Regardless, it’s too bad. For one thing, whether or not the protests knocked the show off the air, the show’s protesters will certainly take it as vindication. And before anyone starts arguing about people’s “right” to protest and boycott a show, that’s not the issue. Anyone has the right to boycott a show they don’t like, or to boycott the boycotters in return. But also, anyone has a right to criticize the reasons for a particular boycott—for instance, boycotting a show because it positively portrays actual decent people, without tarring them by association with murderers who share their religion. To say that there is one religious group in America that it is actually dangerous to represent with law-abiding citizens, lest people make the mistake of liking them, is absurd. (It was not, however, the only reason the show was criticized—some conservative Muslims didn’t like the show because of the nontraditional, assimilated lifestyles of some characters.)

More important, All-American Muslim was a good program, not just for depicting a rarely-seen segment of Muslim Americans (ordinary Midwesterners working jobs, getting married and playing football in the Detroit area) but because it was a rare slice-of-life reality show, produced without a lot of melodrama or characters cast for outrageousness. Which, frankly, is probably a big part of the reason the show’s ratings didn’t hold up. Reality audiences stay tuned to domestic reality shows if they involve extreme family situations (19 Kids and Counting), outsized conflict (Mob Wives) or conspicuous consumption (The Real Housewives of Anywhere).

All-American Muslim was a show whose point was the quotidian lives of the people in it, and after a while, people lost interest. It may be that if viewers are going to watch a reality show about the lifestyle of a Middle Eastern group—or any ethnic group—in America, it will be something more like Shahs of Sunset, a Bravo show premiering this Sunday about upscale, materialistic Los Angelenos in the city’s Persian community. (The community depicted, I believe, includes both Persian Jews and Muslims, but what I’ve seen of the series doesn’t mention religion nearly as prominently as All-American Muslim.)

It’s flashy voyeurism like a lot of reality shows on TV. And if it succeeds where All-American Muslim fails, you could see that as a sad commentary—or, rather, as a sign that TV viewers want the same thing from a show about Middle Easterners as from a show about Italian American twentysomethings or rich women in New York. If the goal of inclusiveness on TV is for each group to be treated, in essence, like any other, that may just look something more like this:

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