After Wildmon and his supporters allegedly bombarded Mr. Dotson's inbox to complain about T-Mobile's support for two FX shows-"Rescue Me" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" -- that they consider offensive, the CEO responded with a letter to the association. "I have personally taken the time to view some of the programs where we have run advertising," his note stated. "Candidly, some of the choices we have made are clearly inconsistent with who we are and what we stand for."
It seemed a very public rebuke to T-mobile media-planning and -buying agency Optimedia, although a T-Mobile spokesman later told Advertising Age that Mr. Dotson's remarks weren't meant to imply the wireless provider was unhappy with Optimedia, a "terrific media-buying agency."
The move appears to be another victory for Wildmon's group, which has made a habit of going after advertisers in shows that offend its sensibilities.
In the case of the two FX shows, the AFA has complained to advertisers supporting the programs that that the shows are "over the edge in sex, violence and profanity."
"Rescue Me," in its third season, is the edgy, machismo-filled chronicle of New York firefighter Tommy Gavin, played by show co-creator Dennis Leary. The story revolves around Gavin's familial problems -- he sexually assaults his estranged wife, and his nephew has an affair with a high-school science teacher -- and the firehouse drama. The show's ratings are up almost 10% over season two, to about 2.7 million viewers, and FX has already renewed it for a fourth season.
"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" is in its second season on FX. While its first-season ratings were unimpressive, the network stuck with it in an attempt to get into comedy.
FX defends racy programs
An FX spokesman, confirming that T-Mobile's ads had been pulled, said: "The shows air at 10 p.m., they are marketed to adults and we do a good job of making viewers aware that it is adult content. More than 90% of the audience for 'Rescue Me' is 18 or older." FX has similarly defended its other racy programs, such as "Nip/Tuck" and "The Shield," when they have come under fire from similar groups.
But Mr. Dotson's response is what makes this case unusual. With no warning and despite a lack of prior conversations with the group, Mr. Dotson sent a letter to the association July 20 promising changes.
"We are taking the following immediate actions," he wrote. "In addition to removing advertising from programs brought to our attention, effective immediately, we are pulling all advertising from the FX channel pending further review of their programming [and] I have directed my marketing and advertising leads to conduct a deeper review of our advertising standards to ensure that our selections are consistent with the qualities of T-Mobile's brand."
T-Mobile ad guidelines
The letter said T-Mobile has guidelines that "make it clear that the content we provide and the programming supported by our advertising dollars must not conflict with the qualities of T-Mobile's brand" and that the company "will not support programming or content offerings that are sexually gratuitous and explicit, racist, hateful or excessively violent."
Even the American Family Association was surprised at the reaction. "This is extremely unusual, a first in a long, long time, where a major corporate CEO actually takes time to listen to concerns and makes a personal investment," said Randy Sharp, director of special projects and education.
According to TNS Media Intelligence, from January through April 2006 T-Mobile spend $1.2 million with the network. It ranked 21st in terms of top spenders on FX.
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Alice Z. Cuneo and Abbey Klaassen contributed to this report.