When Should Advertisers Bail on TV Shows?

"What he said about the Rutgers women's basketball team was stupid, but I don't want some government agency telling him or you or me that we can't say something, even if it is stupid," Broyles said. "On the other hand, sponsors have every right not to choose to support him. In the Imus case, the marketplace stepped up and said that it wasn't right, and he was gone from both radio and TV."

In 2004, several advertisers pulled their sponsorships from the FX show "Nip/Tuck" after consumers complained the program was too raunchy. Cingular Wireless, Progressive Casualty Insurance Co., Gateway and Ben & Jerry's all dropped their ads. Regardless, other sponsors remained and the show remains on the air.

A two-part miniseries by CBS called "The Reagans," based on the former president and his wife, took heat from conservatives who considered the show unfair to the couple. They persuaded advertisers to drop their support. The show was moved off network TV and ran on Showtime to a much smaller audience.

One of the most heated advertising fights occurred in 1997 over ABC's sitcom "Ellen," starring Ellen DeGeneres. On a springtime episode, the show's main character came out as a lesbian. High-profile advertisers such as Wendy's and Chrysler pulled their spots from the show, but others stayed.

The episode was the highest-rated show on ABC that year. The advertisers who bailed lost out on a giant audience.

Broyles said there had also been cases in which advertisers supported a show once it had proven itself after a season or two.

When "NYPD Blue" first aired, she said, at least one ABC affiliate didn't advertise the first season, saying the show was too controversial. After it won success in the ratings and with critics, the company picked up the show.

"I sometimes wish that TV networks would step up and produce higher-quality programming rather than just pandering to the lowest common denominator of quick ratings," Broyles said.

Ultimately, she said: "Every TV has an off button."

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