On April 26, Bill Cosby, the man once considered America’s favorite TV dad, was convicted on three charges of aggravated indecent assault. Dozens of women have accused Cosby, but his conviction is a major milestone in the #MeToo movement.
However, you won’t catch a single newsreel of the court footage that isn’t accompanied by a clip from The Cosby Show, shot while Cosby was at the peak of his popularity. For the public, it’s a confronting juxtaposition increasingly encountered by viewers: the feel-good legacy of their favorite childhood shows weighed up against the reality of the unforgivable crimes committed by the stars they once idolized.
For many viewers it’s a disconcerting feeling: some television shows have a lasting impact, offering not just enjoyment but comfort and familiarity. Through online streaming, it’s never been easier to re-watch old seasons of your favorite show for that feel-good feeling, like the security blanket from your padded-feet jammie days. But once you know the character you idolized is a real-life sex predator, there’s little chance watching the show will ever feel the same again.
While Cosby’s is one of the biggest celebrity falls from grace, the bizarre tale of Allison Mack, the actress best known for the teen Superman drama, Smallville, has also dominated news headlines.
Mack stands accused of being second-in-command of a sex-trafficking cult called NXIVM that, in a sinister twist, allegedly brands the women involved. Pleading not guilty, she’s been released on $5 million bail.
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Glee is another show that’s lost its shine. The overdose of Cory Monteith, who played male lead Finn Hudson, in a Vancouver hotel room in 2013 was embraced as a tragedy by fans, and was written into the script.
However, the arrest of co-star Mark Saling for child pornography makes it almost impossible for viewers to revisit the once-popular show. Saling pleaded guilty in December 2017 to possessing child pornography involving a prepubescent minor. He was due to be sentenced in March 2018, but committed suicide in January.
With the #MeToo movement growing, these are simply a handful of cases that have come under scrutiny, with more celebrity bubbles expected to burst as victims speak up.
The biggest test of fan loyalty will come when the final season of House of Cards airs on Netflix later in 2018. Lead Kevin Spacey was dropped from the award-winning series after allegations of sexual misconduct came to light.
While Netflix’s decision not to kill the series outright — saving hundreds of production jobs — was praised, it remains to be seen whether fans are open to returning to a narrative where the sinister actions of its male lead character often blurred the lines with real life.