TV Talent Worries About Sony ‘Chilling Effect’

Hollywood’s creative community — including those in the television business — has been unabashed in its disapproval of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s decision Wednesday to shelve feature film The Interview.

“I believe caving was terrible,” Madeleine Smithberg, co-creator of The Daily Show, told B&C. “You don’t negotiate with terrorists. We’ve now shown them that you expose a couple of emails and our entire economy can collapse.”

The Interview is believed to have prompted an attack in November against Sony’s computers and subsequent threats against theaters and Sony staffers by hackers reportedly linked to the North Korean government, which is lampooned in the film. But in scuttling the release, Sony has become a target for creative talent frustrated by the studio’s decision to essentially lock the work of creative partners such as directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg in a vault.

“Saw @Sethrogen at JFK. Both of us have never seen or heard of anything like this. Hollywood has done Neville Chamberlain proud today,” TV and film actor Rob Lowe wrote on Twitter Wednesday. Chamberlain was the British prime minister who adopted a policy of appeasement toward Adolf Hitler.

How far the ripple from Sony’s decision will extend remains to be seen. But some creators are concerned that networks and studios will be reluctant to take on projects that might offend powerful constituencies.

“I do think it will have a chilling effect,” said Will Scheffer, co-creator of HBO’s Big Love and Getting On. “I think that if companies that are not as used to making controversial material as HBO are too cautious, they’re going to wind up hurting themselves.”

Smithberg noted that divisions between the TV and film industries may insulate television creators from the full force of The Interview’s impact. But, she said, “it adds another filter for people to say no through, and that is not a good thing for creativity in general. There are already so many filters that are applied to everything that is considered for production.”

Sony’s retreat and the news media’s eagerness to report on the company’s internal documents released by hackers have also raised first amendment issues in the minds of creators.

“In this Gawker-Wikileaks era, we have problems that are unprecedented to deal with in terms of freedom of speech,” Scheffer says. “That’s affecting artists and countries and governments in a way that is unprecedented.”