22 February 2021

The New York Times: “Apple TV was making a Show about Gawker. Then Tim Cook found out.”

Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president for internet software and services, who has been at the company since 1989, has told partners that the two things we will never do are hard-core nudity and China, one creative figure who has worked with Apple told me. (BuzzFeed News first reported last year that Mr. Cue had instructed creators to avoid portraying China in a poor light.)

The Wall Street Journal also reported in 2018 that Mr. Cook personally killed a Dr. Dre biopic because there was too much violence and nudity, and that the company had asked the director M. Night Shyamalan to keep crucifixes off the walls in his thriller “Servant.”

And Apple’s willingness to sacrifice creative freedom for corporate risk management is still an outlier. None of my reporting suggests that Mr. Bezos is reaching into Amazon’s studio (or The Washington Post) to kill negative depictions of either e-commerce or the police, or that Mr. Stankey is ostentatiously slipping AT&T routers into “Lovecraft Country”. The question, of course, is how long, even at those companies, the old law will be suspended — that he who pays the piper calls the tune.

Ben Smith

Apple has struggled for years with several TV initiatives, none of which have enjoyed the same success as many of its other products. This January, the company has further extended the Apple TV+ free trials until the end of July, a telling sign of lackluster consumer interest.

One of the key reasons may be Apple’s insistence of central control over creative projects; every initiative is basically subsumed to its core hardware business and must not affect Apple’s brand identity. A variety of opinions and expression seems to conflict with Apple’s centralized and efficient design culture, where a single device (the iPhone and its accessories) should satisfy everyone’s needs completely. It’s almost impossible to create art by decree, without the freedom to say and do controversial stuff, to challenge mainstream thinking. Even safer shows like sitcoms need a certain degree of authenticity that is hard to portray if the bad guys are not allowed to use iPhones.

Cord Jefferson, with his Writers Guild awards for television shows
Cord Jefferson, with his Writers Guild awards for the television shows “Succession” and “Watchmen” last February. Charley Gallay/Getty Images

Perhaps the most problematic is the directive to avoid criticism of China, one of the many covert and pervasive ways in which the authoritarian government pushes its propaganda abroad, along with apps such as TikTok and WeChat. Nowadays, Apple’s ‘courage’ only goes as far as its bottom line…

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