Online Soap Opera Starring Billy Dee Williams Received Stimulus Cash

We were told that the 2009 stimulus bill would direct money to areas of the economy in need of assistance, what we weren’t told is that this included crappy online soap operas:

You may not have seen the show “Diary of a Single Mom” co-starring Billy Dee Williams, but your tax dollars helped pay for it.

Through the federal economic stimulus program, a company owned by actor-director Robert Townsend was paid more than $230,000 to produce and direct the Web-based show, records show. Other production costs on the show paid to different vendors total more than $700,000.

The money came through an award by the Department of Commerce to One Economy Corp. for more than $28 million last year to help boost broadband Internet service in underserved areas across the country.

One Economy is using more than $1.5 million of that money to create programming such as “Diary of a Single Mom,” which the group says will help provide an incentive for people to connect to the Internet.

But taxpayer watchdogs say the government doesn’t belong in show business.

“The point of broadband was to create access and create the infrastructure for communities that do not have access,” said Ryan Alexander, president of the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense. “Creating content wouldn’t be what people in Congress thought of when voting on this

Considering that neither Billy Dee Williams nor Robert Townsend are what you could call struggling artists, I’m not quite sure how nonsense like this is justified. It’s not a large amount of money, but I’m struggling to wonder which critical jobs were “created or saved” by this one.

H/T: Virginia Virtucon

FILED UNDER: Deficit and Debt, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Well, actually, Billy Dee Williams probably is considered a struggling actor if he’s been reduced to doing parodies of himself on Robot Chicken.

  2. Hey Norm says:

    pet·ty/ˈpetē/Adjective:
    1.Of little importance; trivial.
    2.(of behavior) Characterized by an undue concern for trivial matters, esp. in a small-minded or spiteful way.

    You look desperate, and petty, when you to link to a piece, from the hyper-partisan Washington Times, that has been bouncing around the inter-tubes for over a week. But I’m sure you feel satisfied. Congrats!!!

  3. Herb says:

    Considering that neither Billy Dee Williams nor Robert Townsend are what you could call struggling artists

    Hmmm…..I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that these guys are black, right?

  4. Hey Norm says:

    A quote that was not cut and pasted by our favorite cut and paster:

    “…The president of One Economy, David Saunier, said Thursday that the group spends most of the money from the $28.5 million grant on wiring people to the Internet and on educating them on broadband access. In grant documents, One Economy says overall the money will help train 235,000 people and result in 150,000 new subscribers in unserved and underserved communities…”

  5. @Hey Norm:

    Subsidized internet access is in which one of the Bill of Rights?

  6. legion says:

    Well, since Billy Dee isn’t the only person in Hollywood, one assumes that the existence of the production employed numerous people & created numerous jobs.
    What exactly is the problem?

  7. sam says:

    But taxpayer watchdogs say the government doesn’t belong in show business.

    Taxpayer watchdogs badly misunderstand the nature of democratic politics in the age of mass media. Hell, any age. See Aristophanes.

  8. The government doesn’t belong in show business, Sam.

  9. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Billy Dee was awesome in those old Colt ’45 malt liquor commercials.

  10. Herb says:

    @Doug Mataconis: It may not be in the Bill of Rights, but it’s in the “How to Participate in the Global Economy” handbook. It’s also been official US policy since the Telecom Act of 96. Look up the Universal Service Fund.

    The government doesn’t belong in show business, Sam.

    Yeah, but they’re in it anyway. From the Feds on down. Now whether things “ought” to be that way….that’s debatable. But since we’re not talking about a perfect government in a perfect world, but rather the government as it exists, you’re going to need a better reason to criticize this.

  11. Linton says:

    Maybe we should punish Billy Dee and his friends for this waste of taxpayer money by freezing them in carbonite like his man Han Solo. And that way we could also preserve his awesomeness for future generations that will never have heard of Colt 45.

  12. legion says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Wrong. Show business is still business – it still hires people, and it still contributes to our economy.

    Here’s what happened, Doug: Some people used stimulus money to start a project they might not have otherwise been able to afford to do. They hired people, and did what they intended to do – in fact, it sounds rather successful. Then the Times, or some set of eyeballs on the right side of the aisle, noticed this, and decided they didn’t like the some of the specific people who got work from the project. So they wrote an article demonizing and belittling it. And you repeated it, complete with derisive sneering.

    This is not a failure, Doug – it’s what a successful stimulus program looks like. But you bought the propaganda, hook, line, and sinker – “upstanding, worthwhile Amurricans don’t get Hollywood jobs!”

    You got played, Doug. You got used like a tool.

  13. DRS says:

    Isn’t the entertainment business – movies, music, gaming – one of the few where America still predominates?

  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Doug, give up. In your world, gov’ts should do nothing. In the real world, that is not an option, so gov’ts try to act for the betterment of all….

    However imperfectly, hopefully, it does.

    In the real world, tens of thousands of auto workers are still working. In your world? They would have been better off thru “creative destruction”.

    I, as one who is suffering thru the “creative destruction” altar you worship at, (Wall Street destroyed my industry)(construction)(at the worst possible time for me) will take the real world solutions. Not the “Free Market Fairy Tales” you offer up.

  15. Leonhardt says:

    @Herb: I knew nothing about Townsend. I just know that actors and movie producers should not get government money.

  16. An Interested Party says:

    Subsidized internet access is in which one of the Bill of Rights?

    In the same place where Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are mentioned…oh wait, you probably think those programs are unconstitutional too…

  17. sam says:

    @Leonhardt:

    I just know that actors and movie producers should not get government money.

    And how do you “know” that? Specific argument, please. Not some typical libertarian armwaving bullshit.

  18. DRS says:

    Why shouldn’t they? As I mentioned above, this is one of the few industries remaining where America is still a world-leader. The entertainment business – which now includes gaming and on-line sites – is as legitimate a recipient as the oil business.

    Of course, the largest industrial recipient of government funding is the defense industry…

  19. Herb says:

    @Leonhardt:

    “I just know that actors and movie producers should not get government money.”

    Well, that’s nice. But half the films you see wouldn’t have been produced without some kind of tax incentive from the local film commission. And if the local film commission’s deal isn’t sweet enough, there’s always Eastern Europe or Canada, ready and willing to provide tax incentives and funding guarantees. Such is the nature of the international film market.

  20. john personna says:

    This is a neat little topic that lets me be the moderate. I disagree with Doug that broad internet access is an improper goal. It is obviously, by now, vital infrastructure. It matters more in 2011 than freeway construction. Actually, in 2011 it is smarter than freeway construction.

    But, obviously funding internet productions to spur demand is a BS justification. There is wall-to-wall content, ranging from the sublime to the nasty.

    When lefties defend this production they are really doing two things. They are defending the role of government as employer of last resort, but they are also favoring favoritism to “aligned groups.” I don’t think those defenses are particularly strong, for “Diary of a Single Mom.” They are actually a bit off-putting.

    On the subject of “other people subsidize productions” … that’s the problem, not the solution. A race to the bottom benefits no one.

  21. Herb says:

    @john personna: “They are defending the role of government as employer of last resort, but they are also favoring favoritism to “aligned groups.” ”

    And yet no one here is actually making those arguments. Indeed, no one is actually making any arguments that this was a good use of stimulus money. At first glance, it doesn’t appear to be, but I need more information.

    But then again, I’m coming at this from a practical level. The Commerce Dept has a contract with a company to promote broadband access. They could easily spend $1.5 million on mailers or billboards or advertising on buses and in newspapers. Or they could try something unique and different: a web series. And hey, let’s hire a professional filmmaker to do it…

    A waste of taxpayer money? Maybe….but if it is, it should be decided on the merits.

    Not some knee-jerk ideological response like “The government shouldn’t be involved in film production” or “The stimulus was a waste of money.”

    As for the “race to the bottom” stuff….yes, that’s true. But it’s the reality of the film production business and has been for decades. It reduces production costs and increases profit potential. From a business perspective, it makes sense to seek those deals out. For a country (or even a US state) with a nascent film production industry, it makes sense to offer them.

  22. john personna says:

    @Herb:

    We aren’t that far apart then.

    FWIW, the easy way to spend $1.5M on broadband access would be to set up a little free municipal WiFi.

    Perhaps local cable prefers that Billy Dee get the money instead!