[Showtime] has given a pilot order for a new drama called “Possible Side Effects,” which was written and directed by Tim Robbins. And what’s it about? The hour-long project centers on a family that runs a pharmaceutical company … the show will examine the political, scientific and bureaucratic machinery that makes up the pharmaceutical industry. To get picked up, that first episode ought to be quite thrilling. Just imagine all the intrigue – clinical trial data about side effects that go undisclosed; inappropriate marketing to docs, who get free lunches; lab decisions made by marketing execs seeking blockbusters; huge lobbying fees paid to former US congressmen who now work for DC law firms; prices that are increased at least 10 percent a year automatically, and $50 million in annual compensation for the ceo, unless this is a privately held company. That would be disappointing. Then Wall Street wouldn’t be involved. All this is imaginary, of course. We’ve not seen the episode and have no idea what Robbins has in mind. But sensationalism and simplification may just crop up. After all, what industry is more vulnerable to such portrayal these days than big pharma?
To Ed’s last point I would simply reply: The creation of villains in American politics today depends entirely on sensationalism and simplification. Anyone with a brain can look at how the pharma business works today and see that big changes are needed and big abuses need to be curbed. However, unless the problem is simplified and sensationalized — and Big Pharma sufficiently villainized as a result — the American public will never mobilize to force change. That’s a big reason why our failed system has mired in stagnation for so long. In other words: You go, Tim!