Saw this post on deborahb's LJ and wrote this reply. It's so long I thought rather than filling her page with it, I'd stick it here...
This is why I love your LJ. You have a gorgeous brain!
Art in all its forms affects people. It can move, anger, arouse, belittle, enlighten... Love it or hate it, it makes you think. As a reasonably intelligent TV viewer, I find the telly rarely reaches the level of art these days. It works on appealing to the masses and it does that by 'entertaining'.
Many people come home from work, switch off their brains and watch TV. These folks are average and have a reasonable ability to understand fact from fiction, but they don't want to be challenged after a hard day, they want to relax. They aren't stupid, but that said, many of them can easily be convinced that what they are dealing with is actually fact.
Hopping mediums for a moment, The Da Vinci Code is a classic example, with people all over the world reading the book as factual and talking in hushed tones about the secrets that it's uncovered.
The problem with TV is it has such a broad reach. In a country like the US, with a population well over two hundred million, a fair number of the people watching will have mental or emotional problems, will have an inability to properly discern fantasy from reality. Given that there are average citizens that have this problem as well, you have to decide at what point you need to make the difference between fantasy and reality clear.
We live in a world where people will scream abuse at an actor because their character in a soap opera is a baddie. Malcolm McDowell received death threats because he killed Captain Kirk! So feeling the need to remind people that most Muslims are just like the rest of us and that only a very small number will ever be 'evil terrorist types' probably makes some internal moral sense. A disclaimer so you don't need to feel you're adding to the problem.
Of course you could just make a show where Muslims living in America are all nice people who are shocked and horrified by the actions of a few of their number and are now dealing with the fear and distrust of their neighbours in the aftermath, but it isn't going to be a popular hit so you don't make that.
Personally I'm against dumbing down things for the audience. Don't talk down to their level, try to raise them to yours, beyond yours, try to make the world a better place that way, rather than apologising after the fact by saying 'oh and it's all fantasy, ok?'
Even with that warning, there will be people using the fiction of the TV show to back up their skewed world view. All Muslims are evil, all Jews are money-hungry, all French are promiscuous.
That said, I don't mind laziness with the choices made in a fiction, if the rest of the fiction is doing something interesting. Sometimes having a stereotype that everyone recognises means that you don't have to waste time and energy on establishing those elements and can instead concentrate on the really interesting / different / challenging / cool stuff.
And sometimes, I can't help but love a film like Starship Troopers.