Family TV Window: Barely Open
by L. Brent Bozell III
Last year, when the television networks instituted a
content-based ratings system, the forces outraged by the offensive nature of
entertainment programming were stilled, if not entirely pleased.It's wakeup
time. Not only is the content on television worse than ever before, but the
networks also are purposely concealing this from parents.
I grew up in the heyday of television's family hour. In the
mid-1960s, early evening programming, which then began at 7:30 p.m., was
almost completely suitable for youngsters. Sure, there was occasional
non-graphic violence, on shows like "The Wild, Wild West," but racy
innuendo and certainly foul language were forbidden.
By the '80s, things had changed dramatically. Sexual morays
had changed and there was a lot more sex on the air. But still this growing
avalanche of smut was largely kept out of the family hour. Look at a few pre-9
o'clock entries from ten years ago: "Family Ties," "ALF,"
"Growing Pains," "Perfect Strangers," "The Cosby
Show," "Beauty and the Beast," "227." The series in
that time slot that occasionally touched on sexual themes ("Who's the
Boss?"; "Kate and Allie") were the exceptions.And today? These
days, the wholesome shows are clearly the exceptions at 8 and 8:30. A new
study from the Parents Television Council details the dishearteningly sordid
state of affairs in early prime time.
The study examined 128 family-hour episodes on 49 different
series on the broadcast networks. To me, the most striking finding was that
only 32 episodes - exactly 25 percent - included no objectionable content.
Meanwhile, 69 - 54 percent - contained at least one sexual reference, and 45 -
35 percent - contained at least one obscenity. When a viewer is more than
twice as likely to see a raunchy program as a clean one between 8 and 9 -
that, to quote Ross Perot, is just sad.
The plethora of sex, cheap sex, unconsequential cheap sex,
is again the salient problem. The study found, on average, more than two
sexual references per hour, but by no means were the networks equal in this
regard. ABC, primarily because of its Wednesday lineup of "Spin
City" and "Dharma and Greg," finished atop this lascivious heap
with 3.47 sexual references hourly. NBC, which a few years ago was a
trailblazer in the sexualizing of the 8 p.m. time slot when it scheduled adult
series such as "Friends" and "Mad About You," was second
Remember: This all takes place during the "family
hour," not in late night. Though NBC had to settle for the silver medal
in sex, it won the gold for foul language, averaging two obscenities per hour.
If you don't want your children barraged with "ass,"
"bitch," "bastard," "sucks," and the like,
there's only one solution left: turn off the Peacock network. (Overall, the
webs averaged 0.91 obscenities per family hour.)
A secondary family-hour scandal is the (mis)application of
the parental-guidance ratings. The original age-based system (TV-G, TV-PG, and
so forth), widely flayed for its vagueness, was supposedly improved in October
when the networks (save for NBC) began using content ratings as well - L to
indicate coarse language, D for sexually suggestive dialogue, S for sexual
situations, and V for violence.
A combination of age- and content-based ratings would do the
trick for parents, the industry promised. But that assumed the networks would
provide an honest appraisal of their product. Wrong assumption. Once again,
the ratings system has failed, and miserably so.
The PTC found that of the episodes containing foul language,
65 percent did not carry an L , and of shows with sexual innuendo, 76
percent did not carry a D. CBS, which overall is the most family-friendly
network, somehow neglected to place a D on any of its eight episodes that
included sexual innuendo.
It's simple dishonesty: The networks are demanding that
parents become more involved in their children's viewing habits, promising a
system that will help them make the right choices, but then giving them false
information on which to base those choices.
Now listen to some of the vulgar voices of the "family
hour." The title character of NBC's "Suddenly Susan" admits her
hunky boyfriend, an aspiring actor, doesn't have much talent, but adds,
"When I picture him naked, somehow that doesn't seem quite so
important." The title character of Fox's "King of the Hill"
tells his lawyer, "Maybe I oughta tie that long hair on your head to the
short hair on your ass and kick you down the street." On CBS's "The
Nanny," the title character reaches into a man's front pocket to remove
his wallet; the man murmurs, "Oooh, I'm getting lucky."
In 2008, my youngest son will be eleven. Will there be
anything left for him to watch?
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