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TV content unfit, but demands swing pendulumcomment (0)

January 1, 2004

Thirty years ago, Americans spent their nights watching television shows such as “The Waltons,” “Happy Days” and “The Six-Million-Dollar Man” — veritable family affairs. Cable had just arrived on the scene — offering the unheard of capacity of 35 channels. And about half of the television sets in use were still black and white.

What a difference three decades makes.

During the month of December — the first “sweeps” period of the new television season — there is nothing family friendly about much of what dances across the dial. Cable and satellite systems offer as many as 400 channels — from cooking networks to round-the-clock pornography.

Every television set is not only color, much of what it receives is off-color: sexually explicit, violent and loaded with coarse language.

There’s CBS’ “CSI,” the most-watched show in America, which routinely shows computer-generated images of bullets cutting through and knives plunging into victims’ bodies; NBC’s “Las Vegas,” which glorifies sex and the “city of sin;” and ABC’s “It’s All Relative,” which pushes the normalization of homosexuality through comedy, using a buffoonish main character who can’t muster much tolerance for a “married” gay couple.

Worse could come

It is Melissa Caldwell’s job as director of research and publications for the Parents’ Television Council, to be concerned about all this.

What concerns Caldwell more than anything isn’t what’s being broadcast today, but what will likely be broadcast in the next few years.

“You get to a certain point where viewers become inured to certain kinds of content, and so, in order to elicit the same reaction, they keep pushing the envelope,” Caldwell said.

“If you asked someone in the entertainment industry, they would tell you that is what viewers are interested in,” said Caldwell. “[Network officials say they] have to compete with pay cable.”

A decade ago, she added, viewers would have been offended by a mild profanity on network television; over time, though, the offense has worn off and networks have continued to introduce new, more profane words.

One of the more disturbing trends in modern television — sexuality, violence and language aside — is the medium’s status as the No. 1 vehicle for promoting and glorifying the homosexual lifestyle. Witness the enormous success of this summer’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” on the Bravo cable channel, a makeover series that features five gay men coming to the style-rescue of hapless heterosexual men. The show was such a hit that Bravo’s sister station, NBC, broadcast several episodes.

Given how networks have been quick to import pay cable’s more intense violence and sexuality to primetime, is it only a matter of time until more explicit depictions of homosexuality wind up on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and UPN? That depends on whom you ask.

Caldwell says recent evidence — such as the cancellation of two envelope-pushing new series expected to be big hits — offers hope for pro-family forces.

“I think we are beginning to see a backlash against this trend toward raunchier and raunchier programming,” she said. “ ‘Coupling’ (a racy NBC sitcom featuring a bisexual character) was supposed to be the hit show for the year on NBC, and it turned into a huge failure. ‘Skin’ (a Fox series about a pornographer and the district attorney bent on shutting him down) was heavily promoted and Fox had a lot of hope that it would be successful for them.” That show was canceled too.

Compare those failures, Caldwell said, with the success ABC has had so far in the new season. “Overall,” she said, “they are much more family-friendly than what you see on the other networks.”

Caldwell points out, though, that while it’s important to contact the networks with your views, advertisers are the real targets, because if they back out it hurts a network where it counts — the pocketbook.

“If there is a line being drawn on TV about what gets on TV and what doesn’t, the line is being drawn by advertisers,” she said. “We feel it’s very important for people who have concerns about program content to contact TV sponsors and let them know what their concerns are.” Voicing those concerns may just be the first step in seeing a change in primetime TV. (EP)

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