Electronic Media
September 6, 1999

Group bashes TV sex, sleaze
PTC study cites Fox, NBC as the worst offenders

By Daniel Frankel
Staff Reporter

LOS ANGELES — The steady drumbeat of criticism of television sex and violence continued last week with the release of a new study claiming "objectionable" material aired in the old "family hour" has increased 75 percent in the last year and a half.

The Parents Television Council, a conservative watchdog organization, released another one of its quantitative studies, "The Family Hour: Worse Than Ever and Headed for New Lows," which monitored the 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. time period during the May sweeps.

According to the parents Television Council, "foul language, references to sexual activity and depictions of violence" during the time period rose significantly over a similar period 18 months earlier.

"Standards for broadcast television are in free fall," said PTC Chairman Brent Bozell. "Network television is dramatically more foul-mouthed, sex-filled and violent."

Fox is the worst offender, the PTC claimed, averaging 11 objectionable references per prime-time hour, with 100 percent of its family-hour shows registering at least one element of sex, violence or naughty words. NBC was second worse, according to the study, averaging 9.63 instances per hour.

More than two-thirds of shows in the 8 p.m. - 9 p.m. time slot contained references to sex, the study added, and there was an average of 1.44 instances of foul language use per hour (excluding the use of milder curses, including "damn," PTC officials said. That's a 58 percent jump.

Mr. Bozell targeted specific programs, calling UPN's "WWF Smackdown!" wrestling program as "one of the most violent shows ever put on broadcast television" and lamenting that it recently drew more than 2 million pre-adolescent viewers.

Mr. Bozell also took aim at the growing stable of teen-oriented programs - nothing new here, because, in July, the PTC listed "Dawson's Creek" as the least "family-friendly" show on television.

"[WB CEO] Jamie Kellner will make an argument that 'Dawson's Creek' reflects reality," Mr. Bozell said. "Well, in reality, teachers who sleep with their students go to jail. There are no consequences to illicit sex. You'll never see anyone on these shows get AIDS, or get pregnant."

Bozell also disagrees with programmers who say they're only presenting what the public wants, pointing to the popularity of shows like "Touched By an Angel" and "Seventh Heaven."

The "free fall" won't end, Mr. Bozell added, "until the industry shapes up, sponsors shape up and society shapes up."

There are those in the television industry who seem to be working on it. Children's TV creator DIC Entertainment (producer of the Emmy-winning "Where in the World is Carmenr Sandiego?" as well as a number of Pax TV kids shows) plans to reconvene its "Children's Media Summit: Developing Guidelines for Creative Professional" in Los Angeles on Sept. 15 and 16.

The summit, co-sponsored by the media advocacy organization Mediascope, will bring together an assortment of children's TV programmers, academic types and new media deelopers, and hopes to set up a voluntary set of guidelines for developing content for kids.

The event will also serve as a follow-up to a similar conference sponsored by DIC in 1994.

But this time the focus will be on the Internet, video games and interactive programs for kids.

And the issues between TV and interactive programming can be quite different. For example, it may be one thing to passively watch an anvil being dropped on a character's head. It could be something quite different to actively push a video game button that drops that anvil on the character's head.

"Convergence, I think, is finally upon us," said DIC Executive Vice President Robbie London. "I get called every day by Internet companies looking for our content. Suddenly, our content is no longer limited just to television. It's being exploited in a broad landscape of media. We need to examine what we've done in light of these broader implications."

On the programming organization side, this event will call together many of the same participants who attended in 1994. Among them, Kids WB Senior Vice President Donna Friedman, Lee Gaither, Vice President of Saturday morning and family programming for NBC, and Jonathan Brazilay, Senior Vice President and general manager of children's programming for Disney-ABC Television.

And, like 1994, there will be an academic presence: representatives from UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Stanford's School of Communications have RSVP-ed.

What's new, though, will be the attendance of new media company execs. Mr. London says representatives from video game maker Sega are booked, and he's in talks with several other interactive entertainment companies to join in, as well.

Also, the Entertainment Industries Coincil is assembling entertainment industry executives in November to discuss the depiction of guns in film and television. The idea is to create a commitment to curb gun violence and create a more accurate portrayal of proper gun use and parental responsibility.

Said EIC President and CEO Brian Dyak, "The entertainment industry can help build in the public's mind, and in the minds of public policy makers, that there are strategies that can be implemented to prevent gun violence."