13 September 2008

What's going on at the Parents Television Council? (Sept. 13, 2008)

Turning now to the mainstream TV viewer's all-time bete noire: the Parents Television Council. (Brent McKee used to write a semi-weekly column "Who Does the PTC Hate THIS Week?" on his blog I Am A Child of Television, but that column hasn't been written since mid-August, and right now he's focusing on the fall 2008 premieres, so I shall do the business for now until further notice.) Their lead headline as of the time I'm writing this up? "NBC Airs Unbleeped S-Word on Today Show" Holy cow! I took a deep breath and opened up the link, which explained that on the Thur., Sept. 11 edition of the show guest Hans Lange used the S-word uncensored, and Matt Lauer laughed but did not apologize. Lange recently made headlines in the US for surviving a malfunctioned BASE jump. The expletive was shown unbleeped only on the East Coast; everywhere else in the US it was edited out (since the morning shows are usually shown on tape delay in the West unless there's a breaking news story, say for instance the recent Hurricanes Gustav and Ike). The video in question can be seen below but is excised of the profanity.

I happened to be watching the "preview" of the Lange interview that morning but had to leave for school before it came on! Dang, I missed a funny event in morning show history! But oh well since I live in the Western US and wouldn't have heard the profanity anyways. That's the third time this year uncensored profanity made it on morning shows: On the Jan. 15 Good Morning America (ABC): Diane Keaton dropped the four-letter F-word, and on the Feb. 14 Today (NBC), Jane Fonda dropped the C-word that rhymes with a certain word used to describe, err, an action that would be executed in searching for animals for food.

Now I can understand why parents would be concerned over the morning shows - PTC has primarily been concerned with primetime programs - because what if they had those shows on while the kids were having breakfast/preparing for school? In the cases of Keaton and Fonda, their interviews came on around 8:20 AM (Eastern Time); most K-12 schools begin the day around 8-8:30 AM so I do find some reason to be concerned. And Lange's interview had the profanity on about "7:37 AM [Eastern]" as PTC estimated - kids wouldn't be in school yet so there is reason for concern. PTC has filed complaints with FCC for all three profanity incidents, but the thing is that if FCC does decide to fine ABC and NBC then the fines will be small - say around $1 million since it covers all the Owned and Operated stations in the Eastern Time Zone - as compared to the whole nation.

The "Worst Show of the Week" was a rather unexpected one, much like McCain picking Palin, the ABC special America United: In Support of Our Troops. The reviewer acknowledged so and admitted freely that the program was rated "TV-14-DL" - due to vulgar performances by not-so-family-friendly celebs like Snoop Dogg, DL Hughley, and Kathy Griffin. It seemed disappointing that this special was supposed to be a moment of unity yet "not everyone could enjoy the show". But then PTC reviewer extends concerns to the kids attending the live audience of the program and uses them as evidence to claim that the program was supposed to be family-friendly. America United was Worst this week because of "targeting families without delivering family-friendly content". That's the same argument PTC uses when condemning such "smut" as Family Guy and Two and a Half Men - the former being animated and starring a family as lead characters and the latter starring a child as a main character and both often being rated "TV-14-DL".

Yet on their weekly "Misrated" report targeting the CW's Gossip Girl, whose first season I've actively followed & enjoyed (esp. Leighton Meester) but whose second season I haven't been able to watch due to problems with receiving the local CW station in my home. Although the CW rated the episode "TV-14-DL" as had ABC with America United, PTC made absolutely no suggestion that Gossip Girl was "intended for families" despite the lead characters of the show being high-schoolers - meaning they'd be minors by age, like the characters of Family Guy and Two and a Half Men. Based on several sex scenes in the episode, PTC believed that the show should've been rated "TV-14-DLS", due to scene of Dan and Blair making out in a bus bathroom and Nate having sex with a 40-year-old woman. Sure, PTC is worried about parents of teenagers whose pure minds have been burned down by watching this episode, but I have another question. Why would parents of teens set up the V-Chip so that teens can hear suggestive dialogue and coarse language at the TV-14 level but not sexual behaviour at the TV-14 level? I mean, the D and L descriptors also warn of sexual content in the verbal sense - as there do exist colloquial English language expressions implying such evils. This "descriptor-harvesting" argument has been used by PTC countless other instances without much thought. What's even funnier? PTC's mainpage for "So You Think You Can Rate a TV Show?" (official title for its Misrated column) has blatant typographical errors in some spots, such as considering a Grey's Anatomy episode to be rated "PG-14" (even in the review itself), and right beneath that lies a "TV-14" graphic in the description for a Misrated ep of Dancing with the Stars that they affirm is actually rated "TV-PG". So flippin' hilarious for an organizaion that claims to be experts on how corrupt the TV Parental Guidelines rating system is.

The "Worst Cable TV Show of the Week" column resumed sometime in August after a seven-month-long hiatus. The previous two columns dealt with Saving Grace (TNT) and The Shield (FX). This week's confronts the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards, solely based on Russell Brand's controversial jokes over "purity rings" worn by Jordin Sparks and The Jonas Brothers to indicate sexual abstinence. That, the most recent "TV Trends" column "Cable Continues Its Downward Crawl", and the July 11 TV Trends column "BET: Bad Entertainment for Teens" show the PTC's heavily biased, one-sided reporting on cable TV. While PTC has been spending most homepage space on hunting down the demons of indecency, nowhere has PTC ever commented on some rather "decent" moves that networks have made:
- MTV hasn't shown Sucker Free, a program that PTC included in its April 2008 rap music video study, since mid-June 2008
- Brand did apologize for the purity ring joke, and it doesn't matter to the PTC if "clean" music videos like Chris Brown's "With You", Linkin Park's "Shadow of the Day", Gnarls Barkley's "Run", and Erykah Badu's "Honey" were winners. Everybody run, a comedian just promoted SEX to teens! (Like anyone over 13 doesn't know the human reproductive system yet.)
- BET has shown Diff'rent Strokes for much of the time before August 2008 and has picked up the former WB sitcom Smart Guy, which PTC ranked among the Best TV Shows of the 97-98 and 98-99 seasons, for syndication. According to the BET website, Smart Guy began airing Mondays 5 and 5:30 PM (Eastern and Pacific) Sept. 8, moving Rap City (also included in PTC's rap study) up to 3PM. And never mind that Smart Guy once was syndicated on the Disney Channel, which got the PTC Seal of approval in July 2007.
- If TNT is such a sleazy network for Saving Grace and countless Law & Order and Without a Trace reruns, has PTC forgotten about its own review for TNT original film The Ron Clark Story, TNT's annual showing of The Wizard of Oz, or ongoing sports events?
It seems that PTC covers certain cable channels only for the "sleaze" they deliver. Once a certain channel carries an evil, red-lighted shows (even at 10PM), it doesn't matter if the channel shows "cleaner" shows other hours - the case of FX, which shows reruns of The Bernie Mac Show, King of the Hill, and Malcolm in the Middle (all of which PTC has rated "yellow" in their traffic light rating system) during the daytime, or Spike, with its Star Trek: Voyager reruns late afternoons. PTC has left the one-sided impression that those channels are all-day smut peddlers, as it's taken extensive action against FX's The Shield and labelled Spike programs MANswers and movie presentation of Sin City as "worst cable shows of the week". (Surprisingly, PTC hasn't commented about Spike's heavy reruns of CSI!)

I do support PTC's efforts to push for "cable choice" - although I don't have cable, if I did, I'd love the luxury of being able to pick-and-choose! But things do look fishy when you have an influential organization that's complained to the FCC like an angry mob to influence broadcasting law.

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