11 October 2008

What's going on at the Parents Television Council? - 12 Oct 2008

To be honest, nothing much really except the weekly regulars, as the PTC's front-page press release index still expresses complaints about the 25 September episode of Survivor: Gabon with the hidden private part. But anyhow...(these were all written on 10 October 2008)
- Best Show of the Week: America's Got Talent (NBC)
- Worst Show of the Week: Bones (Fox) (not to be surprising; any crime drama will always wind up on PTC's worst section)
- Worst Cable Content of the Week: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
- Misrated: N/A (still not updated as of 12 September - looks like the networks are properly rating their shows!)
- TV Trends: "The Fall 2008 Season: Teens Having Sex"

Now the Best Show of the Week pick - being NBC's America's Got Talent was pretty surprising given that the show was a topic of two Worst of the Week reviews in the past (7 July 2006 and 9 August 2006) when the more "family-oriented" Regis Philbin was host. In 2007, talk show host Jerry Springer (who most of us know as the host of that controversial daytime trash talk show) came in as host. PTC didn't comment on that for 2007; 2008 comes with the third season, Springer again hosts. PTC discusses AGT in TV Trends columns (27 June 2008, 17 July 2008 and 25 July 2008) before this "Best of the Week" review, which mentions only the positive, and not negative, aspects of the show that PTC sees. I find this as an example of how PTC knows that TV shows can be a bit off-colour yet still be "family-friendly". Another example of this attitude is with ABC's Dancing With the Stars, whose 2007-2008 season finale was the Best Show of the Week just over a month after PTC put up an episode of the series as "misrated" for being "TV-PG" sans an "L" for some bleeped language.

Moving on to PTC's "Worst Show" review of Fox crime drama Bones, a show I don't watch as I prefer CBS's Cold Case, Criminal Minds, and CSI, and NBC's Law & Order. Personally I don't know how Bones is conceptually different from CSI, but if you'd like to clarify me feel free to drop me a comment and I'll think about it. Just browse through PTC's Best/Worst shows list and notice that a lot of crime dramas and medical shows get recognised for the graphic violence and other abysmal content. In this case, the reviewer asserts: "Admittedly, the rest of the show is relatively tame, but it should be noted that the series’ goriest material consistently airs at the beginning of the Family Hour." Sorry, the Family Hour is simply the product of opinion; factually the concept has been dormant for over 30 years now, and new technology like the V-Chip can block bad shows like Bones if parents don't want their kids to see that kind of show. At the end of the review, the reviewer devotes a whole paragraph to the FCC's lack of oversight over TV violence and complains that parents can't really prevent kids from seeing this show while channel-surfing. Well, that's why you look up the darn TV listings (on sites like TVGuide.com, Zap2It.com, network webpages, or your local newspaper) or set your V-Chip to block all TV-14 shows or whatever - in fact the Fox network website maintains a list of all ratings for Bones episodes seasons 1-3 (these are links to popup window pages for the old schedule format from Fox.com; the newer schedule format no longer uses this format.) But I found this press release that puts up a "TV-14-DL" rating for the episode, so I think most kids under 14 whose parents properly set up the V-Chip are safe.

PTC has tackled the issue of a "TV-14-DL" rating for Bones before; that was back in December 2007 because PTC believes that graphic imagery itself = violence. But the truth is that the V descriptor is really for violent actions not consequential images! Today I was just watching a recorded copy of a CSI: Miami episode ("Miami Confidential") that was "TV-14-DLV" and had several scenes of violence (as most CSI episodes do) to demonstrate what the criminals allegedly did and in context of police tracking down suspect. THESE are the perfect examples of rating TV shows, as PTC asks the question "So You Think You Can Rate a TV Show?"

Moving on to the Cable Worst review for the FX comedy It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - a show I'm not too familiar with, so I won't go too deep here. PTC makes a good case for cable choice: the renewal of the series. "This past summer, FX announced that it had bought three more 13-episode seasons of Sunny beyond the current fourth, thus ensuring that the show will continue to take the most vulgar terms and turn them into storylines." But readers and parents should also note that Dirt and The Riches - both among FX's line of "edgy" TV-MA late-night dramas too risky for Fox - both got cancelled due to ratings and production troubles (especially due to the writers' strike) so I'd think twice about whether my cable bill would be subsidizing "everything" on FX. By the way, two - TWO - PTC "Seal of Approval"-winning films are to be shown on FX in coming days! Invincible, a 2006 film based on the beginning of Vince Papale's career with the Philadlephia Eagles, is to be shown Tuesday the 14th at 7:30 PM and the next day at 5:00 PM (Eastern/Pacific time, check local listings) on FX; Radio, another "football movie", is on Monday the 13th at 9PM and the next day 4:30PM. For some reason, PTC seldom reports on its "Seal of Approval" programmes shown on FX or other networks (last year FX dedicated all Thanksgiving Day to family films - and PTC was dreadfully silent). Don't forget that The Bernie Mac Show, King of the Hill, and Malcolm in the Middle are all relatively clean TV-PG sitcoms shown frequently in weekday daytime hours on FX.

Which brings me to PTC's continued silence on the cancellation of BET's Rap City (see update #2 below) or BET's syndication of Smart Guy, a show that's been on PTC's "Best Shows of the Year" list in the past. Why is it that PTC almost always is quick to report on the negatives on the cable networks yet ignores the positive (even Seal of Approval!) programming on the networks? If PTC could get more families to watch Radio or Invincible on FX maybe that'll encourage FX to lean more towards family audiences. But making sure that FX continues to schedule the usual TV-MA raunch during the 10PM hour (when it's really really hard for young children to watch) is part of PTC's strategy to put more power in the cable consumer's wallets from the Big Media. That's why parents shouldn't rely on PTC as their sole guide for TV - look up shows on the TV listings, for crying out loud! That's how I knew that FX would be showing those movies - I keep tabs on the local cable company listings on my Zap2It account even though I personally don't have cable myself, to fact-check on the PTC's biased coverage of cable TV.

And finally, to this week's TV Trends article "The Fall 2008 Season: Teens Having Sex". Programs in question include: the 15 September episode of CW's 90210 (back in 1997 PTC picked the original Fox version as among the worst shows of the year) that had the infamous "oral sex in the car" scene. That episode was rated "TV-14-DLS"; I watched the first few minutes of the show, and the scene itself, and I question if it directly implied the girl had her mouth on the boy's crotch. Then there are scenes from CW's Gossip Girl and Privileged and ABC's Private Practice (spinoff of the network's Grey's Anatomy) that seem to glorify teen sex. To demonstrate the perceived bias of Hollywood in favour of sex, the author states: "Of course, to Hollywood, sex is an activity to be indulged in without the slightest thought, and it never, ever has negative consequences. Now added to this longtime perspective is a seemingly an organized agenda on the part of the entertainment industry to convince viewers that 14-year-olds are adults, fully competent to make adult decisions about drinking, using drugs and having sexual relationships…and that the most “responsible” way of helping teens be happy is to urge them to use condoms, rather than abstaining from sexual activity for which they are not ready."

In other words, to Hollywood, abstaining from sex is uncool and boo-worthy. The author concludes: "Hollywood’s producers would no doubt hide behind the excuse that this is 'just a TV show,' and that what they show has no influence whatsoever on their teen viewers. But when top fashion designers compete to have their clothing seen on Gossip Girl, and when corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars on TV commercials aimed at children and teens, such an argument seems spurious at best. TV does not force teens to engage in sexual activity; but by portraying such activity as normal and even exciting, it is definitely encouraging teens to make decisions they may regret." Yep, I've heard the "family values" people argue about TV being able to influence the kids' worldviews. But then: that's why parents talk to their kids about sex, and schools educate about protection! Here's my challenge: How can teens "regret" having sex if they've used protection and thus have less consequences? And isn't abstinence an all-too-obvious choice that the Family Values Right has been advancing way too far by spreading blatant misinformation about?

Before I leave I'd like to quickly mention that the PTC hasn't found a "misrated" TV show since Gossip Girl back in mid-September. Obviously that might mean that every TV show on since then has been properly rated. In fact, Fox network Standards & Practices seems to be reading from the PTC's playbook: The first two episodes of the new season were both "TV-14-DLSV", and the season premiere of The Simpsons was "TV-14-DLSV" (although that's a rating normally reserved for the Treehouse of Horror shows, but this episode was not). I wonder how long the PTC will continue to slack on that column, just as it did for much of 2008 with the Worst Cable Content reviews.

Follow-up (12 Oct): I just happened to realise that PTC does have "weekly picks" of the most family-friendly programmes on cable television. For the 13th and 14th I see no sign of Invincible or Radio, but for some reason PTC finds the contemporary romantic comedy You've Got Mail on ABC Family to be more "Family-friendly" than Radio on FX - is it because you don't want families' eyes to be on the same channel that produces Sons of Anarchy?

Follow-up 2: Actually the PTC issued statement to the news but for some reason not on its own website, to The Washington Times for instance. The PTC and other groups like Industry Ears/Enough is Enough issued the statement jointly - I apologise for my mistake.

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