27 March 2008

Me, the PTC, and CBS's [whitewashed] "Dexter"

So it's been 3 weeks since the last blog here huh? Well, i've been spending these 3 weeks forgetting about my blog in favor of improving my studies and doing other things. Maybe I spend too much time editing Wikipedia and other stuff that I forget about this. But oh well. I read other blogs too, so it's a bit hard for me to forget about mine...someone asked about it and then I quickly realised (on a rough draft Notepad TXT file on my computer) that I owe y'all an entry about the Parents Television Council and my experiences watching Dexter...the whitewashed version on the CBS network due to the fact I have never had cable in my whole darn life. Here, where I live, CBS (KPIX, channel 5) airs Dexter every sunday night at 10:00 PM local time (Pacific time by the way)

Oh, and regarding the PTC, one concern I have is their vendetta against CBS for showing an [edited] version of the Showtime cable channel show Dexter. It hasn't been the first time a show has been presented from premium cable to broadcast. For example, [censored] Sex and the City reruns are shown on local TV station KRON 4 weeknights at 11:30PM and Sundays 10PM...due to FCC regulations over indecency (which can be shown only 10PM-6AM to avoid fines). CBS has shown Showtime's Brotherhood once on CBS edited to TV-14-LV (the original is TV-MA on Showtime). Ditto for Dexter, according to CBS.com, it was edited down from TV-MA to TV-14-LV. That the PTC dislikes:

"Despite repeated public promises for responsible edits and accurate ratings guidelines for parents, CBS elected to assign this graphic program with an adult storyline a TV-14 rating, meaning that CBS decided that the show would be appropriate for children as young as 14 years of age. The show was supposedly edited for broadcast television, although the show featured the main character, Dexter, shown with a victim taped to a medical-style table, cutting the man with a scalpel and then approaching his head with an electric saw. A few other lowlights include Dexter shown covered in blood, lining up severed body parts on a table, and Dexter driving his car while the severed head of a woman hits the car and rolls into the street.

"“Despite countless public calls for restraint and corporate responsibility, CBS broke its own promise to the public that it would employ careful editing and accurate ratings guidelines for Dexter. Depictions of violence were barely altered from the Showtime Network original format. If, as CBS repeatedly promised, the program was targeted only to mature audiences, why wouldn’t they assign a mature audience rating of TV-MA? What could possibly lead them to determine that a show about a pathological serial killer ‘hero’ could be appropriate for 14-year old children? The only reason is corporate greed. CBS knows full well that advertisers would flee in droves if the program’s rating accurately reflected its content,” said PTC President Tim Winter."

All I can say is that based on my viewing experience of TV-14-V programs on the broadcast nets, Dexter is just a bit more violent than if not as violent as any other TV-14-V show you'll see on TV, like CSI on CBS, 24 on Fox, or Heroes on NBC. Yes, there were gruesome scenes with the buthcer knives and needles and all, but I've seen that type of violence on Heroes, which was shown even EARLIER than was Dexter (Mondays, 9:00 PM Eastern and Pacific; 8:00 central on NBC, before the darn writers strike). So where in the world was PTC when that occured? What about the older Sunday 10PM CBS program Shark? According to the PTC's own Christopher Gildemeister, author of the "TV Trends" column:

"...the September 23rd season premiere of CBS’ legal drama Shark showed more 'realistic' violence. In the episode, police find the severed head of a mobster on a chess table in a park. Blood oozes from the frayed edges of the man's severed neck, and a chess piece has been shoved in the gangster’s mouth.

Additionally, according to PTC's own Family Guide to Prime Time Television:

"Shark airs at 10:00 p.m. and has adult themes of murder and the circumstances surrounding crimes....In the premiere episode, S[h]ark handled a case involving a pop singer who video-taped sex with a friend and then murdered him when he did not want to make the tape public...Violence began as milder, but as the series progressed, it has been much more graphic. This season, depictions included a stabbing and a strangulation murder."

And compare that to PTC's just-released review of Dexter, regarding the violence there:

"As is expected, a series about a serial killer is extremely violent and grotesque. Dexter is depicted capturing his victims, tying them up, cutting their faces with scalpels, and in one incident, chopping a man up with a meat cleaver and stacking up dismembered body parts while covered in blood. Also, Dexter examines crime scenes that included two different dismembered bodies, huge amounts of blood spatter, and later he witnesses a killer tossing a severed head out of a moving vehicle. There is a killer Dexter and the police are tracking that leaves dismembered body parts all over Miami and these are shown in close up in every episode. The violence is very graphic and disturbing."

Although I don't watch Shark, my crime-TV diet including CSI, 24, Law & Order, and The Shield, I pretty much have the impression now that Shark is pretty much on the violence border near Dexter. So why hasn't PTC taken too much action against Shark then, given that both shows air at pretty much the same Sunday 10/9c timeslot?? Could it just be that Dexter is a product of a premium cable network (Showtime network actually)? Could it be that "Shark" is too critically acclaimed? Could it be that PTC members are secretly "Shark" fans? What? Hey hey, Bill Frost of Salt Lake City Weekly had this to say in response to PTC's apparant "Double standard": "[c]hildren — habitual fans of Shark at 9 p.m. [Mountain Time] Sundays, apparently — might be scarred by Dexter." (Should be noted that Salt Lake City, Utah is in the Mountain Time Zone of North America)

What's fascinating about the PTC's complaints is that they freely assert that TV-14 ain't strong enough. Wow. Seriously, I really question how many American parents are still concerned over their 14-year-old child's innocence. In 10th grade, I read JD Salinger's novel Catcher in the Rye tackling that same damn theme...the book got a fair bit of hot water over that when it first came out 'round the 50s. And regarding PTC, the "not appropriate for 14-year-olds" part has been applied not just to Dexter, but also to CSI: Miami (I haven't seen the episode in question so I can't really comment on that...but chances are it had the "S" and "V" descripters or whatever so the parents/viewers would've been extra warned about the content)

And then in October 2006 there was the PTC's campaign against NBC's long-running medical drama ER and the short-lived MyNetworkTV soap opera Desire - both being rated a flat TV-14 - over the use of profanities "tits" (ER) and "shit" (Desire), words they claim are inappropriate for 14-year-olds. To paraphrase Brent McKee, author of the blog I Am a Child of Television: "The mythical 14-year old child whose mind is irrevocably corrupted by this show is the main focus" of the PTC's anti-Dex campaign.

You got that right Brent. (Not Bozell of the PTC, but the author of the blog.) Even more hilarious, still PTC thinks that a TV-14 with added descriptors is still not strong enough. Take the episode of Without a Trace that caused CBS to be fined nearly $3 million back in March 2006. It's a pretty messy story. The episode originally aired 11/6/2003, 10PM (East/Pacific)/9PM (Central/Mtn), rated TV-14-LSV. PTC files a truckload of complaints against it, Viacom (then-owners of CBS network) pays the FCC a few $100,000's to dismiss their complaints. The episode reruns on CBS on 12/31/2004 (again the 10/9c timeslot and TV-14-LSV). About two weeks later into the new year of 2005, (actually on 1/12/2005), the PTC (and another "pro-family" group American Family Association) files an estimated 4,000 complaints in total. 3/15/2006 comes along, FCC fines CBS near $3 million, the biggest fine against a TV network to date...all by organizations whose complaints' legitimacy is at best questionable.

So let's get this straight. First off, PTC complains when it feels that "TV-14" isn't strong enough rating for a particular show (think CBS's whitewashed Dexter). And then when a TV-14 show has three of the four available descriptors to warn parents about objectionable content, PTC ignores the rating and complains about the show anyway since the show is "live bait" for a network to get fined, content ratings be damned. So now we all have a Parents Television Council with all sorts of bias and cherry-picking in its reporting. It is very important to approach the PTC's reports with an open mind, given their poor reputation for all its errors and bias, and of course their FCC complaint machines...recruiting "meatpuppets" to make it seem as though more and more Americans than ever are complaining about TV sleaze. In the future expect me to obliterate whatever quote-mining, fact selection, spin, distortion, fog, snow, haze, whatever the PTC spews out of its noise machine.