18 August 2009

James Poniewozik and reruns pwned PTC? (updated)

This just came up on my RSS reader where I keep track of the Parents Television Council on Google News. It's a blog entry by Time magazine critic James Poniewoznik, who penned a lengthy profile of the PTC for the magazine in 2005. Poniewoznik responds to the PTC's criticism of AMC's new drama Mad Men, a show about a New York City advertising agency in the 1960s. Apparently that's part of PTC's series "So You Think You Can Rate a TV Show?", in which its entertainment analysts challenge the networks' usage of the TV Parental Guidelines. (Have you seen how the networks, except CBS, repeatedly flash those ratings at the beginning of each show and after each commercial break? Notice how Viacom-owned networks like Comedy Central and MTV have 'em uber big at the beginning? And that Fox actually plasters an XXL sized ratings box during "Viewer Discretion Advised" cards? Creepy.)

OK, enough with the off-topic ramble, but I wonder how Mr. Poniewoznik got the PTC's review when it's not even listed anywhere? Google "mad men" within the parentstv.org website (as of right now there's only one irrelevant result. PTC complains that the episode of Mad Men, which was rated TV-14-LS (unsuitable for children under 14 because of language and sexual content) contained such content more suitable for a TV-MA (17 and older only) rating than TV-14.

Here's what PTC allegedly has to say:

AMC gave the show a TV-14 (L, S) rating, which means that the company thinks that the episode was appropriate for 14-year-old children. The basic cable episode contained a shot of a character's hand going down into the underwear of another character for sexual stimulation, a half-naked woman whose hands covered her breasts just before insinuating that she had sex with another character, and a graphic scene with a prostitute that repeats several times, “I'm gonna cut your dick off and boil it in hog fat.”

And here's Poniewoznik's rebuttal:

Now, the thing is, I actually think the PTC has several points. Yeah, I probably would not screen the show for an average 14-year-old. I can do without the inconsistent ratings systems too, and would like to see a la carte cable choices, because I think consumer choice is a good thing, especially as it applies to cable near-monopolies.

But would I show Mad Men to a mature 14-year-old? One who was, say, already reading the kind of adult literary fiction that Mad Men mirrors? Yes. And other than that, what 14-year-old is actually interested in watching moody period pieces about the social mores of affluent suburbs in the 1960s? For whom is this actually a serious concern? Let me clue you in: if your 14-year-old is surfing cable alone, trying to find something dirty to watch, he wants to see Skinemax or something, not Bert Cooper talking about the nuances of Japanese tentacle-erotica art.

Apparently PTC put out a "trial balloon" to get attention or something. I don't know, but I'll post up the PTC's primary link if they ever put one out. But according to the TV Parental Guidelines, TV-14 doesn't directly mean "appropriate for all children over 14". Technically, it means:

This program contains some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age. Parents are strongly urged to exercise greater care in monitoring this program and are cautioned against letting children under the age of 14 watch unattended. This program may contain one or more of the following: intensely suggestive dialogue (D), strong coarse language (L), intense sexual situations (S), or intense violence (V).

If you've been believing PTC's constant mis-representation of the TV-14 rating, then you're wrong.

And another thing: regarding PTC's constant barrage of indecency complaints to the FCC.

If you go up to PTC's website, you'll find their current pet causes: Cable choice! Yes, because Comedy Central's Roast of Joan Rivers was oh so vulgar and tasteless despite airing only (and to the steel-skulled members of the PTC, I'll repeat only) after 10PM (well 9PM in non-Eastern/pacific time zones and even earlier by satellite, but that's why there's a V-Chip) and with a TV-MA rating (again must I emphasise that parents with children under 17 should use the V-Chip to block TV-MA shows in most cases). And then, Southern fast-food chain Hardee's has a new, tasteless, and stupid TV commercial for its "biscuit hole" product. (I live in California, where there's Carl's Jr instead of Hardee's, so I don't see the ad on my local stations.) And of course as I blogged earlier, this year's MTV Movie and [Michael Jackson-smearing] BET Awards.

Pardon me for "scooping" the "enemy" if you're a TV fan, y'know, of such shows like CSI for which PTC takes a solid disdain.

Over the past two days, shows that PTC has filed complaints against have rerun over the air during the "no-indecency" period of 6am-10pm. The first was the Family Guy episode "Family Gay", which PTC strongly condemned and filed complaints over the supposedly excessive, flamboyant (no homophobia intended) sexual content when it originally aired in March. Fox re-ran the episode last night at 9:30PM Eastern/Pacific times (8:30PM in other time zones, and if I were a PTC representative I'd use a "scare bold" as PTC sometimes uses). And guess what? PTC, with all its might urging its members and the general public to complain about the episode, said nothing at all the second time around. Hmm. Do they just not care for reruns, did they give Fox leeway for scheduling it at 9:30PM instead of the usual 9PM, or are they for any other reason oblivious? (On Sunday night, Fox showed a three-episode rerun block of Family Guy, starting at 8:30PM.)

Second, there's the episode of That '70s Show that PTC fussed about back in March 2004, "Happy Jack". The episode was named after a song by British rock band The Who from their 1971 album Who's Next and was about character Eric being caught masturbating. So it's not a surprise for PTC to be so outraged, given the topic AND the fact that it aired just a month and a half after the Super Bowl halftime show incident. Well, it aired locally on TV station KICU today at 4PM, and throughout the nation at various times that might have been before or after 10PM for all I know, through stations that syndicate That '70s Show. I DVR'ed that episode today because I wanted to start watching that show regularly; I've seen only bits and pieces of it through channel-surfing. Apparently the PTC doesn't care if this episode has been rerun many many many times after March 2004 including a few times on Fox as filler primetime programming maybe.

UPDATE (8/19): Alison J. Waldman of TV Week published a brief item on PTC's Mad Men criticism today. But still no sign of the review on PTC's own website.

UPDATE #2 (8/19): I watched the "Happy Jack" episode today. It was pretty funny, and did have some pretty risque dialogue, but it used a whole bunch of euphemistic terms rather than explicit references to masturbation. Heck, it didn't even drop the word itself! But still, this episode was fresh meat for the PTC, yet the FCC has yet to put down a decision into it, nearly 65 months after it originally aired (March 24, 2004). That's longer than the time it took for the FCC to judge the infamous buttocks scene episode of NYPD Blue indecent (59 months; aired February 25, 2003; decided January 25, 2008). Perez Hilton also posted a blog about PTC's criticism of Mad Men.

UPDATE #3 (8/20): FINALLY! PTC posts this episode as "Worst Cable Content of the Week" despite admitting it's a "fine show..for adults" (italics theirs). They deny any homophobia (as Hilton and a few other bloggers somewhere allege), but still can't construct a good response to Poniewoznik's rebuttal:

Some of the same bloggers were quick to point out that teenagers likely aren’t flocking to a moody show about middle-class ennui and the shifting social mores of the turbulent ‘60s -- after all, they say, if teens want to see something inappropriate, there is no dearth of drunken strippers on VH1 or sexually active teenagers on MTV. But such criticism is ill-considered. Those bloggers know that Mad Men is a thoughtful, introspective drama because they’ve already watched it. A parent who has never tuned into the show, and has only heard the buzz and critical praise, might allow their teenager to watch an episode based on the TV-14 rating, only to be blindsided by the sexually explicit content.
The author missed Poniewoznik's point on different maturity levels of certain teenagers. In America, there are teenagers whose parents want to keep pure and innocent until age 18, I won't deny that. Just as there are Gossip Girl type teens who are well-cultured and know the dangers of the world around them and whose parents are willing to discuss the birds n' the bees. This criticism isn't surprising given that PTC feels that there have been cases in broadcast TV also where TV-14 has been too weak.

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