09 July 2010

Parents Television Council and "after hours" cable programs

I've noticed something about the Parents Television Council's ongoing "Worst Cable Content of the Week" column. Since the May 28 edition (The Dudesons in America, MTV, Thursday 10PM) it's been squarely fixated on shows that are broadcast on the cable channels only after 10PM (note: these times I list below are Eastern/Pacific, of course being an hour earlier in the Central, Mountain, Alaska, and Hawaii time zones), which in American broadcast TV terms is the watershed time in which FCC indecency regulations do not apply. (10PM means 10PM in any time zone in terms of FCC) I'll run down the list for those who don't want to access the PTC and get a headache:
Notice something? All these shows are first-run after 10PM. And reruns take place usually even later (during overnight hours). But PTC argues for each and every time the same old line it's been pushing the past 5 years or so in its campaign for cable choice: "pay hundreds of dollars a year for dozens of channels they don’t watch, don’t want, and...may even find offensive" and in the specific case of Louie, "dump[ing] unbelievable levels of profanity and horrifically graphic sex talk into the home of every cable and satellite subscriber in America while forcing them to pay for it."

OK, first of all, this show is shown late in the night specifically because it's rated TV-MA and as a convenience so that children cannot watch it! And if you live in the Western US and have satellite, just use the V-Chip to block Louie if you have children at home.

And need I not mention that the PTC published its review of Louie the very day that FX showed the sports drama films Invincible--which earned the PTC Seal of Approval--and Miracle--which earned a positive review (no seal though) from PTC? I pointed out back in October 2008 that FX showed Invincible...but the PTC never published anything on its website promoting that. (By the way, FX will show Miracle and Invincible tomorrow at 8:30AM and 11AM respectively.) And on Saturday, July 17, FX will show Alvin & the Chipmunks, which is 1,000,000% more family friendly than those FX original shows that PTC hates so much, at 8PM.

I won't deny that most families with young children in the home or with generally socially conservative values will find channels like Comedy Central, MTV, and Spike offensive...those channels aren't even meant for a "family audience" (at least how groups like PTC define family) in the first place. But c'mon, why is the PTC branding more generally-oriented channels FX and TBS with the same hot iron branding? Does it not occur to PTC that FX reaches out to audiences besides those allegedly drunk depraved morons who laugh at Louie by showing Alvin and the Chipmunks during primetime? Additionally, Malcolm in the Middle and The Bernie Mac Show reruns are shown during the daytime; PTC doesn't have much issue with those shows but do with other shows syndicated by FX: The Practice, Spin City, and That '70s Show. Sure, TBS may show Neighbors from Hell and Family Guy, but realize that TBS also shows baseball games, Saved by the Bell, Home Improvement, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Everybody Loves Raymond, and The King of Queens, all shows that PTC would find to be fairly decent. That's how TV programming works: you can't just cater to the people with the "I get offended at anything over a PG rating" mentality of the PTC, you have to include a lineup of programs that will reach the biggest audience possible. Those sitcoms that I mentioned before like King of Queens and Raymond are sandwiched alongside other shows that PTC has had issues with, like Married...with Children (a PTC Worst Show of the Season in 1997), Just Shoot Me, and Friends.

In the case of programs in development, PTC seems really sensitive to cable subscribers having to subsidize the production of late-night shows, such as Conan O'Brien's new TBS show, and Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis's upcoming reality show The Search for the Hottest Girl in America on HDNet; the New York Daily News reports that Francis's show will contain uncensored nudity and will be shown at midnight. The report quotes Dan Isett of PTC: "[Girls Gone Wild] has built its brand on the exploitation of intoxicated women, that’s just what they are and for them to pretend to be anything but that is quite frankly, sickening. This [new show] further demonstrates the need for people to have cable choice." Uh huh, other HDNet quality shows like Dan Rather Reports and HDNet Concert Series and World Report are so sleazy that they prove need for cable choice too. (Oh wait, is the PTC founder Brent Bozell still mad at Dan Rather? Just asking.)

And now my personal takes on the shows that PTC's been condemning this summer. (All these based on what I read on their website.) I wouldn't watch Berger or Brawlers, and from what I read in a review in my college's newspaper Neighbors from Hell is pretty much plagiarism of South Park and Family Guy, which are much funnier (and much more offensive to the PTC). Warren the Ape is a spin-off of the single-season 2002 Fox sitcom Greg the Bunny, which I watched back in its original run (I was just 11 and committed the sin of watching a TV-14 rated show but hey I didn't get scarred for life contrary to what the PTC is so concerned about). I think I'll watch Warren online once my personal schedule lets me. Finally, I first heard about Louie through a preview of NPR's Fresh Air but only got to read a summary of the interview today.

Bottom line is: don't trust the PTC with its tunnel vision of cable TV. Read the TV listings and content ratings too. Be open-minded. Monitor your kids' TV viewing. If a show is offensive, don't watch it (but what's stopping you from criticizing it?)

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