protest raunchy programs
By John W. Kennedy
Much like some
activist judges, various television producers appear determined
to grant homosexuals an elevated place in American society.
Although the premium
cable service Showtime announced in July that it had postponed
a spin-off channel designed to be the first all-homosexual
network, there’s enough favorable same-sex content on
other channels to fill the perceived niche.
Along with returning
series such as Showtime’s Queer As Folk
and NBC’s Will & Grace,
several new programs advocate the homosexual lifestyle.
Eye for the Straight Guy features five homosexual men conducting makeovers for
heterosexual slobs. “Each week their mission is to transform
a style-deficient and culture-deprived straight man from drab
to fab in each of their respective categories: fashion, food
and wine, interior design, grooming and culture,” the
Another new Bravo
show, Boy Meets Boy, is a homosexual version of the dating show The
Bachelor, with a handsome leading man spending eight
days in a luxurious location with 15 potential suitors. Showtime
in January begins The L Word, exploring the lives of lesbians, including a pair
looking for the perfect artificial insemination donor so they
can start a family.
sitcom It’s All Relative features a young woman whose “parents just so
happen to be a worldly pair of well-heeled gay men.”
In June, CBS debuted Charlie Lawrence,
a sitcom about an openly homosexual congressman.
There will be plenty
of fornication and adultery, too. Fox this fall premieres
the sitcom Skin, in
which the father of one of the teen protagonists is a pornography
industry kingpin. Fox also has the “reality” show
Paradise Hotel, following 11 singles cavorting around a swanky resort.
Spike TV is running
an “adult” cartoon called Stripperella in which the title character, voiced by Pamela Anderson,
is both an exotic dancer and a crime-fighting superhero.
As the major broadcast
networks push boundaries in an effort to keep audiences from
defecting to more explicit cable channels, several reality
series are showing couples who hardly know each other in bed
together. The networks also have started to air more obscenities.
Although bleeped, they are still discernable.
and explicit nature continues to grow on television,”
says Randall Murphree, editor of the American Family Association
Journal, in Tupelo, Miss.
Murphree, 58, says the contrived nature of reality shows manipulates
contestants to depend on sexually suggestive or hedonistic
ambition to satisfy their desires.
“In a desperate
attempt to keep viewers, the networks look tawdry by putting
on material that has no class,” says Stephen Winzenburg,
communications professor at Grand View College in Des Moines,
is especially leery of Coupling, about six bed-hopping 30-somethings. NBC has given
the new series, which is recreating dialogue practically verbatim
from the original BBC version, a place in its highest-rated
Thursday night lineup. “It will be the most provocative
scripted show ever on American network television,”
Winzenburg told PE Report.
director of research for the Parents Television Council in
Los Angeles, agrees. “Coupling appears to be one of
the sleaziest shows ever broadcast,” says Caldwell,
Some of TV’s
downward spiral can be traced to implementation of content
ratings at the beginning of programs in 1997. Warnings about
forthcoming sexual and violent content have become an incentive
for some people to watch, according to Winzenburg.
have emboldened the networks to broadcast more graphic material,”
Murphree says. “Now if they label it they can say, ‘Well,
we warned you.’ ”
The biggest problem
with the ratings, watchdog groups say, is that — unlike
the movie industry, which has an independent board —
they are determined by the network airing the program. Plus,
there is no consistency among the networks or even among series
on the same network.
determining the ratings themselves, executives and producers
have leeway to introduce more salacious material,” Caldwell
A study released
earlier this year by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
reported that one out of seven shows depicts or implies sexual
intercourse. In 1999, it was one out of every 14 shows.
that the public is demanding such material. A Family Circle
survey two years ago indicated that 93 percent of respondents
had turned off their television set or switched channels because
of sexual content. Yet relatively few bother to complain.
that viewers by and large have become desensitized by the
gradual lowering of standards of television. “Most folks
have grown to accept the more perverse and depraved content,”
AFA has been reviewing
television content for 27 years. Nowadays, Murphree says,
it’s more difficult to motivate viewers to protest.
Some callous viewers have given up, believing the medium is
too far gone to redeem.
Still, AFA Journal
every month publishes summaries of offensive episodes and
lists sponsors. AFA recommends that disgruntled viewers respectfully
but resolutely contact advertisers to express their disappointment
over the company running a commercial on a show with graphic
content. AFA also advises viewers to contact local affiliates
or the cable company carrying the offensive show.
Joy Wootton did in July. While watching a TV Land rerun of
the innocuous series Leave It to Beaver, a promo for Bravo’s Queer Eye for
the Straight Guy shocked
and angered Wootton, 46.
“I was incredulous
that such a show existed and that a commercial would be shown
on TV Land,” says Wootton, whose husband, Mark, is pastor
of Peace Chapel, an Assemblies of God church in Fair Grove,
Mo. The normally mild-mannered Wootton took action to protest
Queer Eye. She called to register a complaint with the manager
of the satellite dish network that the family subscribes to,
sent an e-mail to Bravo and mailed a letter to NBC, Bravo’s
parent company. The satellite provider offered verbal thanks
and Bravo issued an automated response saying the network
can’t respond to all its mail. NBC didn’t respond.
Because the debut episode broke the ratings record for Bravo,
NBC repeated the show the following Thursday.
Viewers may have
better success complaining to the Federal Communications Commission.
Because the FCC licenses local affiliates, they should be,
in theory, more responsive.
notes that the FCC rarely fines a TV station for indecency.
The Parents Television
Council recently has been pressuring the FCC to enforce existing
normally are unresponsive, according to Caldwell. “What
the audience wants really doesn’t matter with the networks,”
she told PE Report. “What’s more important to
them is what they can get sponsors to pay for.”
it is more effective for TV watchers to complain directly
to advertisers, asking whether the vulgar content really reflects
their corporate values. She recommends letters because reaching
an executive with decision-making power by phone is unlikely.
However, when Gary
Manion of Little Rock, Ark., ordered computer hardware over
the phone in June he expressed his dismay that Gateway had
sponsored the opening episode of the Fox detective series
Keen Eddie. The episode featured an explicit sequence discussing
bestiality. Based on a PTC “action alert” to its
members, including Manion, more than 9,000 people filed an
official complaint to the FCC about the Keen Eddie
technology manager for a welding supply company, had been
in the process of obtaining bids to buy 35 personal computers
for the firm. The Gateway sales representative forwarded Manion’s
objection to corporate headquarters and Manion received a
call of thanks from an executive. Subsequently, Gateway issued
an apology for sponsoring the show, saying it wouldn’t
“It was God’s
timing the way it worked out,” says Manion, who attends
a Nazarene church. “I was able to get the right person’s
ear at the right time.” Caldwell explains that frequently
a corporation really doesn’t know where their commercials
will air because a third-party media buyer places them on
shows designed to fit the demographic the company is trying