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Broadcast TV may test limits on sex, language

WASHINGTON (BP)–An entertainment watchdog organization’s list of the 10 best and 10 worst programs on broadcast television may soon need revising as network executives reportedly are considering further testing the limits of decency.

The Parents Television Council placed “Doc” of the Pax Network at the top of its 10 best list and named “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” of the United Paramount Network as the worst of the worst.

Six of the 10 best shows were new. That fact, plus the renewal for a new season of most of the 10 best programs, prompted PTC President Brent Bozell to say, “It appears that the networks are finally starting to listen to the collective voice of parents who want to sit down with their children and enjoy high-quality, family friendly programming in prime time.”

The rankings, however, demonstrate “the networks have a long way to go before parents can be assured that their children will not be bombarded with filth during prime time,” Bozell acknowledged in a written statement. “The networks irresponsibly market these adult-oriented programs to younger audiences, and they refuse to consider the consequences of what happens when children are continuously exposed to lewd and offensive programming.”

That kind of programming may grow even worse when the new season opens this fall. Network executives are demonstrating a willingness to push the decency envelope even further in the wake of such new cable TV programs as “The Shield” and “The Osbournes,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. “The Shield,” a FX Channel show about a rogue policeman, is marked by sex and obscene language, while MTV’s “The Osbournes,” a reality program about rock singer Ozzy Osbourne’s family, is replete with foul words.

“I would not be forthcoming if I didn’t say that what’s going on in cable, the movies, music and shock radio isn’t creating pressure to loosen up,” Alan Wurtzel, who oversees standards at NBC as president of research and media development, told The Reporter. “And to some extent, we have.”

Steven Bochco, producer of “NYPD Blue,” which pushed broadcast TV into new territory with its partial nudity, obscene language and sex during the last nine years, told The Reporter network executives approached him about providing him with even more license regarding sex and language. “I’ve actually had conversations with ABC about going a little further than we’ve been going; I guess that’s a bit of response to shows like ‘The Shield,'” Bochco said.

While cable premium channel HBO has produced in recent years shows marked by sex, violence, obscenities and profanities, networks such as FX and MTV have been successful at pushing basic cable’s limits in the last year. This summer, reality programs such as NBC’s “Dog Eat Dog” and CBS’ “Big Brother III” have further tested broadcast television’s standards, according to The Reporter.

“There’s been a revolution in content going on over the past 10 years,” said Rick Mater, head of the WB Network’s standards and practices department, according to The Reporter. “And it’s not slowing down — it’s speeding up.”

The use of certain obscenities previously banned on broadcast TV also has become accepted.

“I think there’s three or four words left that honestly everyone would agree are still inappropriate, and I’m sure those [words] are going to fall by the wayside anyway,” NBC’s Wurtzel told The Reporter.

Bochco said, according to The Reporter, “The one thing you learn over the years with broadcast standards is there’s no such thing as broadcast standards. The standard is anything you can get them to let you do.”

A recent study, however, may discourage advertisers from sponsoring programs containing sex and violence.

Research by two Iowa State University psychology professors showed that people recalled advertisements shown during “neutral” programs better than those telecast during sexually explicit or violent programming. Viewers of “neutral” shows demonstrated a better memory both immediately after the programs and a day later, according to an article published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. This finding proved true of men and women of all ages and regardless of whether they liked violent or sexually explicit programs. Paxson Communications Corp., which owns the Pax Channel, funded the study.

The PTC’s 10 best list of broadcast programs after “Doc” consisted, in order, of “Touched by an Angel” (CBS), “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” (Warner Brothers), “7th Heaven” (WB), “Baby Bob” (CBS), “Smallville” (WB), “Reba” (WB), “The Ponderosa” (Pax), “George Lopez” (ABC) and “Bernie Mac” (Fox).

The shows in the Nos. 5 to 10 slots were all new. The inclusion of “Sabrina” demonstrates the existence of some occultic themes does not automatically disqualify a program from PTC’s positive rankings.

After “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the PTC’s 10 worst were, in order, “Off Centre” (WB), “Will and Grace” (NBC), “Friends” (NBC), “WWE Smackdown” (UPN), “Big Brother II” (CBS), “CSI” (CBS), “Temptation Island II” (Fox), “That ’70s Show” (Fox) and “Boston Public” (Fox).

The PTC’s broadcast TV rankings, which were released Aug. 22, followed by only three weeks its first ratings of cable television’s best and worst original series.

The cable rankings constitute a “wake-up call,” PTC’s Bozell said in a written release. “Basic cable is worse than ever before. In a tasteless attempt to boost ratings, basic cable has begun to target children with programs that clearly push the envelope.”

More than 75 percent of American homes had basic cable as of two years ago, according to PTC.

MTV is “leading basic cable’s plunge into the sewer,” Bozell said. MTV had five of the 10 worst shows.

The worst programs in PTC’s cable list, beginning with No. 1, were “The Shield,” “Undressed” (MTV), “South Park” (Comedy Central), “The Real World” (MTV), “WWE Raw” (The National Network), “The Man Show” (Comedy Central), “Celebrity Deathmatch” (MTV), “The Andy Dick Show” (MTV), “Witchblade” (Turner Network Television) and “The Osbournes.”

ABC Family’s “State of Grace” ranked first in PTC’s best cable programs, followed by “The Brothers Garcia” (Nickelodeon), “SpongeBob SquarePants” (Nickelodeon), “So Little Time” (ABC Family), “Lizzie McGuire” (Disney), “Caitlin’s Way” (Nickelodeon), “Powerpuff Girls” (Cartoon Network), “Even Stevens” (Disney), “Making the Band” (MTV) and “Nero Wolfe” (Arts and Entertainment).

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