Thursday, November 22, 2007

Who Does The PTC Hate This Week – November 21, 2007

I'm doing this separately from my usual base for these rants against America's Nanny for a couple of reasons. First, they didn't have anything new for me to work on when I started the Short Takes piece this week, and then too I knew I wanted to include the strike related videos. The main thing though is that of late the title "Short" Takes has been a misnomer given the number of words I've been writing and in most cases that's been because I've gone on at length in my PTC posts. I want to keep writing these posts because I think that the PTC and any related organizations are a menace to North American broadcasting. I'm including Canada here too, that even though you can show nudity and say words on broadcast TV in Canada that would have the FCC emptying a network's bank account we don't make that many of our own shows (more's the pity), and when organizations like the PTC force producers and networks to run scared and to produce shows that aren't edgy and don't push the envelope we Canadians lose just as much as Americans do. And yes, amazingly this issue does come up this time around.

First up this week is the Broadcast Worst of the Week. And the proud winner (at least I think that people associated with any show that is called Worst of the Week by the PTC should be proud) is Gossip Girl on the CW. I think it's probably inevitable that any teen drama coming out of The CW and before that The WB is bound to earn the ire of the PTC. Here's how they introduce Gossip Girl: "The CW's new teen drama Gossip Girl, which airs on Wednesday nights at 9:00 p.m. ET, takes all the foul content from The O.C. while stripping away any of that program's redeeming features. This far-fetched soap opera about filthy rich teens deals with every vice from drug use to promiscuous sex to violent rape." The PTC points to three separate story lines – one about drugs, and two about sex – all while managing to mistake a character's name for the actor who played him and getting the actor's name wrong! (Nate Archibald is a character involved in the drugs story, and he is played by Chace Crawford; the PTC repeatedly calls the character "Chance Crawford.") From what I can tell, the PTC made a complete mess of their analysis of the drugs story. They state, "Chance Crawford tries to be a loyal son when he confesses to cocaine possession to take the fall for his father. His father has no remorse for his own actions and seems to find his son's cover-up perfectly honorable. Troubled by the lies, Chance encourages his father to confess. His father responds by punching his son in the face. Chance ultimately turns his father over to the police." On the other hand the recap of the episode from (and reprinted in Wikipedia) states, "Nate eventually confronts his father about the drugs that he had found and been blamed for....
When Nate goes to his mother to confess that his father has been doing and buying drugs for a while, he is upset when his mother rejects the idea that his farther needs help with the problems that he's having....Nate finally tells his father that he needs help and that he has to go and get it, when he ends up punching Nate and getting arrested....The show ends with ... Nate's mother telling him that his father has more charges on him than what it would have been because the police had been building a case against him for fraud for some time and they are not able to make the one million dollar bail." (Apologies for the ellipses, the elements I was looking for are spread throughout a long recap.) Setting aside at least one apparent error – the claim that "Chance" confessing to cocaine possession rather than Nate being blamed for it, - the story line reads quite differently the way reports it as opposed to the way that the PTC interprets it. Then again, the PTC has an agenda, to portray shows it disapproves of in as negative a light as possible.

The two sex storylines are treated in a similar manner. In one the PTC says, "Dan, at his father's suggestion, attempts to prep his room for sex with his girlfriend. He replaces his football-themed bedsheets, lights candles, and brushes up on his sex moves by watching internet porn. Dan is shown lying in bed with a laptop as female voices are heard moaning." I hate to say it but the porn at least seems to be the normal action of a teenaged male hoping to get laid for the first time. The other focuses on Chuck and Blair at a "burlesque" club that Chuck is trying to persuade his father to buy: "Teenage Chuck is shown sitting front and center watching the girls as he masterminds a business plan for his father to purchase the club. He and fellow teenager Blair sip champagne as they admire the girls. When Chuck dares Blair to go on stage she unashamedly takes the stage, strips, and dances for Chuck and the audience." The PTC even put that scene (which is such a minor moment that doesn't even mention the dance in the recap) on their website as "proof" of how terrible the episode is. The PTC offers up this conclusion: "The depictions of teenage behavior in this episode were mind-blowingly inappropriate on any network at any time. This program exhibits Hollywood's concept of appropriate behavior for youth. The show further promotes the hedonistic irresponsible lifestyle that is captivating our country through pseudo-celebrities like Paris Hilton." The PTC seems totally unaware of the source material for the series, the twelve Gossip Girl novels by Cecily von Ziegesar, a New York based author who based the school in the books on the private prep school she attended, and while the novels are controversial they are extremely popular and accepted by the American Library Association as a way to get teenage girls to read.

Next up we have Cable's Worst of the Week and amazingly it's a familiar name – The Sopranos. This time of course it's The Sopranos on A&E because the PTC had no objection to the show on Premium Cable (yeah, right, tell us another funny one) but this is Basic Cable where viewers subsidize channels (and the networks give away commercial time for free, at least if you believe the PTC) and The Sopranos as a show is evil, evil, evil and can't be made
unveil. Here's what the PTC has to say about A&E's attempts to present the show at what the PTC thinks should be Basic Cable level standards: "But A&E has shown throughout its Sopranos run the impossibility of cleaning out Tony Soprano's mouth – let alone muting his heinous violence. The episode titled Cold Cuts, which aired on November 8th, at 10:00 p.m. ET, featured multiple beatings, profane language, and the novelty of watching Christopher and Tony B. dig up and dispose of buried bodies." All right, first let's take a look at what the PTC cites as examples of the show's language:

  • Janice: "How do you like it now, bitch?"

  • Tony: "My name was all over the TV because of your bullshit!"
    Bobby: "It's not that simple, Ton. Apparently the woman's kid was picking on Sophia.
    Tony: "No, no you're not (Janice)! What you're going to do is call Neil Mick, you're going to plea it down, you're going to pay the fine, and not turn this into one of your freakin' cause celebre."
    Janice: "Anybody side's but mine. That bitch is lucky I didn't kill her."

  • Tony: "If it's so freakin' important, then you answer the freakin' phone."
    Melfi: "Stay with that."
    Tony: "It's just the level of bullshit. Every freakin' idea they come up with that's supposed to make things better, makes things worse."
    Melfi: "Okay, right. I agree. The center cannot hold, the falcon cannot hear the falconer."
    Tony: "What the hell are you talking about?"

In those three examples of dialog cited by the PTC as "proof" of "the impossibility of cleaning out Tony Soprano's mouth" the only word that probably couldn't be used on Broadcast TV in the United States is the word "bullshit." Sure, we all know what Tony is really saying when he uses the word "freakin'" but guess what, it is the same thing that every other character on TV means probably 90% of the time. If this is all they can come up with in terms of profane language then as the characters on The Sopranos would say, "fuggedaboudit." As for the accusations about violence, besides the mention of the buried bodies, they are only bother to cite two examples:

  • Tony throws his glass mug at Georgie, cutting his face. Tony then jumps over the counter, and is shown beating Georgie to the ground with a cash register. After multiple blows, Tony's crew pulls him back. Georgie's face is shown covered in bruised and covered in blood.
  • Janice attacks the mother of a child who trips her daughter during a soccer game. Janice punches the woman in the face, and then jumps on top of her, repeatedly punching her. The woman's face begins to bleed, and Janice attempts to flee from the police.

Given what the PTC mentions in those descriptions, it can argued that this scene would pass muster on Broadcast TV as well. here's the thing; while The Sopranos aired in its first run on Premium Cable channels in Canada and the United Kingdom, repeats of the show aired on Broadcast TV in Canada (CTV) and Britain (Channel 4) and Australia's Network 9. In Canada the series was broadcast by CTV uncut, uncensored and unbleeped. In fact it is one of my 78 year old Great-Aunt's favourite shows. My 78 year old mother doesn't like it, but she doesn't organize committees to protest, she just doesn't watch it, which is the whole point really – she makes a conscious choice not to watch it while her aunt makes the conscious choice to watch it. Nothing can please everyone.

Sure, the PTC is right to press for cable choice even if it is for reasons that most consumers couldn't care less about, but their claim, "Finding The Sopranos an appalling show isn't shocking: it's a sex-filled, gangland bloodbath. The real shock is that now every cable subscriber has to pay for it – whether or not they will ever watch it," is wrong. Every cable subscriber is also "forced" to pay for a network like ABC Family which includes in its line up The 700 Club whether or not they will ever watch that show or not. But of course the PTC will never in a million years describe that as being just as bad a thing as The Soppranos being on A&E.

Next up we have the Misrated section of the PTC's site. This time the supposedly misrated show is Supernatural on The CW. The episode in question is rated TV-PG DLV (suggestive dialog, mild coarse language, moderate violence). Naturally the PTC finds the violence and the imagery extreme, and the language too coarse and too smutty. They demand a TV-14 "perhaps with a V and L descriptor" (strong violence, coarse language). They even go so far as to describe the violent content in the show's opening title sequence – in fact that's the clip that they show on their site. I've often said that the PTC totally misses the mark on the premises of shows and they blow it with this one too. Here's what they say about the show in their introduction: "But this program is no humorous, gentle Ghostbusters imitator." Where on Earth did they get the impression that it would be? But then they're sure that the network is aiming the show at young kids. They (the PTC just to clear up our pronouns) state "What age does the CW network consider appropriate for this bloody, dark, occult-themed mayhem? Why, seven and up, of course." I assume they are stating this because the show is rated TV-PG although I have always assumed that most people seeing the PG in the rating actually took the idea of "Parental Guidance" seriously and didn't depend solely on the V-Chip as their only line of defence for programming.

The PTC mentions several incidents that they term violent in the show (although of course no context is provided and the actions are described in the most graphic detail possible to heighten the outrage):

  • A woman taking a shower hears a sound, opens the shower door and peers out. Seeing nothing, she resumes her shower. Suddenly a clothed male arm grabs her around the neck, strangling her. The woman's face, contorted in pain, is pressed against the glass, as the mysterious figure slams her repeatedly against the shower's glass walls. The woman chokes, and her dead body slowly slides down to the floor as evil, demonic laughter is heard.
  • A man is in his bathroom is mystified as his bathtub fills with black water and won't drain out. He peers into the dark water. A hand explodes out of the water and grabs the man by the throat. Veins pop out on the man's forehead as he is strangled to death.
  • A ghost with a greenish face and wet hair appears in Peter's car and glares at him. The ghost touches Peter's face. Water starts shooting out of Peter's mouth. More and more water gushes out as Peter makes choking and gurgling noises. Peter frantically claws at his dashboard and car door, trying to get out, then collapses with face against steering wheel as he dies an excruciating death by drowning, the water filling his lungs.

They also look at a couple of incidents of "sexual" content that would probably be considered mild by most people: "CW has thoughtfully added several instances of sexual innuendo as well: when Bella mentions a "Hand of Glory" (an occult object), Dean smirks, "A Hand of Glory? I think got one of those at the end of my Thai massage last week!"; as Dean appears wearing a tuxedo, Bella looks him over approvingly and says, "You know, when this is over, we really should have angry sex"; and Sam is forced to dance with an elderly -- and randy -- woman, who gropes him (below camera range) and squeals, "Oh! You're just firm all over!"

When I was working out how to write this part of this piece I initially thought doing a compare and contrast between what the PTC found so objectionable about Supernatural and a fairly recent past series to show that the rating wasn't wrong. The more I thought about it the less effective such an idea seemed to me. True by comparing this specific episode of Supernatural with – for example – Buffy The Vampire Slayer (a show which was normally rated TV-PG with descriptors) it could be shown that the content of the episode was rated in a consistent manner. And most thinking people – which I assume includes most of my readers – would be open minded enough to see the point. Ah, but the PTC wouldn't. They would claim that the content of Buffy The Vampire Slayer was consistently under-rated, proof – as they put it in their summation for this episode of Supernatural – that, "Networks consistently under-rate their own programs, because by doing so they can lure more – and younger – viewers, thus making a mockery of the V-Chip – and their own rating system."

Finally, in their new TV Trends section, the PTC continues with last week's total failure to understand the basics behind My Name Is Earl. Just read these two bits from the start of their piece NBC Comedy Hit: My Name Is Earl Raunchy: "When NBC's situation comedy My Name Is Earl premiered in the fall of 2005, it was lauded by critics not only for its offbeat humor but also for its gentle and life-affirming premise, stated at the beginning of every episode.... Undoubtedly the show's unusually moral premise was a factor in the instant success which the program enjoyed. To audiences weary of incessant "comedy" programs consisting of mean-spirited, unpleasant individuals endlessly insulting, injuring and taking advantage of one another, Earl provided a comic and bumbling but also upbeat and positive lead, struggling to do what so many in the real world also aspire to: trying to live a good life and be kind to others." Huh? Were they watching this show at all? Still they even provide pull quotes from TV critics to "prove" that the show was exactly what they claim, like this one from Robert Bianco of USA Today from September 19, 2005: "[Earl] is trying to improve himself, which makes him a welcome relief from the all those TV frat boys who yearn only to grow ever more stupid and slothful." It's all in aid of supporting the premise that the evil networks (or someone - probably the liberals) taking this beautiful little show about redemption and turning it into something sleezy and evil: "While at first the program gave prominent play to Earl's attempts at redemption, in the last season-and-a-half My Name Is Earl has descended into the cesspool. The program's new direction was presaged in the middle of season two, with episodes focused on: Earl and Joy stealing a police car while urging a cameraman from the TV show COPS to film them having sex in the back seat." It's gotten worse (or at least the PTC says so): "And since this fall's premiere, My Name Is Earl has totally forsaken Earl's quest to do good in favor of crude, hypersexual storylines. As the season opens Earl is in prison, leading to multiple "jokes" about prison sex. Earl even acquires a transsexual "girlfriend." Every episode features extended scenes set in the Club Chubby strip joint, with stripper Catalina performing a "jump dance" which causes her breasts to bounce wildly." They even manage to attack Jaime Pressly as well as the TV critics: "Predictably, television critics applauded the program's new direction, as is shown by the fact that Playboy model Jaime Pressly was awarded an Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy for her portrayal of Joy as an ignorant, foul-mouthed nymphomaniac." (Pressly did two layouts for Playboy when she was 20.) The PTC concludes their TV Trends article with a quote from Tom Shales that seems to support their position about how "bad" the show is: "...My Name Is Earl…amounts to a character study of a character not worth studying." Minor problem with that quote – it was written on September 20,2005, the day after the Bianco quote that talks about how My Name Is Earl is such a welcome relief from "TV frat boys who yearn only to grow ever more stupid and slothful." Of course, since I can find no further Shales comments on the show since he eviscerated it in 2005 we don't know what he thinks of it now. Or for that matter, what Mr. Bianco thinks about it either.

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