Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Who Does The PTC Hate This Week – May 27, 2008

Before I get around to ridiculing the PTC, some of you who read my post on the new HD-PVR might be wondering how I can be so sure that my brother won't know that I opted for the PVR box rather than the ordinary HDTV box. The answer is amazingly simple – in the three years and now 805 posts that I've put up on this Blog, my brother (who is currently living in my home while he waits for his place in BC to sell) has never read one. Zero. Nada. Nothing. If I want to keep something secret from him, all I have to do is write it here and otherwise keep my mouth shut. And my mother's too (she let out some rather broad hints that she might consider buying an HD box but well after we actually had). Now, let's get back to business.

How many of you know the story of a guy who accidentally wandered into a private party in a hotel ballroom. Inside he found a group of guys standing around saying numbers to each other and then laughing uproariously. Our hero couldn't figure out what was going on so eventually he asked one of the waiters in the room. "Well sir, this is a gathering of the Comedians Club. These guys know every joke ever told. For simplicity they have a master list and all of the jokes are numbered. So instead of actually telling the joke they just say the number."

"They've got every joke numbered and memorized?"

"Yes sir they do."

Well our hero can't believe that one but he decides to give it a try. He walks up to a group of the people who are standing around saying numbers and laughing and finally says, "Fourteen." The group falls silent and the silence spreads to the entire room as all eyes fall on our hero. Finally the waiter breaks the silence: "No wonder. You told it wrong."

Annual shareholders meeting are taking place and of course the PTC is using the opportunity to castigate companies for their advertising policies and providing the rest of us with press releases. And it's at this time that I feel like those comedians in the ballroom. Well not quite, but over the years I've discovered that summarizing PTC statements to shareholders meetings are so similar that you can set up a form version and simply insert appropriate names or statements at appropriate points. So, instead of giving an explanation of each individual presentation to the shareholders I can simply do it by the numbers, following the number with the appropriate names. Check it out:

"This is the PTC's presentation to the shareholders of (1 – insert name of company). The PTC began their statement by praising (2 – company and/or company CEO or Chairman of the Board) for (3 – family-friendly reputation or philanthropy). Thus the PTC can't understand why (2) is unaware of the damage that (4 – advertising on unsuitable programs/ads that aren't family friendly) can affect their reputation for (3). The PTC then goes on to explain that (5 – company or subsidiary of company) is advertising on (6 – programs) that the PTC finds to be (7 – evil/bad/not suitable for family viewing regardless of what time it is on OR is on at a time that the PTC feels is inappropriate for that ad). They give proof in the form of examples (8 –of why shows are bad, or why ad are unsuitable for the time). Then they call on (5) to be a responsible corporate citizen and stop the action the PTC finds to be unsuitable. Inevitably the PTC brings up its 1.2 million members as a power block that might be mobilized to boycott (though they never say the word 'boycott') and offers to 'help' the company choose what the good shows are as opposed to the bad shows. There may even be a time limit for an 'answer' the PTC's complaint."

So how would this work? Well, there were three shareholders meetings since the last time that I did one of these pieces. One of them had a bit of a surprise but I'll get to that in a moment. We'll use "The Form" for these:

(A) 1 – Berkshire-Hathaway; 2 – Warren Buffet; 3 – philanthropy; 4 – advertising on unsuitable programming; 5 – GEICO; 6 – Dirt, The Sopranos (on A&E); 7 – evil/bad/unsuitable for family viewing regardless of what time it is on; 8 – (no show specifically named, possibly both) scenes of masturbation, self-mutilation, racism, extreme violence and drug use.

(B) 1 – IHOP; 2 – IHOP Corporation; 3 – social responsibility and charity support; 4 – advertising on unsuitable programming; 5 – IHOP, Applebees; 6 – Two and a Half Men, NCIS 7 – evil/bad/unsuitable for family viewing regardless of what time it is on; 8 – both shows: "consistently contain coarse and inappropriate language, along with gratuitous sex and violence and are in direct opposition to IHOP's family image"; NCIS: "a pimp and a drug dealer fight over a corpse in a morgue while looking for a deceased person who had transported drugs. One character is held at gunpoint while another is forced to search the intestines of a dead body for drugs."

(C) 1 – Limited Brands; 2 – Limited Brands, founder Les Wexner; 3 – support community programs that focus on empowering women, nurturing and mentoring children and improving education; 4 – ads that aren't family friendly; 5 – Victoria's Secret; 6 – "your commercial advertising offers no indication as to where these spots will suddenly appear" 7 – "These ads are creeping into family viewing hours and programs"; 8 – "Parents are feeling powerless and find themselves addressing personal parenting issues at a time and place that seem to be dictated by these revealing ads. Your spots when viewed by children are at least confusing if not upsetting and embarrassing to all family members trying to watch TV together."

Now what made the Limited Brands shareholder meeting a bit of a surprise is that according to the PTC their representative was "sequestered from the other shareholders in a separate room and was not permitted to speak during the meeting." According to their press release, "The PTC is now investigating its options given this blatant – and what appears to be intentional – disregard for shareholder rights." I find this one to be a rather interesting example of restricting speech, and there are a lot of things that don't seem to be answered by the PTC's statement. For example, was the PTC representative the only person "sequestered from the other shareholders" or were there other people there. If there were other people there, were they considered "troublemakers" – the sort of people who ask inane questions some aspect of the company's operations – or was this a general overflow room for the meeting. And in a more general way, how did corporate officials of Limited Brands know that the PTC representative, Director of Corporate Relations Glen Erickson, was in fact a PTC representative who was aiming to take the company to task. As far as the PTC's determination to "investigate its options" related to the "blatant" disregard of shareholder rights, well, I don't know what the legal obligations of a company are in this sort of situation, but I have a suspicion that a company can pretty much do whatever they wish in this sort of situation. I know of a number of examples where a company has cut off the microphone during a shareholder's meeting – indeed it has happened to PTC representatives in the past – and while I know that shareholders have to vote on boards of directors, I am unaware of any legal obligation that a company has to allow any and all shareholders an opportunity to speak during a meeting.

There was one other shareholders meeting report that "The Form" doesn't fit. This was the American Airlines meeting. A PTC representative attended the meeting to talk about the programming offered on the company's in-flight entertainment system – the general monitor variety rather than the seatback monitor type: "Depending on the aircraft, access to adult programming is available to all travelers regardless of age. The 777 has personal entertainment monitors permitting children to watch whatever they wish. On other American Airlines aircraft, the entertainment is offered on a common monitor so even the most vigilant parent is powerless to stop the screening of inappropriate programming." It's an interesting problem although not one that directly relates to TV. The problem for me is the usual one that I run into with the PTC – what constitutes "adult" programming. Obviously American isn't showing porn, even on their individual seatback monitors. And I doubt that they're showing much if any nudity of any sort. So presumably "adult" means language and violence. Now there's this wonderful thing called "the Internet" where you can check to find out all sorts of things, and the thing that I did was to check what movies were on American Airlines flights. This is the list on all their routes for the month of June, together with the MPAA rating (IMDB also provides a parents' guide with explanations for some of the things found in the films):

Sorry guys, but I don't see where this constitutes "adult programming." Old, and somewhat boring programming, yes, but to refer to any of this as adult is pushing the line of credulity even for the PTC unless "adult" for them is anything rated higher than PG or maybe G. (and some of those MPAA descriptions sound worse than they undoubtedly are. Just as an example the language in Astronaut Farmer consists of "At least 3 's' words (1 written), 1 slang term for sex ('laid'), 6 asses, 5 hells, 2 damns, 2 S.O.B.s and 1 use each of 'My God' and 'Oh my God' (with a possible use of 'G-damn')." And yes I found it amazing that someone counted.

The Worst of the Week this time around (the PTC seems to have totally given up on the Cable Worst – it literally hasn't changed in months) is FOX's American Dad but the PTC's page for that condemnation of all things Seth MacFarlane came back with an error message and I don't feel like waiting for them to figure out what bit of code they screwed up, so let's move on to the Misrated Show – the late and somewhat lamented Women's Murder Club, specifically the May 6th episode which was rated TV-PG SDL – Sex, Dialog, and Language. The PTC thinks that the episode should get a V descriptor as well. The episode concerned a young man who was murdered. It turns out that he was accused of raping a fellow college student but the DA's office decided not to pursue the complaint. The PTC cites two scenes as "proof" that the episode deserves the descriptor. First: "The opening scene of the episode featured Collin's dead body, with blood oozing through his shirt and coming out of his mouth. At the medical examiner's office, Collin's dead body was shown on an examination table as coroners discussed his injuries." In the other scene, as the PTC explains it, "Kate's boyfriend, Charlie, shows up at a press conference with a gun and shoots at Jay, but he misses and the bullet hits Cindy Thomas, a reporter. Again, a large blood stain soaks through her shirt." The PTC sees at least three violent acts in the described scenes: "with the depiction of a blood-spattered dead body, a shooting scene, and a seriously injured reporter, a violence descriptor seems an obvious necessity." I don't see that, I see one, the shooting of the reporter complete with the blood stain. I have said it before and I will continue to stress it: the depiction of the aftermath of a violent act is not the equivalent of the depiction of the act itself, and nothing the PTC can say will convince me otherwise.

I've got some more material based on the PTC's current TV Trends article, but the article is just the first of a two-parter. And since the way my response was going it was turning into a two-parter (and that was just my response to the first article) I have decided to try to address the PTC writer's piece in an article of its own that will probably be posted next week.

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