Sunday, November 13, 2005

Fight For Nip/Tuck Even If You Hate It

WKRP In Cincinnati has always been one of my favourite series. Most of the time the series was incredibly funny - one of the funniest series ever on TV - but from time to time they'd do an episode that made you think. One of those episodes from the third season was call "Clean Up Radio Everywhere", about an organization that was determined to pressure Cincinnati radio stations to play "clean" songs. Richard Paul was cast as Reverend Bob Halyers - largely because of his resemblance to Jerry Falwell - while Ralph Manza was cast as a small business man who was facing a boycott if he didn't pull his ads off of WKRP after Mr. Carlson refused to give in to the organizations continued pressure. Flash forward 20 years, change the name from CURE to PTC and the target from rock music to television decency and you see the situation today, all centred at the moment on a series called Nip/Tuck. While I am a Canadian, and broadcasters in Canada have far more leeway as to what they broadcast - in terms of nudity and language - both in terms or regulation and public response (Canadian broadcast networks show Nip/Tuck, The Shield and The Sopranos uncut with nudity language and violence intact), this issue affects me and anyone who watches television no matter where they live because so much programming originates in the United States.

Now I've never seen Nip/Tuck - I could have seen an episode on Saturday night but I got busy with something else - but from descriptions I've seen I don't think I'd particularly like it. The point is that it's my choice whether or not I watch it. At least it is for right now. The Parents Television Council wants to take that choice away from me and from everyone else and they're using that favourite tactic of the pressure group, the threat of a boycott. Here's what the PTC says about Nip/Tuck, taken from their e-mail "E-Alert" (some material is edited as indicated by elipses - while I can't find the text of the "E-Alert" online, this link takes you to the "Warning To Sponsors" that the PTC wants you to send to the show's advertisers; it gives you the basics):

Without question, Nip/Tuck is one of the most sexually explicit, profane, and violent television programs in the history of American television - and it's about to get worse.

We need your immediate help to send a loud-and-clear message to the sponsors who are paying to bring this salacious material into our homes.

The FX network and the series creator are on a mission to obliterate every remaining taboo for television, and they don't care how many young minds they harm in the process.

Series creator Ryan Murphy has said "I wanted to do something so violent it will shock even me." And "It's tough to get that sexual point of view across on television. Hopefully I have made it possible for somebody on broadcast television to do a rear-entry scene in three years. Maybe that will be my legacy."...

Remember, this isn't some pay-per-view porn channel or even a premium cable network like HBO. FX is part of the basic cable package, which means it spills into most homes in America. If you want Disney Channel or ESPN or Animal Planet or History Channel for your family, you are forced to pay every month for programs like Nip/Tuck. In fact, this horrific content is available to nearly 48 million children nationwide!

In their warning to advertisers they make their methods clear:

As a consumer, I am taking part in this grassroots campaign organized by the Parents Television Council (PTC) in order to:


- Inform you that I support the PTC's efforts to ensure that the Management, Board and Stockholders of your company are made fully aware of the TV content that your advertising decisions are paying for.

- Assure you that - until I am notified by the PTC of your favorable response to this WARNING - when my family considers our decisions on products and services to purchase, WE WILL CAREFULLY CONSIDER the content of the television shows that are paid for by the companies offering those products and services.

There are a few facts that the PTC neglects to mention of course. If you check the FX Network schedule you will discover that the show airs at 10 p.m. (Eastern and Pacific), so while it's true that the FX Network is available to "nearly 48 million children nationwide" the program is on at such a time that those 48 million children are - or should be - in their beds. Furthermore, the network provides ratings compatible with the V-chip as they are required to. So it's not as though the network is going out of its way to put the show in front of children's eyes.

Because I have a nephew who is almost three years old, I am patently aware that there are shows that he shouldn't see just yet but his parents, his grandparents and his aunt and uncles (including me) are aware of this and try very hard to make sure he doesn't see them. It's our job. But I don't need to be protected, I'm an adult and I can make my own choices. By taking action against Nip/Tuck and other shows the PTC is treating me and everyone else like a child incapable of making our own choices because by my reading they're saying is that everyone needs to be protected from this material and since they can't use the FCC to protect you from cable programs - at least not yet - they resort to the boycott. But if you and I have to be protected from Nip/Tuck - and they win that battle through boycotts - what gets boycotted next?

On the "Clean Up Radio Everywhere" episode of WKRP, Mr. Carlson gave in on the first list of music that CURE sent him, they awarded him a commendation ... and another list, this time of music that even he found inoffensive, including John Lennon's "Imagine". When he refused to ban the music on this list CURE implemented a boycott not of his station but of his advertisers. If Nip/Tuck is the top of slippery slope, where does it end? What's next on the PTC's list? Other cable shows? The "Red Light" shows on their Family Guide to TV Viewing? Or maybe The Simpsons for the "Yellow Light" sins of ridiculing "entrepreneurs, religion, educators, and law enforcement officials." I for one want more choice than what the PTC determines is good for me, and if it means fighting for something I don't want to watch, so be it.

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