Friday, December 02, 2005

Lost Is a Family Show ?

This is going to take a little explanation, so let me start with an Awards Show. Oh it isn't one that that's been on TV yet (but it will be - on the WB on December 11) but an award is an award after all. In this case it was the Seventh Annual Family Television Awards. Here, in a very specific order are the winners:
  • Best Actor - Jim Belushi

  • Best Actress - Reba McIntire

  • Best Reality host - Ty Pennington

  • Lifetime Achievement Award, 7th Heaven

  • Best Movie - The Wool Cap

  • Best New series - Everybody Hates Chris

  • Best Reality program - The Amazing Race

  • Best Comedy - King of Queens

  • Best Drama - Lost
Now you'll excuse me for saying so, but one of these things doesn't seem to be like the others and you don't have to be a Sesame Street regular to figure out which one it is. I mean, I love Lost - it is probably one of the best shows on TV right now - but I have a problem is in describing it as a "Family Show". There are - dare I say it - dramas that are more family friendly and life affirming than Lost, including the show that received a Lifetime Achievement Award at this very awards show, 7th Heaven. After all, since it debuted Lost has included murders, torture, drug use and the abduction of a child, not to mention what could best be described as "almost incest" between two adults. Admittedly Shannon and Boone were step-siblings, but can you imagine the reaction if Greg and Marcia Brady - also step-siblings though that wasn't emphasizes through most of the series - had even kissed romantically? This is a family show? More to the point, is this the best family drama on television? Maybe we need to look at these awards a little more deeply.

Despite the name, the Family Television Awards are not given out by some socially conservative organization like the Parents Television Council, but rather by the Association of National Advertisers Inc. through their Family Friendly Programming Forum. The Forum was founded in 1999 and has as its stated objective "to support and promote the development and scheduling of 'family friendly' movies, dramas, situation comedies and informational programs that are aired during key prime-time hours when adults and children in a household are most likely to watch television together (8 – 10 p.m [Eastern].)" The mission statement goes on to say (emphasis mine) "The definition of family friendly programming is purposefully broad: it is relevant to today’s audience, has cross-generational appeal, depicts real life and is appropriate in theme, content and language for a broad family audience. These programs also embody a responsible resolution of issues. The goal of the Family Friendly Programming Forum (FFPF) is to ensure that there is always at least one family friendly programming alternative that adults and children can enjoy watching together each hour between 8 and 10 p.m. every night of the week." In this they seem to be offering a far more lenient definition than a group like the PTC, but also a far more responsible, realistic and achievable one. The first Family Television Awards took place in 1999 with winners that year including 7th Heaven, ABC's TGIF Line-up, Touched by an Angel and The Discovery Channel as well as a lifetime achievement award to The Cosby Show. Among the dramas to win in subsequent years were: The West Wing in 2000 and 2001, 7th Heaven in 2002, American Dreams in 2003 and Joan of Arcadia in 2004. Of interest is that the Family Friendly Programming Forum Committee includes advertising executives from over forty major advertisers including Sears, Federal Express, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kellogs, General Mills, Kraft, Ford and General Motors. As a group these seem to be heavy hitters.

Unlike the PTC the Family Friendly Programming Forum doesn't just criticize, protest imagined obscenity to the FCC, and give commendations, they are literally putting their money where their mouths are. A group of 18 companies also sponsors a script development fund which all six US networks participate in. According to the Script Development Fund section at the Forum's website the program works like this: The fund provides seed money to the networks for family friendly scripts, a process administered by the networks and if a script becomes a pilot, the network reimburses the Fund and the money is redeployed to seed more scripts. Among the projects supported by the Forum in 2005 which became series were Commander in Chief, Everybody Hates Chris, Old Christine, and Related. Among previous projects were Gilmore Girls, 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, American Dreams, and Steve Harvey’s Big Time. When was the last time that the PTC funded a script let alone got one into production for one of the six networks? When was the last time that the PTC did anything positive besides giving someone a ?

When I started writing this I confess it was an effort to have a little fun with a group that thought that Lost was a family show. On the face of it an organization that would give this show this reward would seem easy to make fun of. The interesting thing is that what I've found is a group which is acting far more positively with less public exposure than a group which gets a lot more publicity while being negative. Is Lost a family show? Well by the standards set by the Family Friendly Programming Forum it is. It is "relevant and interesting to a broad family audience" and it "contains no elements that the average viewer would find offensive." It accomplishes all this and is an excellent show besides. So yeah, maybe Lost really is a family drama.

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