Friday, December 07, 2007

Who Does The PTC Hate THIS Week? – December 6, 2007

'Tis the season to be jolly. That is unless of course you're our "friends" at the Parents Television Council in which case 'tis the season to be ticked off at the very existence of the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on CBS. They have their annual demand that their loyal robots outraged members send complaints to the companies that advertised on "this televised peep-show." Thing is, the lengths that the PTC has to go to in order to find something to be outraged about is about as funny as anything that has ever come out of the PTC...and that's saying a great deal. They couldn't find some way to claim that the show was legitimizing sex with teenage girls by showing lingerie models in activities that are common to girls of that age group, which was what they did last year. And they couldn't complain that the show was on too early...or could they. Well apparently they decided that they could. The show aired in the third hour of primetime (10-11 p.m. EST and PST, 9-10 p.m. CST and MST) so the PTC decided to used the technique that allowed them to get the huge fine against the rerun of the "Teen Orgy" episode of Without A Trace. According to the PTC: "Although the special aired at 10:00 p.m. on the east and west coasts, families living in the central and mountain time zones had to scramble to find their remote to keep their children from accidentally stumbling across this televised peep-show during the 9:00 hour." But why? Was there nudity? Cussing? Implied sexuality? Suggested violence? No, according to the PTC, "the event featured profiles of the top models, musical performances, and a flesh parade featuring Victoria's Secret's latest buttock-and cleavage-baring ensembles." That's it, nothing else. All they have to object to are the "buttock-and cleavage-baring ensembles," being shown starting at 9 p.m. in the Central and Mountain Time zones. If that isn't the funniest thing the PTC has come out with in a while I don't know what is.

The PTC also has a hate on for the Burger King restaurant chain. They sent Miami Chapter Director Miryam Knigge to the annual shareholders' meeting. Now when the PTC dispatches one of its Chapter Directors to a shareholders' meeting it is usually to whine moan and complain about the company advertising on "bad" TV shows, and to be fair, Ms. Knigge did do some of that: "Your negative commercials supported such non-family friendly shows as Family Guy, C.S.I. Miami, Nip/Tuck, The Shield, The Sopranos, and South Park. In an episode of Dirt on the FX network sponsored by Burger King, the lead character takes out a vibrator from her drawer and activates it, then places it under the covers against her crotch, using it to masturbate. Is this responsible advertising Mr. Chairman?" But advertising on "bad" shows wasn't the primary function of the PTC's attack on Burger King, it was the company's ads. The PTC spokesperson claimed that three stuck out for her. In one, for the company's dollar menu features, "a father giving his young son what looks like a condom and instructing him to put it in his wallet because he will become very popular with the girls." According to the PTC this "is completely irresponsible in its overtly sexual message that involves children." A second ad "a ballerina reaching into the front pockets of a man from behind searching for money." I suppose they think she's "pleasuring him" with her hands in order to get the money; Miryam Knigge doesn't go into details on this one. Finally there's an evil spot "depicting mothers trying to kill your spokesperson." I guess that means the big fibreglass headed King character. And amazingly they're surprised that Burger King doesn't respond to their complaints: "We have reached out to you many times; we've called, e-mailed and written you. Our calls go unreturned; you shut out our e-mails and then you send us form letters written by your consumer relations department."

You have to admit that they seem to be pretty desperate if this is the best they can come up with to be outraged about. Even the supposed condom ad is hardly in the same league as Paris Hilton washing a Bentley in a bathing suit and enjoying a Carl's Jr. $6 Burger. I haven't seen the first two ads but I have seen one of the "mothers trying to kill your spokesperson" ads and I have to say it is one of the most innocuous bits of advertising that I've seen. Some people have too much time on their hands.

The Broadcast Worst of the Week is the November 20th episode of Law & Order: SVU. According to the PTC it, "featured a horrific depiction of a murdered teenager and retraced the promiscuous behaviors that lead to her death. Rape, prostitution, nudity, and teen sex saturated the hour-long program." Of course, this being American Television in the era after Janet Jackson's nipple the "nudity" was primarily in the PTC's collective imagination rather than real but let's spends some time looking at the PTC's complaints. Here's their description of the first scenes of the episode in which the victim's body is found: "The show opens with two pre-teen Boy Scouts finding the body of a dead 17-year-old girl in the woods. Her body is beaten and disheveled, and her lips have been ripped off. When detectives investigate the scene they find a bloody bag with the girl's recovered lips." Okay, sounds pretty grizzly but remember, this is the PTC and what they describe is inevitably phrased in the most graphic and inflammatory manner possible. Like this scene, which I suppose is one of the instances of nudity: "As the investigation begins, the man whose semen was found is questioned and, wouldn't you know it, he just happens to have a sex tape of himself in bed with the victim. The man is shown getting out of bed clearly in the nude, with a towel barely covering his genitals." Well setting aside the fact that they aren't showing the act on screen, the allegation that the man in the part of the tape that is show has "a towel barely covering his genitals" contradicts the statement immediately preceding it, that "the man is shown getting out of bed clearly in the nude." (And of course how does the PTC know that the towel is "barely covering his genitals" – do they know something about the actor that we don't?) They also mention, "pictures of the victim in bed with one young man, and being beaten to death by another. The photo of the girl in bed is shot from behind and shows her straddling the boy, completely topless and engaged in intercourse." But of course her nudity is only implied since we see her from the back, and since it is a still photo the sex act is only implied rather than obvious. In a scene between the two mentioned – the clip that the PTC has put up as proof of how bad the episode is, "...a pimp answers the door and quotes prices based on race to sleep with a prostitute. Police push past the pimp and move to the back of the apartment where they hear orgasmic moaning. They enter the room to find a young man on top of the prostitute, thrusting his hips in a clear display of sexual intercourse. When the cops remove him from the woman he yells, "Hey, I ain't finished!" That bit is probably the most graphic depiction in the episode (which is of course why the PTC decided to feature it) but it's hardly as prolonged and obvious as the PTC's claim. But beyond that, this is a show airing in the third hour of primetime, with the proper ratings and descriptors. It is intended for an adult audience but of course the PTC continues to take the attitude that everyone – not just minors who the PTC nominally seek to protect – need "offensive material" such as this kept from them. But it is their conclusion that really grates on me. They state that, "the worst thing about this episode is that the honorable efforts of the show's protagonists to solve crimes and apprehend the guilty are completely overshadowed by unnecessary content which could only have been intended to disturb and titillate. From the young boys who witnessed the body to the topless teens in bed, the offensive content in this episode was not essential to telling a decent crime story." But for a show which is intended to depict the work of cops dealing with sexual crimes – which is what the Special Victims Unit specializes in – it is surely necessary to depict the circumstances surrounding those crimes. While the scenes may have been intended to disturb the audience, one could hardly feel titillated by the scene that the PTC had as a clip. And I would submit that, in a show with this subject, disturbing the audience is probably not a bad thing.

I think I'm going to pass on this week's Cable Worst of the Week, which is A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila. I haven't seen it, have no desire to see it and and can't understand why anyone would. However, the clip that the PTC shows with such obvious disgust depicts the sort of contest that occurs on Survivor and other reality-competition shows all the time. In this case the contestants have to transfer chocolate sauce from a large wading pool to buckets set a distance away using only their bodies. The PTC writes "Indeed, repeated slow-motion close-ups show Amanda squeezing her breasts, causing chocolate to fountain out of her cleavage into her bucket. Not to be outdone, the male contestants appetizingly dump chocolate out of their rears and crotches." Which is just about what happens in other reality shows with this sort of contest. And of course the piece ends with the usual cry for Cable Choice: "because the entertainment industry refuses to allow Cable Choice – thereby forcing adults who wish to purchase the Disney channel for their children to also receive, and pay for, hypersexual programs like Tila Tequila's." Put another way though, twenty-somethings with no kids, and who like to watch MTV are forced to receive and pay for shows like Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel. As this Wikipedia article points out a la carte pricing, or cable choice, is prohibitively expensive for the cable companies and will remains so, "until digital cable television becomes popular" or all channels are scrambled and consumers are forced to use a set-top box to receive analog cable signals.

There is no Misrated this week – the PTC is apparently still hung up on American Dad and child molesters – so let us turn our attention to the TV Trends column. This week it seems to have a rather benevolent topic – Gift Ideas for TV Fans: Entertainment Choices During the Writers Strike – but let's face it, this is the PTC and they aren't going to let any opportunity pass to skewer and roast the television networks. And even before they present one gift suggestion they're up for taking a shot: "One of the entertainment industry's greatest fears is that viewers, already tired of the current wave of dark, graphic and explicit programming, and now confronted with the prospect of endless reruns of same, will turn for entertainment to some of the many alternatives which now exist to watching prime-time television." I suppose the assumption here is that fans won't watch the reruns because they don't like "dark, graphic and explicit" shows, which is of course incorrect. Those are the shows that are pulling in strong ratings, and indeed when shows like CSI, Bones, and House are rerun they continue to pull in strong ratings. It also assumes that the networks are going to be content to air reruns of shows during the strike period, something else that we know is not true – they are ready to release a number of previously shot dramas and comedies, and are going to start showing a variety of game and reality shows, either new concepts or (as seems to be more the case) renewals of existing shows. And while I agree with the PTC's claim that people will "turn for entertainment to some of the many alternatives which now exist to watching prime-time television," it is my expectation that a large percentage of that number (at least those who are able to) will opt for programming on cable and satellite channels, some of it more daring, darker, more graphic and more explicit – and because it is free from the restrictions that the FCC is able (and in some cases forced by organizations like the PTC) to impose on over the air broadcasters, probably more realistic in feel than many of the shows that are permitted on broadcast TV. If anything scares the broadcast networks it is that having been forced to try a different style of TV the great American public won't return to the restricted world of broadcast TV.

Of course the PTC doesn't share my opinion of the great American TV viewer: "While there are, inevitably, some viewers who crave novelty, or who revel in graphic violence, explicit sex, and endless foul language, many Americans are weary of such depressing fare. The writers strike offers TV viewers a unique opportunity to revisit – or to see for the first time – television programming from the days before constant swearing, sophomoric sex jokes and horrifically explicit and gory violence were considered a necessary part of every TV show." What they are suggesting as gifts for the TV viewer are DVDs of old series, shows that roughly fill the same niche that current shows do. Now before I give you the list of ten shows and categories that the PTC puts forward, I would like to explain that I have nothing against the shows they name as alternatives for current shows. In fact I'd like to own most of them myself (hint). But this is the PTC, and let's face it they have an agenda and this is the perfect forum to push it; a chance to "prove" that older shows are better than current "decadent" shows (it is worth noting that there isn't a series on the PTC's list produced later than 1983). They don't miss a chance to take shots at what's on TV today even as they praise to the heights the great old shows. This is a premise that I don't agree is valid. My feeling is that as great as older shows may have been the very best of current shows is at least their equal. I would take the gritty reality of an NYPD Blue over the supposed reality of the 1960s Dragnet any day of the week. With that in mind, let's take a look at the recommendations and the "shots" at the current shows.

  1. Perry Mason for fans of Boston Legal: "Viewers drawn to compelling legal intricacy and courtroom drama have, in recent years, had to settle for the ridiculously unrealistic legal strategies, rampantly sex-crazed characters and anti-religious bigotry of David E. Kelley's Boston Legal....
    Raymond Burr's portrayal of Perry Mason still provides entertainment and courtroom intrigue, without the necessity of injecting smarmy sex references into every other line.
  2. Mission Impossible for viewers of 24: "The plots on Mission: Impossible are every bit as tense and intricate as those on 24. Of course, on Mission: Impossible one does not have the opportunity of seeing Kiefer Sutherland repeatedly subjected to brutal torture; but if a viewer is willing to forego this pleasure, Mission: Impossible will fit the bill nicely."
  3. Combat! for people who watch The Unit: "A product of its time, Combat does not feature the explicit violence or raw language of The Unit, but still conveys the tension and drama of war."
  4. Quincy, M.E. for people who like shows like Bones, NCIS, CSI (and it's spin-offs): "The field of forensic crime investigation has become a fertile one for television, with such dramas as Bones, NCIS and the various CSI spin-offs, among others, all scrambling for a piece of the (increasingly bloody) pie. For another drama featuring a forensic investigator – albeit one with a more humorous twist – fans tired of decomposing corpses might welcome a visit from Quincy, M.E....
    While obviously less realistic than today's forensic dramas, Quincy is also far less graphic – and as a result features more sharply-drawn character interaction than many of today's shows. For viewers intrigued by murder mysteries and forensic science but tired of gore, Quincy is just what the doctor ordered."
  5. The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Best of Boris & Natasha for fans of The Family Guy: "Seth MacFarlane's rancid cartoon Family Guy offers American TV viewers the opportunity to be "entertained" by such spectacles as a household of men and boys explicitly vomiting and passing gas; a father beating his own daughter with a baseball bat; and a baby discussing the ways he plans to torture and murder his own mother – and all this is, allegedly, "satire." For animated programming about "family guys," but without the bondage gear, flatulence and constant crude sex jokes, a viewer could turn to those mainstays and building blocks of prime-time animated comedy, The Flintstones and The Jetsons – both of which are every bit as intelligent as Family Guy, even if they lack its lascivious and grotesque elements. And for genuine satire, The Best of Boris and Natasha, collecting episodes from The Bullwinkle Show, features cunningly clever word-play and slyly subversive humor which doesn't need to make bathroom jokes to inspire laughter."
  6. The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show for viewers of American Dad: "From the sweet humor and timeless moral lessons of The Andy Griffith Show, to the outrageously funny (yet somehow oddly realistic) situations of The Dick Van Dyke Show, there are many choices available to viewers who ache for laughter, yet are tired of being offered endless references to sex, genitalia and bodily functions posing as humor."
  7. Mary Tyler Moore, Taxi, Barney Miller, WKRP In Cincinatti for lovers of The Office: Shockingly the only negative the PTC has to offer about The Office is "it is regrettably off the air for the foreseeable future." On that at least we can agree.
  8. Kolchak: The Night Stalker for fans of Supernatural: "Supernatural is about a pair of individuals investigating the occult, replete with graphic violence and bitter, unhappy characters. The program is often unrelentingly grim. For a different take on the same situation – one that used suggestion rather than open bloodshed to inspire spine-tingling suspense – fans of horror-themed shows could do worse than Kolchak: the Night Stalker.... Kolchak was a brilliant combination of humor, horror and hard-boiled newspaper drama."
  9. Dark Shadows for viewers of Moonlight: "Since the overwhelming success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, vampires have become one of television's most frequently-featured protagonists. Most recently, the program Moonlight has returned to the bloody well, dipping into stories of an ageless vampire in love with a mortal woman.... A product of fast-paced production schedules and a tiny budget, Dark Shadows will require patience from a contemporary viewer accustomed to the latest in CGI; but the lack of focus on special effects at times actually enhances the haunting atmosphere and mood. Generations of fans have enjoyed Dark Shadows, and today's fans of supernatural shows just might find that they do, too."
  10. Family Affair for the many viewers of Two And A Half Men: "Finally, in the realm of situation comedy, at least two popular shows have featured the story of a child living in the same house as his swinging bachelor uncle, who undertakes to teach the child about life. It is a measure of how far Hollywood's idea of "teaching children about life" has declined that today's iteration is the crassly crude and sexual Two and a Half Men. Those who are not enamored of seeing a twelve-year-old boy referring to group sex and condoms, or adults who talk constantly about sex and little else, might find a refreshing change (or an exercise in nostalgia) in Family Affair. One program features an impatient but loving uncle and three squeaky-clean children; the other, a drooling, sex-crazed uncle and a snide, abrasive child. If Family Affair is unrealistically sweet, Two and a Half Men is unrealistically sour and smarmy. Neither program represents a family truthfully; so why give automatic credence to the repellently raunchy recent show? Many may laugh at this comparison, for Family Affair has come to be seen as hopelessly saccharine and sappy, but it is worth pausing for a moment and considering: is Two and a Half Men really any more realistic – or any less stupid?"

And there you have the PTC's gift suggestions. I could go through this list ridiculing many of their comparisons (are people who watch American Dad really watching it for the same reasons people watched The Dick Van Dyke Show back in the 1960s?) but really the PTC's explanations of their reasons for suggesting these shows as "replacements" for existing shows pretty much do the job for me.

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