The FX cable and satellite network is home to some of the most graphic and grotesque programming on basic pay TV. And now, FX’s extreme content is going to be pumped across the public airwaves by Fox.
Cable TV is well-known for having content more extreme than that on broadcast TV. In recent years, broadcast network executives have convinced themselves that what people REALLY want is the profanity, explicit sex, and ultra-graphic gore on cable…in spite of the fact that even the most popular cable shows draw fewer viewers than do most broadcast shows. This is largely because broadcast networks are licensed to operate “in the public interest” and still maintain some minimal standards, while on even basic pay TV the attitude is largely, “anything goes.”
And now, Fox is moving to further erase the distinction between broadcast and cable by bringing one of the FX network’s programs to prime time. Anger Management, a situation comedy starring Charlie Sheen as a therapist, typically airs on FX; but Fox will be showing four episodes of it this summer. (Both FX and Fox are owned by the same company, News Corp., which also owns Fox News and the 20th Century Fox movie studio.)
This move makes sense from the company’s financial standpoint. Under the terms of its deal with Sheen, News Corp. was required to commit to making 90 more episodes of Anger Management if the first 10 were successful. When it began, the comedy did fairly well, but has been hemorrhaging viewers of late; but News Corp. is contractually obligated to continue producing it anyway. Naturally, the company wants to recoup its expenses in any way possible; and if people aren’t watching the show on FX, then maybe they will on Fox.
While Anger Management is no worse than Sheen’s previous comedy, Two and a Half Men (though that’s hardly a recommendation), it is the precedent this move is setting that is truly of concern. Already, Fox has committed to bringing cable-level crudity and violence to late night with its Fox ADHD programming block. Given the already escalating levels of graphic violence on broadcast TV, if the Anger Management move is successful, where will this trend end? Will children be exposed to the crude sexual and scatological “humor” of Wilfred? Will every living room in America be assaulted by the gun-running, drug-addict, rapist bikers of Sons of Anarchy? Will families be subjected to the ultra-explicit sex and gore of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story?
In 2007, News Corp. attempted a similar stunt, airing an episode of the graphic FX drama Damages at 8:00 p.m. ET on MyNetworkTV. Then, sharp-eyed PTC analysts caught the move, and proved that – despite News Corp’s claims – the program was not edited to be appropriate for broadcast audiences. Now, the company is trying again…and if this succeeds today, who knows how much graphic content will confront children tomorrow?