• Broadcast TV’s New Norms

    by  • October 23, 2013 • Broadcast Decency, Sex, Sexualization • 6 Comments

    In 1992 the NBC series Seinfeld aired an episode titled “The Contest,” which dealt with masturbation. Despite the theme, through intelligent and creative writing that adults could understand (but children could not) the word was never used, and the behavior was never depicted.

    My, how times have changed.

    In less than ten days already this season, two programs have come close to showing characters masturbating, and a third implied it with a visual gag.

    Betrayal on ABC

    Betrayal on ABC

    The networks have apparently changed their minds about what’s suitable for prime time. An act that couldn’t even be discussed in 1992 is now openly depicted on the small screen.

    The first was an extended scene on ABC’s “Betrayal” which showed a woman lying in bed with her hand under the bed sheet, and close-up shots of her face as she becomes aroused while fantasizing about an encounter with a man on a train.

    Only a few days later, the heavily teen-girl-targeted CW network debuted “Reign,” a period drama about the early years of Mary, Queen of Scots. In the debut episode, a group of ladies in waiting watch as their monarchs consummate their marriage. One of the ladies becomes so excited that she runs to a secluded staircase, lifts up her skirts, and… well, not much is left to the imagination.

    The Seth MacFarlane sitcom “Dads” also used it as plot device, when a man spills water on his pants and tries to rub out the water stain. A woman looking at him through the window after just stepping out of the shower, of course misinterprets his actions, and the man is later interrogated by a woman who uses a litany of adolescent euphemisms to describe what they thought he was doing.

    Where is the proof of audience demand for masturbation scenes that would justify three of them in ten days?

    If someone in a park or on a street corner were to do this, they’d be arrested for public indecency, but on television, apparently, it passes for entertainment. Is this how far we’ve sunk, culturally? Is this really what we want from our entertainment?

    If we let the networks continue to get away with scenes like these, it will soon become the new normal for broadcast television. And then what taboo will they seek to shatter next? How much further are we willing to let things go before we decide enough is enough?



    Ms. Henson is a noted expert on entertainment industry trends and the how the impact of entertainment affects children and the American popular culture at large. She also directs the organization’s Advertiser Accountability Campaign, which encourages companies to sponsor family-friendly entertainment. She previously supervised the research and program content analysis operations of the PT and produced a number of groundbreaking PTC studies that document the levels of graphic sex, violence and profanity on television. Some of those reports include: The Ratings Sham I & II, Dying to Entertain, Faith in a Box, The Sour Family Hour, The Blue Tube, and TV Bloodbath. She began her career with the PTC in 1997 as an entertainment analyst, documenting instances of inappropriate content on television. Ms. Henson has appeared on a variety of television shows including Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, Your World with Neil Cavuto, The Big Story, CNN Headline News’ ShowBiz Tonight, CNBC’s On the Money, MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, and CBN’s Newswatch. She is a frequent guest on radio talk shows across the country and has been quoted extensively in news sources such asEntertainment Weekly, Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today, New York Daily News, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Variety, Associated Press, Reuters, and Bloomberg. Ms. Henson is a graduate of the University of Virginia where she received a BA in Government. She resides in Falls Church, Va., with her husband and their son.

    6 Responses to Broadcast TV’s New Norms

    1. Sue
      October 26, 2013 at 5:44 am

      We have cancelled cable. And frankly it’s even hard to find decent major network programs. We enjoy Undercover Boss, Wheel of Fortune and some additional game shows.
      PBS often has excellent programming for which we are thankful. When reruns are on, we enjoy the old ones as well.
      Oh for cable choice! Without it just CANCEL!

    2. Dave
      October 25, 2013 at 4:44 pm

      Rich, you’re right. Sex doesn’t, repeat, DOES NOT, sell, anymore! Period.

    3. Rich
      October 25, 2013 at 4:58 am

      It’s disgusting things like this that got me to stop watching primetime network broadcasting years ago. I’m glad I did as I see how much more disgusting it’s gotten. It’s terrible to think someone who is just watching a show for entertainment gets surprised into seeing filth like that. Isn’t that what pay channels like HBO are for? Wouldn’t this stuff get a PG-13 or R rating in the movies? So why is it available for all to see at such early hours? Every episode of every primetime show seems to deal with sex in one form or another.

    4. Dana
      October 23, 2013 at 5:56 pm

      I hate it when people say, “Lighten up, it’s funny!” It is an insult to my intelligence. It also makes me sad that as long as brainwashed/brainless folks actually KEEP watching it, it will never go away–and the hope of bringing back quality TV the way it used to be will be gone forever.

      • Alice
        October 24, 2013 at 10:51 pm

        I have now reached the point where I seldom even bother turning the TV on. I have no desire to watch most of what now passes for entertainment.

      • Sue
        October 25, 2013 at 8:26 am

        The unfortunate thing is we cannot get a consensus in this culture. If everyone who is undone by the broadcast indecency would simply drop cable, our dollars would speak.
        It is known that the smut does not carry itself. There are good and meaningful programs we all want, yet the good programs pay for the smut. But you would have to give up the good for a season to rid us of the bad. I hear every excuse to keep cable for the good because no one is willing to sacrifice for a season. If everyone dropped cable for 3-6 months, there would be a statement made and things would change. Perhaps we would secure cable choice then. But we strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.
        When good people unite, great things happen. Are you willing to sacrifice for the greater good? That is the question

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