• ABC President: Indecency in Family Hour “Not an Issue”

    by  • May 13, 2014 • Broadcast Decency • 7 Comments

    abclogoABC has announced that it will be moving its graphic drama Grey’s Anatomy into the Family Hour next fall. When asked about the move, ABC President Paul Lee said showing explicit content when children are in the audience is “much less relevant than it was five years ago.”

    Grey’s Anatomy has long been one of ABC’s steamiest shows, with frequent depictions of sex between characters. The medical drama also often features gory scenes of surgery. Yet, Paul Lee – president of a network owned by The Walt Disney Company – thinks the fact that millions of children may be exposed to such content is “not an issue.”

    Lee’s comments were made to reporters, who questioned the move of the sexual drama into the Family Hour. Lee defended his choice by claiming that ABC’s “Standards and Practices” department “will make sure whatever we air is appropriate.”

    This is similar to the claim Lee made in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting. The same day Lee met with Vice-President Biden and stated that “we want to make sure that the stories that we tell are done with integrity, that there’s no gratuitous action,” ABC’s program Scandal aired an intense, explicit and bloody torture scene. For nearly three minutes, viewers were subjected to graphic and disturbing scenes of a man struggling to breathe while being waterboarded, his nose being broken and his face beaten into a bloody mess, blood spattering on the walls, and being kicked and beaten into submission.

    So graphic was ABC’s torture scene that the network issued a “viewer discretion advised” warning at the beginning of the program.

    Unsurprisingly, this week Lee stated that Scandal is also moving to an earlier hour. Previously shown at 10 p.m. ET/9 Central Mountain, it the violent, sexual political conspiracy show will now air an hour earlier. When reporters pointed out that, in the past, the Disney-owned ABC has had a reputation for keeping the Family Hour free of racy shows, Lee shrugged, ”It’s not an issue.”

    Some reporters tried to defend the network, stating that because cable TV shows explicit programming during the Family Hour, ABC should, too. But ABC is a broadcast network. Unlike cable, which viewers must pay to allow into their homes, ABC uses the publicly-owned airwaves, for free. With that free use of a public utility comes certain public interest obligations and responsibilities – chief among them, an awareness of “time, place, and manner” of showing explicit programming.  

    But ultimately, Paul Lee – like his fellows in the entertainment industry — believes that the broadcast networks should be able to show anything they please, any time they please, no matter how many children are in the audience, completely free of any regulation whatsoever.

    “We really do think ABC reflects the new face of America,” Lee said in his interview. If America is now a place where parents don’t care how much graphic sex, explicit violence, and other negative content their children see, then Lee is right. But given that over 100,000 Americans filed letters with the Federal Communications Commission last year demanding MORE decency regulation, perhaps Paul Lee needs to rethink his assumptions…and act accordingly.



    Christopher Gildemeister is the PTC’s Head of Research Operations. He began as an Entertainment Analyst at the PTC in 2005. From 2007-2016, he was Senior Writer/Editor, responsible for communicating the PTC’s message to the public through newsletters, columns, and the PTC Watchdog blog. Dr. Gildemeister holds a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America.

    7 Responses to ABC President: Indecency in Family Hour “Not an Issue”

    1. Barbara
      May 19, 2014 at 11:58 am

      ABC President Paul Lee said showing explicit content when children are in the audience is “much less relevant than it was five years ago.”

      IS HE NUTS??
      When did stealing childhood innocence become irrelevant?
      Children need MORE not LESS protection these days.

      But much of the problem lies with the FCC, which simply isn’t doing it’s job of filtering/protecting what goes out over the airwaves.

      • William Warfield
        May 22, 2014 at 12:31 pm

        Agreed 125%, Barbara.

        Just what planet is Paul Lee from?

    2. TomB
      May 16, 2014 at 3:54 am

      I strongly support PTC’s overall goal, but I have felt for some time that its emphasis on the Family Hour is outdated. The idea that families gather around the TV during a particular hour to watch TV together seems, well, archaic. Commercially available DVDs, DVD recorders, Netflix, Hulu, and streaming video allow any family to choose the content of their TV programs 24 hours a day. Trying to regulate the content of network TV during a specific hour seems a waste of time.

      I would rather see the PTC put more emphasis on TV content at any time, network or cable. Look at the example you site. Surely this gut-wrenching violence appeals only to a niche audience, but this type of pure garbage, as the PTC constantly points out, is proliferating. Why not go after the purveyors of garbage across the board, and do it using the PTC;s best tactic: holding accountable the sponsors and all who profit by this pollution of the airwaves–and cable. Forget the family hour and the attempt to regulate it by law. Hit the sponsors and the profiteers where it hurts for all programming that takes our mass culture into the gutter.

    3. Mary Donovan
      May 15, 2014 at 9:05 pm

      ABC’s attitude doesn’t surprise me a bit, in fact none of the networks makes any effort to consider that children may be watching their broadcasts, and why should they? The FCC has done and continues to do an abominable job of monitoring what goes out over the airwaves.

    4. Sharon Wheeler
      May 15, 2014 at 8:23 pm

      Showing explicit content when children are in the audience is inappropriate. Please have some respect.

    5. Ron Hubbard
      May 15, 2014 at 6:24 pm

      First time blogger for PTC. Shame on Paul Lee for his attitude! Does he have a family?

      100,000 petitions means at least 100x more people share our views, but are just too busy to do anything, or don’t even know PTC exists. Why doesn’t PTC run an ad on tv about their organization?

    6. Alan B
      May 15, 2014 at 5:29 pm

      This makes me sad and upset. I’m so glad that PTC and others are not willing to just sit and let this kind of thing go unnoticed. The comments of “It’s not an issue.” and “…ABC reflects the new face of America.” can be put out there as “feelers” to see how our nation will react. ABC risks very little by throwing statements out like that. But much to gain if there is no response. If we do nothing, they and other networks will continue to push the envelope. The sad part is that too many people are not engaged enough with their kids to really understand what’s going on. We must continue to stand up against this kind of encroachment into our homes and into society.

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