ABC 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.