The PTC’s new study of fantasy-themed TV shows finds dark, adult content on typically child-friendly franchises.
In a new study of prime-time broadcast fantasy-themed TV shows, the Parents Television Council found a disturbing trend: child-friendly fantasy franchises and characters are now depicted in a dark, “adult” manner utilizing graphic violence, sex, and profanity. Specifically, young viewers were exposed to 625 profanities, 300 deaths, and over 1,000 incidents of violence on these fantasy-based shows. All of the program content was rated by the networks as suitable for children aged 14 or, in many cases, even younger.
“When parents think of typically child-friendly franchises like ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ or ‘The Muppets,’ they don’t expect the dark and disturbing content on the new versions that the broadcast networks are now routinely airing during primetime,” said PTC President Tim Winter. “Now kids who watch these reimagined fantasy and fairytale-themed TV shows are not confronted with Dorothy’s optimistic attitude and ruby red shoes; instead they will see a Dorothy-like character sexually stimulating the Tin Man using an oily lubricant. As Dorothy said to her dog Toto, ‘we’re not in Kansas anymore;’ but instead of Oz, it looks more like she is in Westeros.”
“Our new research shows that this is the new and extremely alarming norm for these once- and still-beloved entertainment franchises. This trend is of great concern because decades of scientific research proves children can be harmed from consuming graphic sex, violence, and profanity in entertainment, and when it comes to inherently child-friendly franchises, it is natural to expect that they will indeed be child-friendly. When the TV networks rate these shows as being appropriate for children, that expectation is only reinforced.
“We urge producers and distributors to take more seriously their public interest obligations as broadcast licensees, and to use their influence to reimagine fantasy-themed primetime broadcast TV shows with children and families in mind,” Winter concluded.
In the new report, “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore,” the PTC recorded and documented every instance of violence, sexual dialogue, sexual actions, drug and/or alcohol references, and foul language during the 2011-2017 “sweeps” periods on programs with child-based interest. Typically, anywhere from eight through 12 episodes of a program air during a show’s November, February, and May “sweeps” period. Documented and examined was content from the following programs with ties to child-friendly entertainment franchises: ABC’s Once Upon a Time, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, and The Muppets; NBC’s Grimm and Emerald City; and Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. This resulted in a total of 141.5 hours of programming analyzed.
Of those programs, episodes of Grimm, Emerald City, and Sleepy Hollow were overwhelmingly rated TV-14, appropriate for 14-year-old children (though, of course, being broadcast in prime time, they were able to be viewed by children of any age). The Disney-owned ABC network’s programs Once Upon a Time, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, and The Muppets, were uniformly rated TV-PG, suggesting that the programming was appropriate for much younger pre-teen children.
In its research, the PTC found the following during the study period:
- In fantasy-based programming with particular appeal to children, young viewers were exposed to 625 profanities, 300 deaths, and over 1,000 incidents of violence.
- The most violent program was NBC’s Grimm. Young viewers witnessed 485 acts of violence, including 165 deaths, 22 instances of dismemberment, and 12 decapitations. Also featured were instances of evisceration, cannibalism, dissection, crucifixion, impalement, and torture. They also heard 316 profanities.
- Fox’s Sleepy Hollow featured frequent, explicit, and gory beheadings in slow-motion, eviscerations, immolations, and mutilated and dismembered corpses, with 15 instances of decapitation, 80 deaths, and nearly 300 acts of violence.
- NBC’s series Emerald City featured 49 total instances of violence, including instances of crucifixion and torture; and an explicit scene in which a female character sexually pleasured the Tin Man character with her hand, using an oily lubricant.
- Violence on the Disney-owned ABC network programs Once Upon a Time and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland included a combined 306 instances of violence and 41 deaths. Also heard were 178 profanities – especially disturbing since these series were based on popular Disney fairytale movies like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Brave, and Frozen. Both ABC series were rated TV-PG.
- While violence was not an issue on ABC/Disney’s The Muppets, the program did feature profanity, depictions and references to alcohol and drug use, and multiple references to sex. This show was rated TV-PG.