PTC study shows almost 70% jump in bad language on broadcast TV
On Monday night's episode of "Two and a Half Men," there were references to cocaine, prostitution and two women being intimate with each other. No, they weren't reading from star Charlie Sheen's diary, it was just business as usual for the hit CBS sitcom.
While viewers don't seem to be turning away from the show because of its increasingly racy content, it is giving fits to the Parents TV Council, the advocacy group that thinks the broadcast networks are becoming a cesspool of swear words and bad language.
According to "Habitat for Profanity: Broadcast TV’s Sharp Increase in Foul Language," a study released by PTC on Tuesday, there has been an almost 70% jump in bad words on broadcast TV (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and the CW) in the last five years. Most disturbing to the PTC is that the time period showing the biggest gains is not the 10 p.m. hour when more adults are watching, but the 8 p.m and 9 p.m. hours, which attract younger viewers.
Among the words being used more often in prime time are "crap," "hell," "ass" and lot of other terms that are shorthand for breasts, genitals and various sexual acts that we can't print here. There are also a lot more cases of shows using profanities that are intentionally bleeped. The only questionable words (in the eyes of the PTC) that the study is seeing a decline in are "damn" and "bastard."
The study comes in the wake of a decision by the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals that called into question the Federal Communications Commission's methods and ability to enforce its indecency rules. The court specifically said the FCC's enforcement of its indecency rules was "unconstitutionally vague" and had a "chilling effect."
Unlike cable, a pay service, there are rules regarding content on broadcast TV, which is an over the air medium. Broadcasters often argue that the standards on language and content have changed over the years.
The PTC said its study shows that if the courts strip the FCC's ability to enforce its indecency rules or the rules themselves, the broadcasters will go to town.
"The statistics and examples in this study demonstrate that, freed of regulation in the wake of the Second Circuit Court's castration of the FCC's powers of enforcement, Hollywood's creative personnel and their TV network distribution outlets have deliberately unleashed literally unparalleled levels of profanity and graphic language upon the public -– the most egregious of it in a time slot in which children are most likely to be in the audience," the PTC said. "A 69% increase in scripted profanity on pre-planned, filmed entertainment is not equivalent to a couple slips of the tongue during live events. The statistics above demonstrate that use of such language by the networks is both deliberate and pervasive."
While few can debate that prime-time programming on broadcast TV has gotten more risque and violent, ultimately it is the advertisers whose commercials pay the bills that can have the most influence on what gets on the air. Interestingly, if specific examples of questionable dialogue are brought to advertisers attention, many might be surprised that their products are a tacit endorsement of what is on the air. Most advertisers do not buy commercials in individual shows. They buy packages of commercials on a network with an aim of achieving a certain ratings goal.
That said, as Fox sales chief Jon Nesvig recently noted in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, "for all the advertisers looking for wholesome family content, there are others looking for racier content. It's our job to provide variety."
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Charlie Sheen, left, and Jon Cryer in CBS' "Two and a Half Men." Credit: Greg Gayne/Associated Press