During a commercial break in the Winter Olympics coverage on NBC, there was a promo for the drama Medium that showed a soccer mom in one scene and her bloody corpse in the next. It's the sort of scene that would, and did, send sensitive children crying from the room during one of the last vestiges of family-appointment television.
We're not just picking on NBC. Everybody does it. But they shouldn't.
The Federal Communications Commission's latest indecency fines demonstrate that it is clearly off its regulatory rocker, abetted by a law that asks harried humans to make gut calls on what we all get to see and hear. They shouldn't be going there.
There is a difference between the FCC telling programmers they can't do something—a notion we abhor—and the media's making responsible editorial calls, which is what they are supposed to do. But we suspect programmers and networks don't grasp how annoying, disturbing or inappropriate their promos may be and how, in a matter of a half minute or so, they can offend or upset unsuspecting viewers so that their overall takeaway from television viewing is alienation and revulsion.
Television promos are little highlight reels that inevitably include verbal allusions or graphic depictions of a program's most sensational scenes. In ribald comedies or gory procedural cop shows, that often means what viewers—and their kids—see is a series' most salacious or scariest moments, dropped on them without their approval.
We wouldn't argue that networks should dull down promos. That's crazy. But the premise that promos should fit the programs they interrupt is a good start. Jarring, inappropriate promos over time don't promote at all. They repel. Stations that tell us during American Idol to stay tuned until 10:00 p.m. to find out if that deranged child murderer is on the loose in ourneighborhood ought to know they may entice thousands to watch that night but will ultimately convince even more viewers that newscasters are not precisely interested in delivering truth or serving their audience. A news tease that needlessly causes anxiety creates a viewer who, logically, should be changing the channel.
Programmers are free, and encouraged, to take into account what offends or disturbs the audience, then act accordingly. If their promos offend, those networks only accelerate American viewers' acceptance of DVRs so they can skip the promos—and, by the way, the paid commercials that are still the lifeblood of television and can be just as inappropriate.
One small child fleeing terrorized from the room during the Olympics may speak even louder than an e-mail barrage from offended religious groups over some edgy drama. At the very least, programming promos that offend viewers or scare kids don't create a very good message for the medium. Broadcasting and cable programmers, local and national, are too smart to act so stupid.