More sound and fury

Committed to the First Amendment

The Parents Television Council, flanked by veteran congressional TV critics Sens. Joe Lieberman and Sam Brownback, released a report slamming the networks for the vulgar language and violence in the 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. hour last week. PTC also slammed them for the sexual references, even though incidences have actually gone down since the last survey. PTC said the sex was "raunchier" than before.

Look, we're not saying we love the fact that kids are exposed to a lot more adult concepts and language a lot earlier than they used to be. But whether it is the inevitable and healthy maturing of the culture or an unseemly coarsening of the fabric of society, it is a fact of life.

In an age in which even animated kids movies regularly boast a streetwisecracking creature chiming in with a "kiss my butt" or two, it is unrealistic to expect TV not also to reflect the new reality. And what is magic about 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., and why only pick on the networks. The 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. hour is filled with syndicated shows that tap into the same adult subject matter. Or check out the afternoon talk shows, where the bizarre is commonplace.

Any family can sit down at almost any hour of the day and find a suitable family show, on cable, on satellite, on PBS, in syndication and, yes, even on commercial network TV. They can also find an "inappropriate" one, though what is and isn't appropriate will depend on the parents.

All that said, broadcasters should be sensitive to content. That means, for example, Fox might want to rethink the 8 p.m. scheduling of a prime time special featuring, in the words of the Washington Post
TV highlights writer, "the largest metal object ever impaled in and removed from a human."

And that's why we were pleased with CBS' move of Big Brother II
from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., coincidentally, they say and we hope, on the same day the PTC was tilting at its windmills. "The move is motivated by content reasons and not ratings," said a CBS representative, though that elaboration seemed unnecessary given that, on the same day, the Nielsen ratings showed that the program had just recorded its best-ever young-adult viewing levels. "We are very happy with the ratings, but there is some subject matter in the show that we think is more appropriate for 9 p.m." Good for CBS.

Amid all the hand wringing and finger pointing in Washington last week, there was also this piece of wise counsel about the best way to control what children see on TV: "Parents can and should … turn the television off if they find [shows] inappropriate for their children or offensive to their values. The final responsibility is theirs, and too often, I am afraid, parents seem to forget that and tune themselves out to what their children are watching." The speaker was Joe Lieberman, and, for once, we'll give him the last word on the subject.