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The 2007 Fall Season: Adventures in Perversity

by Christopher Gildemeister


In this new column, the Parents Television Council seeks to keep parents and other viewers informed about harmful or questionable prime-time programming.


As 2007’s fall television schedule premieres, it is clear that the new TV season will be characterized by new lows in “entertainment.” Of particular concern is the large amount of extremely graphic violence on display.


In its opening weeks CBS has reveled in showing graphic violence, including violence in which children are the victims. On the September 23rd episode of Cold Case, three 10-year-old boys are shown at the bottom of an empty swimming pool. All have duct tape over their eyes and have been beaten to death, blood covering their bodies and clothes. A flashback later shows one of the boys’ fathers flying into a rage and beating the boys to death with a flashlight as blood spatters everywhere. The man’s wife – the mother of one of the boys – helps her husband cover up the murder.


CBS also premiered a new series that is equally bloody, though in a different way. The new series Moonlight, which premiered September 28th, is yet another program featuring a “heroic” vampire. Obviously in such a supernatural setting blood will be everywhere – but it is shown in an extremely graphic fashion. The lead character drinks it from glasses and injects it directly into his body, loitering around the corpses in a morgue to obtain it. Additionally, the violence in the series is downright ferocious, with a bloody battle between vampires featuring faces being slashed, necks being bitten and other bloody wounds. The fight concludes when the “hero” stabs his wife through the chest with a stake, then immolates her by setting the room aflame.


As if such supernatural-themed gore were not sickening enough, the September 23rd season premiere of CBS’ legal drama Shark showed more “realistic” violence. In the episode, police find the severed head of a mobster on a chess table in a park.  Blood oozes from the frayed edges of the man's severed neck, and a chess piece has been shoved in the gangster’s mouth.


Not to be outdone, Fox’s season premiere of its forensic crime drama Bones two days later proved even more gruesome. After a human skull is thrown from a bridge and crashes through the windshield of a car, Bones and her team realize that there is a murderous secret society of cannibals at work. As Bones interrogates the cannibal, the viewer is treated to this appetizing dialogue:


cannibal: "It's not like chicken or pork you know. People always say that. It's more like beef. The face is a little sweeter. More tender. The younger the person, the better. Except for babies. Babies taste kind of like fish."


As the detectives grow closer to uncovering the entire cult, the captured cannibal suffers a brutal death in prison. His corpse is shown tied to the bars of his jail cell naked, with a large knife sticking out of his chest.


Nor is Bones the only Fox series which wallows in sadism and gore. As if the previous season of the network’s returning series Prison Break did not feature enough gratuitous violence when its characters were in an American prison, now they are confined to a corrupt penitentiary in Panama, where the most violent inmates run the prison. Disagreements are resolved by having the arguing cons fight to the death. The arguing prisoners brutally beat one another, ending when one prisoner’s neck is graphically broken. The dead con’s fly-covered corpse is later shown lying in the mud. (For more detail on this episode see the PTC’s Worst TV Show of the Week column.) In subsequent weeks the leading convict also routinely orders others tortured and killed, showing kneecaps being broken and forcible drowning.  And on Fox’s new drama K-Ville, gun violence is shown with a level of graphic detail rarely seen on broadcast television before. Gunshots are shown graphically penetrating and blowing apart kneecaps and chests, as blood sprays everywhere.


But while the networks’ use of violence has been extreme, it is nothing compared to their treatment of sex.


Sex has dominated television programming for years; but until recently, most such depictions, while steamy, have been fairly straightforward. Not anymore. No longer is showing people having sex considered sufficient; such mundane activity is now considered passé. Increasingly, there is an emphasis on bizarre forms of sexual activity.


Transsexuals, transvestitism and prostitution seem to have a particular fascination for ABC. The network’s new program Big Shots is essentially HBO’s Sex and the City for men -- or rather, for people who think that men talk like the women on Sex and the City. On the program’s September 27th premiere a group of male friends chatter endlessly about having sex with any woman who crosses their path. One character boasts, "We're men.  When it comes to sex, money, or criminal proceedings, we're allowed to lie." Another man reveals that his wife is having an affair, prompting Duncan to comment, "Rite of passage for men.  Loss of virginity, first threesome, the discovery of a cheating wife. The trifecta." Later, Duncan relates how a prostitute performed a sexual favor on him in a truck stop restroom, as a flashback shows the prostitute on her knees while Duncan's foot rocks back and forth and he moans. They are interrupted by a police officer, and as Duncan is being escorted out he turns around and sees the prostitute using the urinal, making it clear that Duncan was receiving oral sex from a male transvestite.  ABC’s Dirty Sexy Money, which premiered September 26th, also featured an aspiring U.S. senator who is having an affair with a transgender lover, and who tries to persuade his lawyer to bribe the lover into leaving. And the night before, the network’s sex-obsessed Boston Legal featured William Shatner’s Denny Crane character soliciting sex from a prostitute, who was in reality an undercover police woman.


Another area of apparent fascination for the networks is male ejaculatory fluid. CBS’ new comedy The Big Bang Theory, premiering on September 24th, followed two main characters, Sheldon and Leonard, as they visited a sperm bank:


Leonard: "Is this the high IQ sperm bank?"

Nurse: "If you have to ask, maybe you shouldn't be here."

Sheldon: "I think this is the place."


The nurse gives them forms to fill out.


Sheldon: "I don't think I can do this."

Leonard: "Are you kidding, you're a semi-pro."


Later, the duo tells a woman that they had tried “masturbating for money.” But the champion program for obsession with semen was ABC’s Private Practice, a spin-off of the hit medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. The program’s September 26th premiere featured a storyline in which a man attempts to donate sperm but dies in the process, following which his mistress demands the dead man’s sperm be used to impregnate her. (This episode was covered in more detail in the PTC’s Misrated column.) In the course of the episode, references to sperm are made some 22 times. As cable humorist Joel McHale said on E!’s The Soup, “The most popular show with women in their thirties is written by 12-year-old boys.”


Many new shows featured sexual references that moved from the bizarre and adolescent to the downright disturbing – namely, the idea that incest is humorous. On the October 1st premiere of the CW’s new comedy Aliens in America, the Paladino twins confront Justin on his first day of school and note that Justin’s sister Claire has developed over the summer:


Justin: "Where'd what come from?"

Paldino twin: "Her giant breasts…Are you on that?"

Justin: "My sister?"

Paldino twin: "Oh you gotta get on that."

Other twin: "Man, if she was our sister I'd be up in her room every night!"


Similarly, on the September 27th episode of ABC’s Ugly Betty, the character Amanda is disgusted by the idea of incest, but Marc finds it appealing:


Amanda: "If Bradford is my father; that makes Daniel my brother, who I slept with...a lot.  And that's the kind of dirty that don't wash clean."


Marc: "Okay, first of all, he'd be your half-brother...already a little better, right?  And second, I gotta say, kinda hot."


This program, which ABC has consistently pitched as being a cheerful family-friendly comedy, also featured implications of group sex, references to “lethargic sperm” and heavy product-placement for Victoria’s Secret.


Unsurprisingly, it was Fox’s feculent Family Guy that managed the largest number of filthy and downright disgusting sex jokes. On the September 30th episode daughter Meg gets a job as a phone sex operator – and is patronized by her own father; a female medical patient complains to her doctor, “You said you were going to cure my cancer, but all you did was rape me. I'm starting to think I don't have cancer at all," to which the doctor responds, "Well, you're right about the rape part. But I'm sorry, you still have cancer"; and after it is implied that Jillian is having sex with the family dog, baby Stewie begs the dog to have sex with him, too.


All of the foregoing is in addition to the usual network emphasis on teenage sex. One such scene occurred on the September 25th premiere of CBS’ new drama Cane, during which a teenaged boy necks with his girlfriend on a couch. When the boy’s mother enters, the girl covers herself and reaches for her underwear. Only then does the viewer realize that the two have been having intercourse throughout.


Not to be outdone, on September 19th CW premiered Gossip Girl, a program based on a series of “young adult” books by Cecily von Ziegesar, which glamorize wealthy teenage girls who smoke marijuana, drink and have casual sex. On the program’s premiere episode, the teenaged Chuck leers at a girl while proclaiming, "Serena looked f'ing hot last night.  There's something about that much perfection. It needs to be violated!" Suiting his action to his word, Chuck attempts to rape Serena (while flashbacks are shown of Serena having sex with another boy on a bar stool). Serena escapes, but Chuck is not deterred and later tries to assault another girl, Jenny. When Jenny’s brother interrupts him, Chuck excuses his attempted rape by saying, "It's a party. Things happen.” As Jenny’s brother drives him off, Chuck yells at Serena, "Your life is over, slut.  Remember, I know everything!" The program continued its tawdry take on teens on the September 26th episode, showing Chuck awakening in bed with two girls, after an implied threesome. He also gives Blair the key to his room so that she can lure Nate there, boasting that he is proud to play “even a small part in [her] deflowering.” After Nate and Blair are interrupted during sex, Chuck congratulates Blair for having sex with her best friend’s boyfriend.  Each episode also included various other scenes of teens drinking, smoking pot and having sex. The September 26th episode ended with the voice-over narrator declaring, “some might call this a fuster-cluck” – an apt description, as CW has consistently promoted Gossip Girl as its top new show for teens.


Transvestite prostitutes. Jokes about incest. Severed heads. Cannibalism. These are just a few of the delightful treats the networks served up for viewers in recent weeks. If this is what the networks are using to attract viewers to their new programs at the beginning of the fall season, what will the rest of the year be like?


TV Trends: This column was compiled from reports by the Parents Television Council’s Analysis staff: Aubree Bowling, Caroline Schulenburg, Josh Shirlen, Katherine Kuhn and Keith White, under the direction of Dr. John Rattliff.

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