Bloody Monday Nights: Fox’s Violent One-Two Punch
The Fox network
presents a study in contrasts as regards family-friendly programming. The Family
Hour (8:00 p.m. ET/PT, 7:00 p.m. CT/MT) Tuesday and Wednesday nights now feature
the newly-returned seventh season of television’s monster hit American Idol
– a simple, enjoyable talent show generally suitable for the entire family.
Idol has taken steps to redeem this season after being criticized in the
past for focusing too much on the obviously unqualified contestants and judge
Simon Cowell’s abrasive commentary . Similarly, the Thursday night schedule
features the light-hearted and charming game shows Are You Smarter Than a 5th
Grader? and Don’t Forget the Lyrics, both of which have frequently
been chosen as the PTC’s Best TV Show of the Week. And on early Sunday
evenings the network is often home to football games. At these times, parents
seeking entertainment safe and suitable for the entire family couldn’t do better
than tune into Fox.
But the rest of the
time, they couldn’t possibly do worse. On the same nights that American Idol
airs, Fox also features the gruesome and graphic forensic crime program Bones
and the often sexually-charged medical drama House. The timing of these
programs varies; sometimes they have been aired after Idol, and at other
times before it. On Saturday the network airs the long-running reality programs
Cops and America’s Most Wanted. While these do not sink to the
levels of many scripted crime dramas, neither would most parents find them
appropriate for young children. And at 9:00 p.m. ET Sunday nights, Fox tops off
its parade of perverse programming with Seth MacFarlane’s twin titans of trashy
TV, Family Guy and American Dad.
And now, concerned parents can add Monday nights to the list. At 8:00 p.m. ET,
in what was once considered the Family Hour, Fox shows the brutal drama
Prison Break. While the program has always focused on the seamy and violent
world behind bars, this season’s episodes have positively wallowed in savage
violence, with a particular emphasis on torture. For example, in the January 14th
episode viewers saw the innocent Michael confined to a sweatbox; inmate Whistler
tied up and roughly interrogated; and, most disturbingly of all, the character
Gretchen is strapped to a chair and waterboarded -- plastic wrap is stretched
over her face and a hose is turned on her, thus simulating drowning. As
Gretchen thrashes about in agony, Michael and Whistler are forced to listen to
the torture. (Perhaps Fox feels that, with 24’s strike-imposed hiatus,
Prison Break must keep up Fox’s tradition of depicting vicious torture.)
Additionally, viewers saw Gretchen stabbing, kicking and shooting a man dead;
prisoners Octavio and Bellick fighting in a barbarous boxing match to the death,
with Bellick hitting Octavio in the face, then in the groin, their inmate
audience cheering as Octavio falls to the ground with a blood-covered face,
apparently dead; and the sadistic T Bag kicking the drug-addicted Mahone while
saying, "When you're up all night and diarrhea is running down both your legs
and vomit is in your hair, don't come crawling back." While all of this may
constitute a genuine portrayal of life in a South American prison, the
relentlessly depressing emphasis on torture and brutality is not one to which
most parents would like their young children exposed.
And the situation does not improve at 9:00 p.m. ET, now home to the new,
ultra-violent science-fiction drama Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
While it would not be realistic to expect a program based on the Terminator
movie franchise to be a gentle, harmless fantasy program – each of the
Terminator movies was rated R, and featured prodigious amounts of graphic
violence and profanity – yet neither was it necessary for the Sarah Connor
spin-off to be as extreme as it was.
In the first moments of the new program’s special premiere episode – which Fox
considerately aired on a Sunday, January 13th in the 8:00 p.m. ET
Family Hour -- police aim their pistols at Sarah and her teenage son John,
pushing them into police cars; Sarah punches a policeman in the back seat of the
squad car, apparently breaking his nose; a Terminator cyborg pulls a sawed-off
shotgun from his jacket and begins shooting into the car, it being clear from
the mayhem that police officers have been killed; Sarah grabs an officer’s gun
and shoots the cyborg, and then screams as the cyborg guns down John, whose body
sprawls on the pavement with a bloody chest wound. The entire scene proves to be
a dream; but this would be little consolation to a horrified child who
inadvertently witnessed the scene.
Nor did things improve in the rest of the episode. Prominently featured was a
school shooting, during which the cyborg (posing as a teacher) bloodily slits
his own leg open with a letter opener, pulls a pistol out of the wound and
graphically guns down an entire class of high-school children. John flees and is
cornered by the cyborg, but is saved when the Terminator is hit square-on by a
pickup truck, driven by a good cyborg. The two robots in human flesh engage in
multiple hyper-violent battles, choking and beating one another, throwing each
other through walls, shooting and electrocuting one another, and the like.
The successive episode, on Monday, January 14th at 9:00 p.m. (the
program’s regular time) dished out more of the same, with more hard-core
fighting between the good and bad Terminators, and more guns blazing and other
violence on the part of Sarah. For novelty, this time she runs over a Terminator
with a stolen motorcycle, after threatening its owner with death; but so as not
to disappoint fans, this time the good Terminator is hit by a car, her
head sticking through the shattered windshield. The episode ends with a truly
gruesome depiction of the evil Terminator’s robot body walking about, with a
severed human head placed atop its torso as a disguise.
And so, parents now have one more night of the week during which they must
beware of the Fox network’s propensity for violence. It is a pity that Fox, or
another broadcast network, does not take advantage of its prime-time opportunity
to provide safe, family-friendly programming every night of the
week…because there is a huge, untapped – and increasingly frustrated -- audience
hungering for it.
Schulenburg contributed to this report.