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Broadcast TV Pushes the Sex Envelope

by Christopher Gildemeister

The broadcast TV networks are engaged in a constant and deliberate effort to make greater levels of violence, sex and foul language the norm. Narcissistically imagining themselves similar to the bold test pilots who originated the phrase, TV’s so-called “creative” personnel constantly seek to “push the envelope.” In recent months, TV viewers have had a slight respite from the “envelope-pushing” programming promised by the 2007 fall season’s flood of programs featuring extreme and bizarre forms of sex. But with the writer’s strike at an end, prime-time TV has resumed business as usual.


How does the Fox network define “business as usual”?


A couple having sex with a monkey. 


That was the centerpiece of the premiere episode of Fox’s newest Sunday night “comedy,” Unhitched. Airing at 9:30 p.m. ET on March 2nd, this program presented viewers with the spectacle of “Gator” and his primate-studying date watching a tape of gorillas having sex:  


woman: "I shot this during my last rescue. See, in the world of primates, the female always initiates... Come on, Gator. Take me like a silverback!"


Gator and his date start making sounds like gorillas as the woman pulls Gator down on the rug to have sex. As they have intercourse, they make sounds like gorillas. The woman’s pet orangutan climbs onto the couch to watch them and pulls down his shorts, displaying a pixilated but presumably erect penis. The monkey jumps onto Gator’s back. Gator looks up in shock, and it is implied that the orangutan attempted to penetrate him. Later, Gator consults his physician friend Freddy:


Freddy: "Luckily there was no penetration, but it appears you have a 2-inch laceration on your upper left-hand gluteus, some abrasions around your sphincter… Basically, Gator, your ass was pummeled. But don't worry. All you need is three stitches and a shave.


Tommy: "Gator had a little run-in with a bi-Curious George."


Lest some viewers find implied bestiality a trifle too tame, Unhitched showed physician Freddy celebrating the anniversary of his divorce by hiring a prostitute. Later, Freddy is seen covered in sweat, moaning, grunting and biting his lip. When the viewer thinks Freddy is having sex, it turns out he is performing the Heimlich maneuver on a woman. The program is also an equal-opportunity offender, allowing female character Kate to smirk about her boyfriend, “I've seen him in spandex. Trust me, there's no surprises," and, in what apparently passes for clever dialogue among Fox’s writers, Gator’s drunken co-worker Katherine to slur, "I'm miserable. You know, all I want is some companionship, some conversation and maybe a stiff cock...[hiccups]..tail once in a while.”


That this kind of content appears on Fox should surprise no one. With a track record featuring everything from a game show destroying a marriage to the constant sexual references present on American Dad and Family Guy, Fox is apparently striving to establish a reputation as the “edgiest” of the broadcast networks. This ambition on the part of Fox was confirmed March 7th when

Juiliana Margulies, star of the Fox’s new legal drama Canterbury's Law, appeared on Regis and Kelly to promote the series. Margulies stated that, while broadcast network TV is limited by FCC restrictions on content, Fox will be using her program to deliberately push those boundaries and the limits of indecency laws.


But while Fox may be the network doing the most to “push the envelope,” it is far from the only network doing so.


“Hopefully I have made it possible for somebody on broadcast television to do a rear-entry scene in three years.  Maybe that will be my legacy.”Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy (Bravo network’s TV Revolution, episode 3, “Sex in the Box,” May 24, 2004)


Murphy’s legacy has been secured even earlier than his presumptive deadline by NBC. For that network, merely depicting a couple having graphic sex in a face-to-face position is now passé. Instead, the network has gone out of its way to show presumptive “rear-entry” scenes on several of its programs as far back as 2006.


My Name Is Earl featured a storyline in which Earl had sex with his friend Ralph’s mother. In revenge, Ralph plans to have sex with his mother to get even with Earl.  When Earl's mother bends over, Ralph moves his hips in a manner that emulates rear-entry sex (October 19 2006, 8:00 p.m. ET). In the current season NBC has escalated to actual depictions of rear-entry intercourse in its programs. The new Sex and the City knock-off Lipstick Jungle showed Nico in bed having sex with her lover Kirby, their hands gripping the sheets as they engage in the technique (February 14, 2008, 10:00 p.m. ET).


NBC’s Law & Order franchise appears particularly fascinated by the theme. Law & Order: SVU showed a pair of detectives pursuing a kidnapper bursting into a hotel room, only to find a nude couple, the woman being mounted from behind by the man (November 27, 2007). On Law & Order: Criminal Intent detectives watched a blackmail tape featuring a man in the middle of an adulterous tryst.  Detective Logan sneers, "He'll flip her over any second.  If he's cheating on his wife he's not going missionary the whole way!"  Then the girl on the tape is shown rising out of the bed and turning onto her hands and knees.  The tape is paused as the two continue having sex in this position. For bad measure, the episode also featured a woman, murdered after a threesome and bound to the bed in her underwear, her lifeless body staring blankly with its skin turning blue.  Detective Nola examines the ropes and declares that the woman underwent “erotic Japanese bondage,” with a coroner noting that the dead woman had traces of semen in her mouth. (February 27, 2008, 9:00 p.m. ET -- only 8:00 p.m. in the Central and Mountain time zones, when many children are still watching TV.)


Not to be outdone, the same night’s episode of NBC’s sister crime drama Law and Order, airing just one hour later, showed viewers a murdered teenage girl’s corpse being discovered in a garbage dumpster. The investigation leads to a prostitute named “Sugar,” whose boyfriend Tito killed young Anne-Marie. Detective Lupo gains the evidence he needs by tricking “Sugar” into confessing:


Lupo: "He told us that screwing her after screwing you was like trading up from a dump truck to a caddy.  He said 'at least she didn't just lie there like a junkie skank.’"


Sugar: "He's lying, he killed her.  He made me watch while he raped her in my room, and then he killed her."


Nina: “So she watched as you raped and sodomized Anne Marie."


Ryan Murphy has gotten his wish, and more. As they strive to imitate cable’s more explicit fare, broadcast television is becoming ever more extreme in its depictions of sex. And as the programs on cable “push the envelope” even further, so too will broadcast TV. New programs like Showtime’s Californication, which has shown a nun performing oral sex on lead character Hank Moody in a dream sequence, and HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me, with its graphic depictions of sex, are constantly lowering the bar of acceptable behavior. In the incestuously insular world of television, the opinion of a tiny clique of critics and fellow writers matters far more to a program’s production staff than do the opinion of millions of their fellow Americans. Like a high school dance – only more so – the relatively low-status writers for broadcast TV attempt to gain attention and approval by emulating the behavior of the “cool kids” working in cable…with American families and children paying the price.


Nothing on a scripted television program is an accident. With dozens of people, hundreds of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars involved in the production of each and every episode shown on prime-time broadcast TV, it is clear that nothing that makes it onto the screen is inadvertent or the result of chance. Whether it is a bit of suggestive dialogue or a blatant sex scene, everything a viewer sees is the result of a deliberate choice on the part of writers, directors and network executives.  In choosing to show the extreme sexual content in these series, broadcast network executives and their so-called “creative” personnel are engaged in a premeditated campaign to redefine what is acceptable in mass entertainment -- no matter how much harm they do in the process.

TV Trends: This column was compiled from reports by the Parents Television Council’s Analysis staff.


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