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Thursdays at 10: No Time For Children

BY CHRISTOPHER GILDEMEISTER

 

Summer is traditionally rerun season on broadcast TV; and generally speaking, this summer is no exception. But this summer also brings a number of new series, some of which have already begun, and some of which are slated to begin shortly.

 

Two of the new summer series air simultaneously: Thursday nights at 10:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific time. Unfortunately, neither of these new programs presents viewing appropriate for children or families.

 

This column has previously detailed the concept and premiere episode of CBS’ Swingtown, which glamorizes drug use and so-called “open marriage;” and the program’s second episode fully lived down to its previously-established reputation.    

 

While swingers Tom and Trina Decker and Susan and Bruce Miller spend a night at a Playboy club, Janet dreams that she is in her kitchen talking to her husband Roger. A naked Trina (shown from the shoulders up) enters and begins seducing Roger. Tom, also apparently nude, enters the kitchen and starts coming onto Janet.  He seats her on the kitchen counter and rips open her dress, revealing her lingerie. The man’s hand is shown shoving her skirt up high on her thigh as he kisses her. Later in the episode, Susan and Trina obliquely discuss the foursome they had with their husbands, and Susan marvels at how well Tom’s promiscuous lifestyle works for him and Trina. Trina remarks in response that it’s “just sex.”  And when Tom is brought into his boss’ office and told that the stewardess Tom previously has sex with is spreading rumors that could get Tom into trouble, Tom worries that he will be fired – only to be told that he is being promoted. Clearly, the show’s philosophy is that having promiscuous sex makes everything in life better!

 

While the CBS network glamorizes drug use and group sex on Swingtown, rival network NBC is competing for viewers in the same time slot. Sadly, NBC has not chosen to counter CBS’ salacious program with family-friendly fare.  Instead, NBC’s new horror anthology Fear Itself features gruesome and graphic violence. NBC’s website boasts that the horror series is intended to “push the boundaries of this classic genre through a host of provocative talent.” This “talent” includes Darren Bousman, director of the horrifically gory Saw movie series, which featured a serial killer who routinely tortured victims through impalement, dismemberment and other equally disturbing and explicit methods.

 

Fear Itself wasted no time in bringing such themes to the small screen. The program’s premiere episode on June 5th featured four criminals stranded in a haunted building, with a seductive trio of murderous women. After one woman stitches shut a man’s bloody chest wound, she finishes by stitching his mouth closed – the needle shown in close-up as it punctures the man’s lips and sews them shut. Other scenes featured a dead man with a stake rammed through his heart and his face swollen and scarred; a man hanging upside down leaking blood into a pan while surrounded by dead animals; a woman chopping off a man’s head with an axe; and a vampire being pushed down a pit, impaled on a stake and lit on fire.

 

The second episode, airing on June 12th, told the story of Harry, a former cop turned private eye who is confronted with his past transgressions -- which include the torture and murder of various criminals and suspects. Harry threatens one suspect, who is chained to a bed, by waving a knife in his face and saying, “You got thirty seconds or I'm gonna put your eye out!” Harry goes on to stab the man in the arm and neck, blood gushing gorily forth. The episode also features a man pulling bloody teeth (which then become bullets) out of his own mouth and vomiting blood, people in pictures who slash their own throats, and – for good measure – a tape with sexually explicit dialogue between a suspect and his lover. The episode ends by revealing that Harry’s obsession stems from the fact that he shot and killed his own brother when both were children. The aptly-named Fear Itself gives its viewers plenty of fear – or at least, plenty of gore…scarcely ideal programming for the thousands of children still in the audience.

 

In short, none of the major broadcast networks offer programming appropriate for children or families at 10:00 p.m. Thursday – which, it should be remembered, is only 9:00 p.m. in Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Denver and the rest of the Central and Mountain time zones…areas that the networks’ management apparently believe do not matter.  Between CBS’ Swingtown, NBC’s Fear Itself, and ABC’s rerun of the sex-soaked soap opera Grey’s Anatomy, perhaps viewers’ best option for the last hour of prime time on Thursday nights is to turn their TV off entirely.  


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


 

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