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Death Knell Sounds for Swingtown



“If we had abandoned or buried Swingtown, I would never have been able to live with myself…This is a labor of love!”

-- CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler (Chicago Tribune, June 2, 2008)


Nina Tassler may love Swingtown…but most Americans don’t.


Through dozens of TV commercials with the tagline "It's 10 o’clock. Do you know where your parents are?", to videos on YouTube and spots on classic-rock radio stations, to signs on buses reading “Where do you GET OFF?”, CBS has pushed its sleazy drama glamorizing extra-marital partner-swapping, group sex, and drug use…to increasingly little avail.


Now in its eighth week, Swingtown is proving a miserable failure. Ratings have plummeted over the course of the series; the show has lost more than half its viewers since the program’s June 5th premiere. Currently, nearly every game show on prime-time broadcast TV, not to mention reruns of such family-friendly shows as ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, are crushing Swingtown in viewer popularity.


And it’s not only America’s viewers who are fed up with the series’ sex-filled storylines. Sponsors are also deserting the sexually explicit series in droves. According to a July 7th article in Advertising Age, several commercials run by CBS during Swingtown were not purchased by advertisers. Dannon yogurt said that it bought ad time on CBS generally, but that it was the network that chose to run Dannon’s commercials during Swingtown. Other major sponsors want nothing to do with the show; after running commercials on one early episode, Philips North America, makers of Norelco razors, pulled their ads after customers wrote to the company and complained. Procter & Gamble -- CBS's largest advertiser last year -- has stated publicly, "We are not advertising on this show." These and other sponsors’ desertion of the series is a sure sign that advertisers don't want their products associated with Swingtown's sleaze.


In a desperate move to lure viewers, CBS has upped the ante by making the drug- and sex-fueled series even more shocking. On the program’s July 10th episode, Trina Decker was reunited with her high-school sweetheart, Luke. This being Swingtown, naturally Trina proposed that she, her husband and Luke engage in three-way sex...and of course both men agreed. Viewers were subjected to scenes of husband Tom passionately kissing Trina, untying her dress and pulling it down as she turns and kisses Luke. Later Tom, Trina, and Luke were shown in bed together, their legs intertwined. As Luke lay on his back with Trina atop Luke kissing him, Tom curled behind her kissing her shoulders.


As if graphic threesomes shown to children in prime time were not prurient enough, the storyline also included teenage summer-school student Laurie and her teacher kissing passionately; because the summer session had ended, apparently the teacher felt it was appropriate to take advantage of his student (and CBS felt it appropriate to tell teen viewers that such behavior from a teacher is acceptable).


The July 17th episode continued the trend, with teacher Doug again necking with Laurie. When Laurie asked, “Maybe tonight can be the night we go back to your place?” teacher Doug, rather than refusing outright to have sex with the minor, replied, “I want to take it slow and easy.” The same episode showed an orgy taking place in Tom’s basement “playroom,” with a friend of Tom’s reclining on the floor with two women on either side of him, rubbing against him and kissing him, and other men and women also part of the group sex scene.

And on the July 25th episode, the adults engage in a “game night” which leads two of them to a pornographic magazine store, where they ogle titles like "Big and Bawdy” and “Panty Party." Another player, Gail, falls onto her back on the floor, telling her game partner to "come and get it." Gail's daughter is left sitting outside the house, giving the other players clues because her mother is locked in the house having sex.  The same episode also featured teen Laurie and teacher Doug in his apartment. Laurie reminds Doug that she won a bet and therefore has the right to dictate their plans for the night.  Laurie and Doug begin kissing passionately and fall back on his bed, embracing.


These are the messages Swingtown is sending to young viewers: marriage vows are meaningless; teachers kissing students is acceptable; and any kind of sex, with any number of people, has no consequences whatsoever.


Swingtown is one of the most sexually indulgent programs on broadcast television, but it is par for the course in CBS’ race to the bottom. Swingtown drives a stake through the institutions of marriage and family, and is absolutely not suitable for children. Yet CBS has consistently rated the program TV-14, meaning that it thinks the show is suitable for fourteen-year-olds. The network also continues to air Swingtown in the 10:00 p.m. ET timeslot…which is only 9:00 p.m. in the Central and Mountain time zones, when millions of children are still in the viewing audience.   


Swingtown remains the darling of network bosses and so-called "creative" personnel, as demonstrated by Nina Tassler’s quote above.  But with average Americans and advertisers alike abandoning the show, CBS must surely recognize the program’s imminent demise. The network has moved Swingtown to Friday nights at 10:00 p.m. ET, a day and time widely regarded within the entertainment industry as the Place Where Series Go To Die.


In moving its tawdry sex drama to Friday nights, CBS is tacitly admitting that the show is hemorrhaging viewers; and by putting Swingtown into a timeslot where it can die a quiet death, CBS is acknowledging that the overwhelming majority of Americans, and the corporate sponsors the network depends upon for revenue, are rejecting Nina Tassler’s – and her fellow network’s executives' -- brazen efforts to normalize abhorrent sexual behavior.

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


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