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NBC: Saturday Night Live Perfect for Kids

BY CHRISTOPHER GILDEMEISTER

 

“We’ve listened to our advertisers and we’ve listened to our audience…Eight o’clock is the Family Hour on NBC!” -- NBC Co-Chairman of Entertainment Ben Silverman (New York Times, April 2, 2008; Jackmyers.com, April 3, 2008)

 

Last year, in a bid to reverse the fortunes of the fourth-place Peacock Network, NBC wunderkind Ben Silverman pledged that the network would henceforth emphasize family-friendly programming during the first hour of prime time, while confining adult-themed dramas to 10:00 p.m. ET.

 

In addition to displaying genuine corporate responsibility, Silverman’s approach was canny and well-chosen. In a 2007 Yankelovich poll, nearly nine out of ten parents (88%) said it is important to them to view TV programs with their children; yet 68% said there are not enough shows parents and children can watch together. By recognizing that many viewers are weary of the violent, tawdry and salacious fare shown in prime time, and promoting a return to shows families can feel comfortable watching together, Silverman promised the parents of the nation that families would be able to watch TV together again.

 

Unfortunately, the network has repeatedly broken its promise. NBC’s commitment to the Family Hour has been inconsistent at best. In some cases, the supposedly family-friendly programs themselves have been to blame: NBC’s “reimagining” of the fondly-remembered ‘80s action show Knight Rider has been far from kid-friendly, frequently featuring some bloody violence and sexual innuendo, and somehow managing to cram partial nudity into nearly every episode. The light-hearted spy series Chuck has turned increasingly towards sexual fantasies and innuendo. And the network’s reality/game show featuring Deal or No Deal host Howie Mandel, Howie Do It, is Misrated as family fare, relying as it does on hurtful stunts involving sexual elements.

 

On other occasions, it has been NBC’s scheduling that has made a mockery of its Family Hour promise. On February 26th, for example, the network showed the PTC’s choice for Best TV Show of the Week, the charming, family-friendly special Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Furious Five (based on last summer’s animated movie). This was a delightful choice for entertaining families and children.  Yet immediately afterward, NBC chose to show Kath and Kim, a sitcom about a dysfunctional mother/daughter duo who, in this episode, held a lingerie party. So irresponsible was this juxtaposition of programming that Kath and Kim has been named Worst TV Show of the Week.

 

But perhaps the most blatant betrayal of Silverman’s Family Hour pledge came this past Sunday, March 1st, at 7:00 p.m. ET – only 6:00 p.m. in the Midwest – when the network showed a special consisting of raunchy skits from Saturday Night Live.

 

Running for over 30 years, SNL show has produced some of today’s most notable stars. The program has also been prized for its edgy, bawdy and occasionally offensive comedy sketches. During the show’s regular timeslot at 11:30 p.m. ET, such comedy does not present a problem: children are safely in bed, and any adult who wishes to do so may enjoy the ribald humor. But there is a vast difference between airing comedy replete with explicit references to sex, drugs, and drinking at midnight, and showing it at 6 p.m. on Sunday.

 

Here are a few samples of the dialogue shown during the SNL special:

 

Tracy Jordan does a “commercial” for “Uncle Jemima's Mash Liquor”:

 

“You like drinking. Who the hell don't?  Well if you're like me, you like to get bit just as fast as possible. That's why I'm proud to introduce to you Uncle Jemima's pure mash liquor.  I'm Uncle Jemima. You probably know my wife Aunt Jemima, the pancake lady.  Now she says selling booze is degrading to our people.  I always say, ‘black folk aren't exactly swelling up with pride on account of you flipping flapjack.’ And she say, ‘why booze?’  And I say, ‘sell what you know, and I know about booze.’ Uncle Jemima's pure mash liquor has a 95 percent alcohol content, and that's pure volume…That means you get (bleeped f*****) up with less money!”

 

In an “interview” with Jon Stewart, Tracy and Rachel discuss Stewart’s attendance at an awards show. Imagine watching this with your eight-year-old daughter:

 

Jon Stewart:  “Yeah, I got to meet some of the artists.”

Tracy:  “Christina got some new boobies, right?...She spent some of that cheese on some new front meat.” 

Stewart:  “I don't...”

Rachel:  “He thinks Christina Aguillera got breast implants and would like to know your thoughts on that.” 

Stewart:  “I'm not really good at spotting things like that, so…” 

Rachel:  “Hosting an award show of that caliber must be quite stressful.”

Tracy:  “You like to get high, right?...I've been backstage at those award shows. The Source awards was like weed city bro. Come on, you all like to get lifted, right?”

Stewart:  “Lifted?”

Rachel:  “I find if Tracy says a word that I don't know, it usually means high.”

Stewart:  “I don't really get lifted anymore.”

Tracy:  “We gotta chill sometime, you and me bro.” 

Stewart: “I'm real busy...”

Tracy:  “With the show?”

Stewart:  “Yeah. The show.”

Tracy:  “You be doing all that investigative reporting, and stuff, going to the White House and Afghanistan.”

Stewart:  “Yeah, you've never seen the show have you?”

Tracy:  “I only watch cable for one thing, hard core porn.”

Rachel:  “Sometimes I watch Family Ties reruns on Nick at Night.”

Stewart:  “There's hard core porn on cable?”

Rachel:  “So Jon, do you think you're going to remain on cable, or might you expand to a wider market?”

Tracy:  “Look at her, pretending to be all interested in TV markets, when she's just trying to get her freak on.  You don't care about no Daily Show, you're just trying to be his daily ho.  Look at her turning all red.”

Rachel:  “There's been a lot of talk about late night comedy shows versus news shows.  Your show kind of straddles the line.” 

Tracy (points to Stewart’s crotch):  “Yeah, you’d like to straddle that line.” 

Rachel: “I'm trying to conduct an interview.”

Tracy:  “No you ain't.  Jon, baby girl look cute, right?”

Jon:  “Yeah, very cute, very charming, and very funny...”

Tracy:  “So why don't you get her pregnant?”

 

Not to be outdone, Will Ferrell joined in with more explicit sexual humor in a Jeopardy! sketch, during which Sean Connery makes smutty remarks about Alex Trebek’s mother:

 

Sean:  “Well, well Trebek. Fancy seeing you here.”

Alex:  “Not long enough.”

Sean:  “That's not what you're mother said last night.”

Alex:  “Okay, here are the categories for double Jeopardy.  Potent potables, colors that are red, Japan/U.S. relations...” 

Sean:  “I had relations this morning, Trebek. Hope we didn't wake you. Your mother's a screamer.”

Alex:  “For your information, my mother is in a nursing home in Alberta, Canada.”

Sean:  “Oh, she was nursing it, alright!”

 

And later, Ferrell’s “cheerleader” character tells a chess team player that it's okay to “explore” his own body:

 

Will:  “Safe sex is in your hands.” 

Cheerleaders:  “Sex can wait! Masturbate!”

 

Since the show’s beginning, Saturday Night Live has billed its performers as the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players.” While this was originally a joke about the cast’s status as fledgling TV stars, the name takes on a double meaning when one considers the comedy being performed. This sort of content is certainly “not ready for prime time” -- particularly not as families are sitting down to Sunday dinner.  And as if proud of throwing sex and profanity into the faces of families, the most offensive content appeared in the show’s earlier first hour, when kids are most likely to be in the viewing audience. Thus, the timeslot NBC once reserved for The Wonderful World of Disney is now home to the network’s programming least appropriate for children.

 

After this deluge of adult-oriented programming in the timeslot NBC’s own entertainment chief proclaimed to be the Family Hour, parents are left to conclude that at best, NBC’s left hand doesn’t know what its right hand is doing. At worst, the network – and its chairman, Ben Silverman – are guilty of the rankest hypocrisy.

 


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


 

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