Brought to you by the Parents Television
Network Executives In
Denial About Demand for Decency
During a recent symposium at the Paley
Center for Media, a startling event occurred. Startling, that is, save to the
millions of Americans weary of the current state of television programming as
oversexed, overly violent and using over the top language.
As revealed by
TheWrap.com, during the June 9th Alliance for Family
Entertainment Symposium’s discussion session featuring both TV writers and top
network executives, the Association of National Advertisers broached the
suggestion that there is a huge, unfulfilled demand for a return to the Family
Hour on prime-time TV – or at least a return to family-friendly programming. The
ANA suggested that the current lack of such programming represents the biggest
missed opportunity in Hollywood today. So strongly do America’s biggest
advertisers feel about the need for decency in entertainment that the ANA has
announced the creation of a fund to aid the Humanitas Prize screenwriting
group in support of creating more family-friendly programming. This column has
previously noted the great demand for clean entertainment by large segments
of the American public; and now, even the nation’s top 40 advertisers see that
Americans want entertainment they can watch with their children.
Sadly, the TV industry’s response was
typical: they didn’t want to hear it.
of a nuclear family sitting around in the same place at the same time might be a
throwback," opined Ali LeRoi, executive producer of
Everybody Hates Chris, the CW network’s only current family-friendly
statements are belied by a 2007 Yankelovich poll of TV viewers. In that poll,
63% of parents with children said the content of today’s programs forces parents
with children at home to watch TV separately (only 53% of parents expressed the
same view in 2001); 68% of respondents said there are not enough shows on TV
that parents and children can watch together; 74% believed that TV does a poor
job of reinforcing the values parents want to teach to their children; 81%
wanted to see more programs that they can watch with other members of their
household; and nearly nine in ten parents (88%) said it is important to them to
view TV programs with their children.
Furthermore, the poll found that, in
contradiction to the view of audiences as fragmented expressed by the panelists,
fully 70% of all TV continues to be viewed in the family room or living room.
And in meetings with focus groups around the nation, viewers repeatedly
expressed sentiments like, "there are lots of channels but it’s hard to find
something to watch," and "I’m tired of having to have my hand on the remote when
watching TV with my kids." (Statistics and quotes from AdAge.com, June 19, 2008)
But apparently the opinions held by an
overwhelming number of American viewers are unimportant to TV’s top bosses. Just
as the networks’ multi-millionaire executives must be ignorant of the
difficulties average American parents face in making a living, so too they are
apparently oblivious to the desire of those same parents for positive
Contempt for the
concerns of average Americans was rife at the Paley Center panel. The network
executives in attendance uniformly rejected any and all attempts to persuade
them of the desirability of making a renewed commitment to family-friendly
programming -- as well as the idea that any normal viewer could possibly find
their programming objectionable.
President Kevin Reilly boasted that Fox’s long-running animated program The
Simpsons is often considered the most family-friendly program on TV. But
given The Simpsons‘ popularity and relatively family-friendly values,
Reilly failed to explain why Fox recently cancelled the similarly
family-oriented King of the Hill – or why Fox has turned over
three-quarters of its Sunday night schedule to programs produced by Seth
American Dad, and the upcoming The Cleveland Show) – programs
openly and uniformly hostile to families.
Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff stated that in today’s cultural
environment, the idea of developing more family-friendly programming is
“unrealistic.” It certainly appears unrealistic when one considers CW programs
90210 and the upcoming revival of Melrose Place, which are
glutted with teenage characters having sex and using drugs. (And despite
Ostroff’s claim that the CW “targets women aged 18-34,” given the overwhelming
number of teenage characters
– together with their youth-centric advertising and promotional efforts – the
only rational conclusion is that her network is directly and overtly
targeting teens with their
explicitly sexual storylines).
The New Adventures of Old Christine and
Gary Unmarried merely reflect a different family dynamic," added CBS
President of Entertainment Nina Tassler. Such sentiments are unsurprising coming
from Tassler, who last summer championed another “different family dynamic” in
the depraved, disastrous and now happily-defunct
Swingtown, which depicted wife-swapping orgies among adults and a
teenage girl having sex with her high-school teacher. Tassler purchased that
program for CBS and defended it to the press with the words, “If we had
abandoned or buried Swingtown, I would never have been able to live with
myself…This is a labor of love!” Despite Tassler’s passionate devotion to a
program glorifying extramarital sex and drug use, CBS ultimately cancelled the
show after dozens of sponsors refused to advertise on it. Notably, by the time
of its cancellation Swingtown had lost an incredible 70% of the
audience who watched the first episode.
demonstration of the average American viewer’s repugnance for such sleazy and
depressing fare could scarcely be imagined; yet the broadcast network’s top
executives continue to delude themselves that shows like Swingtown, Family
Guy, Gossip Girl and the sex-slathered
Two and a Half Men are exactly what Americans want.
networks endlessly bemoan their dire financial state, claiming that competition
from cable and satellite TV, online video and other high-tech sources are
drawing away huge numbers of viewers (even while these same networks tell
no medium draws as large an audience or is as influential as broadcast TV).
And with the recent transition to digital TV, local stations now have even more
hours to fill – and will inevitably turn to the broadcast networks in search of
programming. If such programming is not forthcoming, the networks will have lost
a huge opportunity to attract viewers and sponsors.
network executives would be wise to consider the desires both of their viewers
and their corporate sponsors; for without sponsors, the networks will not have
the money to function. Already, many large advertisers are
refusing to commit themselves to buying commercial time on the broadcast
networks – a process which, in the past, was largely completed by mid-June, but
which has not even begun this year.
watching the network’s programs (and the sponsors’ commercials), the sponsors
will have little reason to continue to purchase commercial time on television.
Already, Americans are tired of the networks’ intransigence; and sooner or later
they will turn away from broadcast TV in search of decent, quality
In fact, many
Americans are already doing so in movie theaters. As revealed by
Advertising Age, the recent success of movies like
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and Paul Blart: Mall
Cop has shown the renewed popularity of family-friendly films.
Over Memorial Day
weekend, the PG-rated Night at the Museum crushed the PG-13-rated
Terminator: Salvation in ticket sales – despite the popularity of the
Terminator franchise, and the fact that Terminator opened a day earlier.
And 20th Century Fox found that Museum attracted an audience that was 52%
“non-family," i.e., without children. "[The word] 'family' is no longer code for
'kids only,' " said Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy.
And the trend has
continued: Night at the Museum 2 was only dislodged from the top
box-office by Up -- another PG-rated film. So prominent is this trend
that 20th Century Fox has decided to edit its upcoming release
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
so that it will be appropriate for a PG rating – even though its last two Harry
Potter films were rated PG-13.
"If you look at
what's going on in the marketplace, you see two PG films at the top of the heap
last weekend. Everything else is PG-13. That speaks volumes. There's a real need
and demand for accessible entertainment, and there's been a bit of dearth of
that." -- Chris Aronson,
Senior Vice-President of Distribution at 20th Century Fox (AdAge.com, June 11,
With even major movie
studios recognizing (and catering to) America’s desire for family-friendly
entertainment, the message is clear; yet TV executives continue to bury their
heads in the sand and deny the evidence of millions of dollars’ worth of movie
ticket sales, advertiser demands, viewer polls and common sense. American
audiences are demanding decent, family-friendly entertainment, and they will not
be denied for much longer. This column has
previously noted the tremendous opportunity the broadcast networks have to
fill this vast (and lucrative) demand; but if they persist in their present
suicidal course of favoring trash over quality, the networks inevitably must
fail – and when they do, their executives will have no one to blame but
This column was compiled from reports by the Parents
Television Council’s Analysis staff.