Brought to you by the Parents Television
The 2009 Fall Season: ABC
By Christopher Gildemeister
Originally a spin-off of the NBC radio network
(at first, ABC was known as the “Blue Network”), ABC entered television in 1948.
For decades the perennial third-place network, ABC finally came into its own
with a string of prime-time successes in the 1970s. Cunningly
counter-programming CBS’ politically relevant sitcoms and dramas, ABC became the
home to fantasy-based shows like The Six Million Dollar Man, The Love Boat
and Fantasy Island and light-hearted comedies like Happy Days.
The longtime home of Disney on television (ABC provided much of the funding for
Disneyland in the 1950s), the network was purchased by Disney in 1996. But while
some of the programming Disney provides to television is wholesome and provides
acceptable fare for children and families (cable’s Disney Channel and its new
network aimed at young boys, Disney XD), much is not – as can be seen by the
Disney-owned ABC Family network…and by ABC on broadcast television, as well.
For several years, ABC’s prime-time lineup has
comprised a mix of family-friendly and uplifting programs, and others far less
so. The network’s dichotomous attitude is notably visible this season – as a
look at the Alphabet Network’s prime-time schedule will attest.
Monday nights on ABC have largely been taken up
with the hit reality show
Dancing With the Stars (8:00 p.m. ET). While once this program was a
shoo-in as a family-friendly favorite, over the years it has become less so,
with more dances emphasizing erotic gestures, and judge Bruno Tonioli’s
sexualized comments becoming more explicit. Make no mistake: Dancing With the
Stars is certainly not
Two and a Half Men or
Family Guy, but it’s occasional and mildly risqué content may be of
slight concern to some parents. As a competition, Dancing With the Stars
also has an episode on Tuesdays, where results of the competition are announced.
In late November, Dancing With the Stars will end its current season and
be replaced with
The Bachelor, a program with more problematic content, such as
references to and implications of sex between the title “bachelor” and the
thirty-some women competing for his attention. Beyond this seamy premise, the
show also often features bleeped language and occasional fights between the
Mondays end with the crime drama
Castle (10:00 p.m. ET), about a mystery writer who teams up with a woman
detective to solve crimes (and gain new material for his novels). As is typical
of programs in the 10 o’clock spot, Castle contains a good deal of violence,
frequent sexual commentary and innuendo, and some foul language.
Tuesday leads off with V (8:00 p.m. ET), a
“reimagining” of the 1980s science-fiction program about aliens invading Earth,
slowly undermining earthly institutions and attempting to gain humans’ trust.
The first episode featured some brief violence and scenes possibly disturbing to
young children, people’s skin being torn to display alien lizardlike
characteristics beneath; but since only one episode has aired at this writing,
the show may become more violent as time goes on.
Following the Dancing With the Stars Results
The Forgotten (10:00 p.m. ET), which follows an organization devoted to
investigating unidentified murder victims and attempting to bring the killers to
justice. Like many another program with a forensic premise, The Forgotten
frequently features corpses, autopsies and other graphic gore, with flashbacks
to or recreations of murders also often shown.
Wednesdays are situation comedy night on
ABC…though in recent weeks both the 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. timeslots have been
abandoned, with ABC withdrawing the poorly-rated Hank and Eastwick
from its schedule, respectively. 8:00 p.m. ET is mostly now filled by reruns,
and 10 o’clock by a number of specials, until the mid-season replacement
programming is put in place post-Christmas.
This leaves Wednesdays filled with The Middle
(8:30 p.m. ET), a mostly family-friendly sitcom featuring Patricia Heaton as a
Midwestern working mother with several children. Almost uniquely in today’s
sensibilities, the family in The Middle is presented as a cohesive unit,
with a hard-working and loyal father, a strong mother and rambunctious but
largely obedient children. Sexual innuendo, profanity and distasteful humor is
kept to a minimum, and the show is about as inoffensive as it is possible for a
prime-time network sitcom to be in these days.
The family theme is continued with the breakout
Modern Family at 9 o’clock. Devoted to the “modern families” prevalent
today, the show features a traditional family, a gay couple who have adopted,
and a man in a midlife crisis with a much younger wife. Language has included
words like “bitch” and “ass,” and sexual innuendo is frequent though not
The same cannot be said of
Cougar Town (9:30), probably ABC’s most offensive and outrageous new
program this season. Starring Courteney Cox as a “cougar” obsessed with sex with
younger men (or maybe just sex, period), Cougar Town has featured dozens
of raunchy sex jokes per episode – often involving the character’s teenage son
and his friends. Thus far, Cox’s character has flashed a newspaper boy;
performed oral sex on a date with her son watching; posed for a revealing ad,
causing teenage boys to steal the ads all over town and looking at them while
they masturbate; shown a sex tape of herself and her ex-husband to all of her
women friends; listed to a friend offer to take her son’s virginity; and talked
on the phone with her friend while her friend has sex with her husband.
named Worst TV Show of the Week (thus far), Cougar Town
is unrelenting in its focus on the tawdry and is not recommended for families.
Thursdays open with
FlashForward (8:00 p.m. ET), a new science-fiction/mystery drama clearly
intended as ABC’s replacement as the soon-to-end
Lost. Like that program, FlashForward is mostly devoted to
intricate storytelling, but has also contained some extremely troubling and
disturbing imagery. The show’s plot concerns everyone on Earth having a vision
of their future. Worrisome scenes in the program have included a man lying atop
with his girlfriend in bed just after intercourse, with her naked legs wrapped
completely around his waist. During their tryst, the man has a graphic
“flashforward” of himself brutally murdering another man; a horrifying multi-car
crash, with victims covered in blood; and an extremely explicit scene set in a
bondage-style club, where members are subjected to hideous tortures such as
playing Russian roulette, hanging from chains while being beaten and flogged,
and being soaked in water, then electrocuted. Airing as it does during the first
hour of prime time, parents should be careful of children coming upon
Filling the rest of Thursdays, the soap operas
Grey’s Anatomy (9:00) and
Private Practice (10:00) continue to be totally dominated by nonstop
sexualized dialogue and the bed-hopping sexual exploits of their large and
intertwined casts. Blood and graphic injuries are also common on these shows,
making them poor choices for family viewing.
On Fridays, ABC offers a bizarrely mis-matched
triple play of programming. Opening the night with
Supernanny (8:00 p.m. ET), a program devoted to a British nanny teaching
parents how to cope with misbehaving children, the network then moves along to
Ugly Betty (9:00). While Supernanny is mostly devoid of offensive
content (though it may not be ideal for young viewers, as wildly misbehaving
children are at the forefront of every episode), Ugly Betty – touted in
early seasons as a family-friendly comedy – has gotten more and more entrenched
in sexualized plotlines, characters and dialogue. Parents should be aware that,
while America Ferrera’s Betty is a fun and wholesome role model for young girls,
none of the other characters in the show are. The network ends the night with
the news program 20/20.
Saturdays on ABC have thus far this season been
devoted to football, while Sunday nights open at 7:00 p.m. ET with the
America’s Funniest Home Videos. AFV features heavy use of such
scenes as men being hit in the crotch and inadvertent sexual innuendo, as well
as some stronger violence; but because everything depicted is (at least
ostensibly) accidental and is played for comedy, little in the show is likely to
be deeply offensive to families. And
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (8:00 p.m. ET) is totally inoffensive,
and often is moving and inspirational. Devoted to literally building homes for
those in need, the program features no sex or violence, and even the mildest
profanity is extremely rare. So delightful is this program that it has been
frequently chosen as
Best TV Show of the Week.
Desperate Housewives (9:00) lurches into heavily adult territory. A
supposedly satirical take on suburban life, the show is replete with references
to and depictions of sex (often between adults and teenagers), violent
storylines involving murder, and frequent profanity, as well as a deeply flawed
presentation of family life. Rounding out ABC’s week is
Brothers & Sisters, about a large extended family. Sexual innuendo and
content is frequent, as are some otherwise disturbing storylines. Neither
program is recommended for families or children.
During some of its most successful periods, ABC
devoted itself to programming meant simply to entertain, not be controversial or
provocative; and with its current owner being The Walt Disney Company, it is sad
that the network – one of the nation’s longest-lived – cannot find space for
more family-friendly programming.
This column was compiled from reports by the Parents
Television Council’s Analysis staff.