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The Alarming Family Hour...

No Place for Children

A content analysis of sex, foul language and violence during network television’s Family Hour


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

Traditionally known as the Family Hour, the first hour of prime time was once a place for programming the whole family could enjoy. Television broadcasters, exercising their corporate responsibility to act in the public interest, reserved adult-themed shows for later in the evening when the youngest viewers were likely to be asleep.

 

In recent years, however, the broadcast networks have pushed more and more adult-oriented programming to the early hours of the evening.

 

This Special Report constitutes the PTC’s sixth analysis of Family Hour programming. The study sample included all entertainment programs originally airing on the six major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, CW, and My Network TV) in the Family Hour during three separate two-week periods of the 2006-2007 television season: November 2-15, 2006; February 1-14, 2007; and April 26-May 9, 2007.

 

The Family Hour time slot includes programs with a start time between 8 and 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and between 7 and 9 p.m. on Sundays, in the Eastern time zone (7 to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday in the Central time zone).

 

Reruns were analyzed separately. Many of the programs that were rebroadcast during the family hour normally occupy a later time slot on the broadcast schedule and are intended for adult audiences. Thus, by airing them during the Family Hour, the networks are introducing young audiences to high levels of mature content.

 

At a Glance:

  • There were 2246 instances of violent, profane and sexual content in 180 hours of original Family Hour programming, or 12.48 instances per television hour.

  • One instance of objectionable content occurs every 3.5 minutes of non-commercial airtime, on average.

  • Only 10.6% of the 208 episodes were free of any violent and sexual content and foul language.

  • Since 2000-2001, violent content during the Family Hour has increased by 52.4%

  • Since 2000-2001, sexual content has increased by 22.1%

  • The Fox network as the overall worst offender, with 20.78 instances of objectionable content per hour.

 

Major Findings:

 

Overall Content

 

  • In 180 hours of original programming, there were 2246 instances of objectionable violent, profane and sexual content, for an average of 12.48 instances per television hour, or one instance every 4.8 minutes. 

  • Since the average hour of prime-time broadcast television contains about 43 minutes of non- commercial programming, one instance of objectionable content occurs every 3.5 minutes of non-commercial airtime, on average.

  • Only 10.6% of the 208 episodes were free of any violent and sexual content and foul language.

  • CW was the cleanest network overall with 9.44 instances of objectionable content per hour.

  • Fox was the worst network overall with 20.78 instances of objectionable content per hour.

  • The only shows with no objectionable content were game shows/reality competitions:  Deal or No Deal (NBC), Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader (Fox), Identity (NBC), and Grease: You’re the One That I Want (NBC).

  • American Dad (Fox), with 52 instances of objectionable content per hour, was the worst series of the Family Hour.

 

Foul Language

  • There were 815 uses of foul language, or 4.53 per hour.

  • More than ¾ of all the programs airing in the Family Hour (76.4%) contained foul language.

  • MyNetworkTV had the highest frequency of foul language with 5.58 instances per hour.

  • The program with the highest rate of foul language was My Name is Earl (NBC) with 16.33 instances per hour.

 

Sexual Content

  • There were 677 sexual scenes or spoken sexual references, an average of 3.76 per hour.

  • Well over half of all programs (54.8%) contained sexual content.

  • Since 2000-2001, the amount of sexual content during the Family Hour has increased by 22.1%.

  • CBS experienced the largest increase in sexual content since 2000-2001, from 0.34 to 2.31 instances per hour – a 579% increase.

  • ABC had the most sexual content with 5.97 instances per hour.

  • The War at Home (Fox) had the highest frequency of sexual content of any program with 33 instances per hour.

 

Violence

  • There were 754 violent acts and images, or 4.19 per hour.

  • Nearly half of all programs (46.2%) contained violent content.

  • Since 2000-2001, violent content has increased by 52.4%.

  • Fox experienced the largest increase in violent content, going from 2.16 instances per hour in 2000-2001 to 11.37 per hour in 2006-2007 – a 426% increase.

  • Fox was also the worst network for violence, with 11.37 instances per hour.

  • 24 (Fox) was the most violent non-animated series, with 28 instances of violence per hour.

 

Reruns

  • In the three two-week periods, the networks aired 37.5 hours of reruns during the Family Hour containing an average of 19.76 instances of objectionable content per hour – 58% more per hour than in original Family Hour programming. 

  • Reruns contained 80% higher rates of sexual content per hour than did original programming.

  • Reruns contained over twice as much violence per hour as original programs.

 

At the time of our last comprehensive study of early evening programming in 2001, the PTC joined a bipartisan coalition in the U.S. Congress to call on the broadcast television industry to self-regulate in order to preserve at least one hour each night of family-friendly television. The initial response was somewhat  encouraging, with advertisers and some of the networks announcing efforts to clean up the Family Hour.

 

Unfortunately that initial encouragement was short-lived. In the past six years, the Family Hour has become even more hostile to children and families. There is no safe haven for children on nightly broadcast television.

 

We found that the Family Hour has become increasingly laced with sex and violence. Along with scheduling adult-themed shows like Bones and Desire for the Family Hour, we also found the networks taking graphic and explicit shows that had originally run in later timeslots, like Grey’s Anatomy and C.S.I., and re-airing them during the Family Hour.

 

The American public is overwhelmingly concerned. In a March 2007 Zogby Poll, 79% of respondents agreed that there is too much sex, violence and coarse language on television. Other surveys have shown that parents are so fed up that they would welcome more government regulation to rein-in television content. However, through responsible self-regulation, the entertainment industry might eliminate the need for further legislative or regulatory action.

 

The broadcast networks, who are given access to a public resource, i.e. the broadcast airwaves, need to fulfill their public interest obligation by bringing back the Family Hour.

 

Advertisers need to do more to support positive, family-friendly programming during the early evening, committing their advertising dollars to clean shows, and exerting economic pressure on the broadcast networks to provide more Family Friendly programming during the first hour of prime time.

 

The industry must provide parents with a meaningful ratings system, one that is accurate, consistent, and transparent and will adequately warn parents about potentially offensive content. This is especially important during the first hour of prime time when you have the largest number of children in the television viewing audience.

 

Parents who are concerned about TV’s influence on impressionable children cannot just passively accept the current state of broadcast television. They must actively oppose the broadcast networks’ efforts to obliterate decency standards by pressuring their local broadcast affiliates to refuse to air programs containing high levels of inappropriate sex, violence and profanity during the Family Hour and by pressuring the advertisers to stop underwriting offensive Family Hour content.


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