TV violence has
become a paradox of sorts. Medical and social science have proven
conclusively that children are adversely affected by exposure to it – yet
millions of parents think nothing of letting their children watch
C.S.I. or other, equally violent
programs. Prominent leaders in the entertainment industry publicly decry
violent entertainment – but then continue to produce and distribute it.
Despite the widespread consensus that TV violence is a significant problem,
it has become not only more frequent, but more graphic in recent years.
Indeed, the television season that began in
the fall of 2005 was one of the most violent in recent history -- averaging
4.41 instances of violence per hour during prime time -- an increase of 75%
since the 1998 television season.
Dying to Entertain
is the PTC's second examination of TV violence during prime
time on the six major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and the
WB). Using the previous report, TV
Bloodbath (released in December 2003 and analyzing content from
the 1998, 2000, and 2002 television seasons) as a baseline, the PTC
discerned some longitudinal trends and qualitative differences over the past
eight years. For this Special Report,
PTC analysts reviewed programming from the first
two weeks of the November, February and May sweeps during the 2003-2004,
2004-2005, and 2005-2006 television seasons for a total of 1,187.5
Between 1998 and 2006:
increased in every time slot:
Violence during the
8:00 p.m. Family Hour has increased by 45%
Violence during the
9:00 p.m. hour has increased by 92%
Violence during the
10:00 p.m. hour has increased by 167%
experienced the biggest increase in violent content overall. In 1998,
ABC averaged .93 instances of violence per hour during prime time. By
2006, ABC was averaging 3.80 instances of violence per hour – an
increase of 309%.
second-most violent network in 1998, experienced the smallest increase.
Fox averaged 3.43 instances of violence per hour in 1998 and 3.84
instances of violence per hour by 2006 – an increase of only 12%.
scenes increasingly include a sexual element. Rapists, sexual predators
and fetishists are cropping up with increasing frequency on prime time
programs like Law and Order: S.V.U.,
C.S.I., C.S.I. Miami, C.S.I. New York, Medium, Crossing Jordan, Prison
Break, E.R. and House.
On an hour by hour basis:
network experienced an increase in violence during the 9:00 and 10:00
hours between 1998 and the 2005-2006 television season.
experienced the biggest increase in violent content during the Family
Hour. In 1998 ABC was the least-violent network, averaging only .13
instances of violence per hour. By 2006, ABC was averaging 2.23
instances of violence per hour, an increase of 1615.4%.
Fox were the only networks to feature less violence during the Family
Hour in 2005-2006 than in 1998. Violence on Fox decreased by 18%, and
on UPN by 83%.
experienced the biggest increase in violent content during the 9:00
hour, jumping from .31 instances per hour in 1998 to 5.71 instances per
hour during the 2005-2006 season – an increase of 1,742%.
experienced the biggest increase in violent content – 635% – during the
10:00 hour, from 2 instances of violence per hour in 1998 to nearly 15
instances of violence per hour in 2005-2006.
During the 2005-2006 Season:
half (49%) of all episodes airing during the study period contained at
least one instance of violence.
network had the highest frequency of violence during the Family Hour
during the 2005-'06 season with an average of 3.74 incidents of violence
the most violent network during the 9:00 hour during the 2005-'06 season
with an average of 7.53 instances of violence per hour.
short-lived series Night Stalker
was the most violent program on television in the 2005-2006
television season. In the sole, one-hour episode that aired during the
study period there were 26 instances of violence.
episode of every program airing on NBC in the 10:00 hour during the
2005-'06 season contained at least one instance of violence.
On a per-hour basis, NBC's 10:00
programming averaged an alarming 14.69 instances of violence.
all violence on prime time network television during the 2005-2006
season was person-on-person violence.
hour of prime time, CBS had the highest percentage of deaths depicted on
screen during the 2005-'06 season. During the 8:00 hour, 66% of violent
scenes depicted a death. During the 9:00 and 10:00 hours 68% of violent
scenes depicted a death.
the board, 54% of violent scenes contained either a depiction of death
(13%) or an implied death (41%) during the 2005-'06 season.
Violence on television continues unabated despite the overwhelming evidence
pointing to a direct and causal relationship between violent entertainment
products and aggressive behavior in children. Yet the only solution offered
by the entertainment industry thus far has been the V-Chip. But the V-Chip
is no solution.
The PTC's research shows that every broadcast network has had problems with
the accurate and consistent application of content descriptors (D, S, L, or
V) which are designed to work in conjunction with the V-Chip to help parents
block objectionable programming.
A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that content descriptors are
not being used on the vast majority of general audience shows containing
sex, violence, or adult language. Eight out of 10 television shows with
violent or sexual behavior did not receive the V or S content descriptors.
Children's programs also contain a significant amount of violence, most of
which is not indicated by a FV content descriptor.
Clearly, we need a better solution.
Advertisers have a role to play in curbing TV violence. Using their unique
position of influence, they can encourage broadcasters to reduce the
frequency and explicitness of TV violence.
Broadcast affiliates, too, can play a role by preempting excessively violent
programs and refusing to air violent programs in syndication during times of
day when children are watching TV.
Many lawmakers have proposed legislation to curb TV violence, but all
attempts to legislatively address this problem have failed on First
Amendment grounds. Perhaps it is time for Congress to revisit this issue
and consider including violence in the category of "indecent" content that
can be regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.