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The Parents Television Council's 2003-2004

TOP 10 BEST AND WORST NETWORK TV SHOWS FOR FAMILY VIEWING

Each year, the Parents Television Council rates the best and the worst shows on primetime television on the seven major broadcast networks. The PTC Best and Worst list does not examine artistic quality.  But it measures series' appropriateness for family audiences from a content perspective. The seven broadcast networks included in this listing are ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, ITV, UPN and the WB.  Primetime refers to 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. (ET/PT), when the largest television audience is available. 

 

BEST

Joan of Arcadia

CBS/8:00 p.m. (ET/PT) Friday – first season

Not only the best new series of the 2003-2004 season, Joan of Arcadia may be one of television's most pro-family shows.  The series centers on Joan Girardi, who with her family has just moved to the town of Arcadia. Joan begins an unusual relationship with God, who appears to her in many different forms to give her guidance and instruction, thus enabling her to help those around her. 

Joan manages to be uplifting without being saccharine.  Audiences see Joan struggle with what she's instructed to do.  We see her question, and doubt, and fail, and try again.  Joan is not rewarded for her faith and obedience, but she is allowed to see how her actions touch the lives of those around her.  So far, the series has featured episodes about Joan helping a homeless girl get back into school; helping a boy who stutters to find his voice; and preventing a terrible act of violence by befriending a bully.

Joan of Arcadia also depicts a strong, stable, and loving family unit.  Joan's father faces tremendous political pressure as the new Arcadia police chief while her older brother, Kevin, struggles with being paralyzed and in a wheelchair.  But the Girardis face these challenges together through communication, mutual respect, and love.

 

2. Doc

ITV/8:00 Sunday – ranked #2 last season

Doc is a fish-out-of-water story about a country doctor who moves to New York City and gets a job at a busy HMO.  Dr. Clint Cassidy's homespun values and friendly disposition provide a striking contrast to the jaded and impersonal city environment, but he refuses to let the harsh world in which he lives harden him, or make him forget the values of kindness and compassion that were instilled in him as a child. 

In addition to being completely devoid of offensive language, sexual content, or violence, episodes of Doc consistently reinforce family-friendly themes such as honesty, compassion, hope, and reconciliation. 

 

3. Sue Thomas F. B. Eye

ITV/9:00 Sunday – ranked #3 last season

This series, from the creators of Doc, tells the inspiring true story of Sue Thomas, a deaf woman originally hired to work in fingerprint analysis at the FBI but soon tapped for work in surveillance because of her talent for reading lips. Sue Thomas is truly unique in that the main character is portrayed by a deaf actress. This series brings a new twist to a normally-tawdry crime series genre.  It is action-filled and suspenseful but never contains graphic or gratuitous violence, inappropriate sexual content, or foul language.

Sue Thomas skillfully illustrates, without being mawkish or overly simplistic, the challenges faced by deaf persons working in the hearing world.

 

4. Reba

WB/9:00 Friday – ranked #7 last season

Country singer Reba McEntire stars as divorced mother Reba Hart. Her marriage ended when her husband Brock got his assistant, Barbara Jean, pregnant.  Brock and Barbara Jean married and moved in next door to Reba.  Further complicating matters, Reba's teenaged daughter got pregnant and married her high school sweetheart and now lives at Reba's home with her husband and baby.

Despite the show's off-putting premise, Reba contains pro-family themes.  It is never suggested that Reba and Brock's divorce was easy on the family, and the consequences of the breakup of Reba's marriage and her daughter's unplanned pregnancy are still playing themselves out.  For example, tired of her older sister Cheyenne always getting more of her mother's time and attention, Reba's teenage daughter Kyra decided to move in with her father. Brock, unhappy with his new life, begins to fully understand the consequences of his infidelity.  What's even more remarkable is that Reba is able to handle these issues responsibly, without resorting to cheap innuendo or foul language. 

 

5. 7th Heaven

WB/8:00 Monday – ranked #4 last season

This reliably family-friendly series about minister Eric Camden, his wife Annie, and their seven children has ranked on the PTC's list of the Top 10 Best Shows for Families every year since it began in 1996.  Even more notably, 7th Heaven also has been one of the highest-rated shows on the WB network since its debut, in spite of (or more likely because of) its lack of objectionable content.  The series contains no violence or foul language, and sexual content is dealt with very responsibly.

That doesn't mean that 7th Heaven steers clear of tough issues.  One episode from this season centered on a sister and brother who had been sexually abused by their father.  Eric consoles the brother and promises to do everything he can to get him the help he needs.  The subject matter was handled sensitively without delving into graphic details of the abuse.  In another episode, a recovering alcoholic catches his son drinking.  The father tearfully tells his son about his own struggles with alcohol abuse, and how it all started when he himself was a teenager. 

 

6. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

ABC/8:00 Sunday – first season

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition shows the heights to which reality TV can aspire. Unlike other reality series that emphasize and exploit the contestants' worst qualities (greed, dishonesty, vanity, etc.), this uplifting and inspiring program showcases charity and selflessness.

Each week, carpenter Ty Pennington and a crew of designers, contractors, and workmen completely renovate the home of a deserving family.  This season, they have created a livable space out of a home riddled with dangerous mold; renovated and paid the mortgage on the home of nine orphaned siblings being raised by the eldest children; and added space to the cramped home of a couple who already had two children and were expecting triplets. Not only does this talented crew create a more efficient and useful space for these families, but they also integrate the tastes and interests of the family members to create warm and inviting homes that reflect the owners' personalities. In addition, usable items taken out of the renovated homes are donated to other charities, including Habitat for Humanity and a women's shelter. This uplifting series is a breath of fresh air and a television rarity.

 

7. Everybody Loves Raymond

CBS/9:00 Monday – not ranked last season

Although Everybody Loves Raymond has always featured strong family messages, its past inclusion of occasional harsh language and sexual innuendo has precluded its being ranked on this list before this season.  Episodes this season, however, especially since January 2004, have been almost entirely free of questionable material.

Ray Barone tries desperately to keep everyone happy, from his wife Debra and their three children to his meddlesome parents to his insecure brother.  But beneath all the quarrels and arguments, deep-seated love holds the family together.  Episodes this season highlighted these strong familial bonds, from Ray helping his son to cope with being teased at school to teaching his daughter to be her own person.  The family isn't always in perfect harmony, but their love for each other is obvious and the laughs abundant in this family sitcom.

 

8. American Idol

Fox/8:00 Tuesday, 8:30 Wednesday (air dates and times vary from week to week) – not ranked last season

In American Idol: The Search for a Superstar, hundreds of young men and women compete for the opportunity to become America's next singing sensation.  A handful of young hopefuls make it to the final stages of the contest where caustic producer Simon Cowell; '80s pop star and choreographer Paula Abdul; and music industry veteran Randy Jackson judge their performances and viewers at home decide who will advance and who will be eliminated.

While some viewers may find Cowell's harsh and too-blunt commentary unappealing, American Idol is an entertaining show that the entire family can enjoy. Idol doesn't have a moral, or a message, but it can be appreciated for what it is: a talent competition, pure and simple.  This reality series doesn't focus on backstabbing or betrayal, and it doesn't follow the contestants' bedroom shenanigans. What it does focus on is the surprisingly good performances turned in by the talented young singers.

 

9. American Dreams

NBC/8:00 Sunday – not ranked last season

American Dreams is a heartwarming, realistic portrayal of an American family living in 1960s Philadelphia. Against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the civil-rights movement, and American Bandstand, the Pryors find themselves directly affected by the turbulent times while struggling to cope with everyday life. Their lives are closely intertwined with the Walkers, an African-American family headed by Henry, a widower and Jack Pryor's business partner. These families are built on a foundation of strong traditional values and relationships rich in love.  At the center of the program is Meg Pryor, a precocious seventeen-year-old Bandstand regular, who finds herself torn between supporting her brother, a Marine, and protesting a war she believes is wrong. As the characters experience love, loss, and an awakening to social injustice they learn, and in turn relay, some powerful lessons about life.

Episodes this season have dealt responsibly with the difficult issues of teen sex and pregnancy and drug use, and bad choices are always shown to have consequences. American Dreams is a great alternative to the teen soaps because it is focused on communicating positive messages while being historically informative and wonderfully entertaining.

 

10. Bernie Mac

Fox/8:30 Sunday – not ranked last season

Inspired by series star Bernie Mac's life, The Bernie Mac Show is a half-hour sitcom about a man with unique views on parenting. Bernie Mac and his wife, Wanda, have been so absorbed by their successful careers as a stand-up comedian and a corporate executive that they've never thought seriously about having children. When Bernie has to take care of his sister's children, his world turns upside down. Bernie believes in "tough love" parenting, but when he tries to put his ideas into practice, the children make him realize there are better options.

The Bernie Mac Show is different from many Fox shows in that it actually portrays strong family values. Although the series is occasionally marred by mild profanities and sexual innuendo, the overriding themes stress the importance of family.

 

 

WORST

1. Everwood

WB/9:00 Monday – not ranked last season

With its Norman Rockwell-style opening and small town sensibility, Everwood gives every appearance of being a family drama, but it's nothing of the kind.  It centers on the family of Andrew Brown, a successful New York brain surgeon who moves his teenage son Ephram and eight-year-old daughter Delia to Everwood, Colorado after the death of his wife.

What makes Everwood problematic is the careless and irresponsible treatment of sexual issues – especially when the teenaged characters are involved.  In one story arc from this season, high schooler Ephram fell in love with his little sister's college-aged baby-sitter.  The two eventually sleep together, and in the season's final episode, she reveals to Dr. Brown that she is pregnant with Ephram's child.  Rather than have Ephram face up to his responsibility -- to learn the serious consequences of his decision to become sexually active -- Dr. Brown instead gives the woman money and sends her away and makes her promise not to tell Ephram about the baby.  In another episode, Amy Abbott, the teenaged daughter of Dr. Brown's competitor Harold Abbott goes to Dr. Brown for some birth control.  Dr. Brown gives it to her without ever informing Dr. Abbott of what he did.  Such content might be more excusable in a series that was intended for and marketed to adult audiences, but Everwood's reckless messages about sex without consequences are expressly targeted to impressionable teens.

 

2. That '70s Show

Fox/8:00 Wednesday – not ranked last season

Set in a small Wisconsin town during the 1970s, That '70s Show follows a group of teens as they learn to deal with parents, sex, and drugs. The characters include Eric, an average kid from a blue-collar family; and his friends Hyde, the political radical; Donna, Eric's girl-next-door love interest; the handsome but dimwitted Kelso; the pretty and snobbish Jackie; and Fez, a sexually frustrated foreign-exchange student.

That '70s Show earns second place on our Worst list this year for its casual and irresponsible treatment of teen sex and drug use, which are depicted as risk- and consequence-free. This season's storylines included Kelso getting a girl pregnant after a one-night stand and Donna walking in on Eric while he is masturbating in her bathroom. 

 

3. Fear Factor

NBC/8:00 Monday – ranked #5 last season

Riding high on the culture's obsession with what is shocking or uncouth; Fear Factor continues to push the envelope with its disgusting and physically dangerous stunts. Competitors -- which this season included kids, couples, siblings, models, and Miss America contestants -- come ready to do absolutely anything for $50,000. NBC touts Fear Factor as family-friendly, but it does not depict healthy competition; instead it depicts a new low in Americans' endless pursuit of money.

Family Fear Factor was a disturbing new addition to this franchise, as viewers uncomfortably watched parents encouraging their children to taunt and torment other children; cursing; and putting undue pressure on their young children to win.  One child was even sucked beneath a raft being pulled by a speedboat while performing a stunt; his mother continued on with the stunt rather than check on his safety.

Other stunts this season included drinking the fluid squeezed from cow eyeballs; drinking lard blended with cow parts and rancid milk; escaping from handcuffs and a plastic body bag while submerged in a pool; driving a car onto a moving semi while blindfolded; sucking fluid from cow intestines and then drinking the fluid; eating pig uterus; launching a car over a train; drinking a maggot-and-fly milkshake; and escaping from a bug-filled body bag inside a morgue drawer. Language continues to worsen, as does sexual innuendo, largely because more and more episodes center on scantily clad female contestants.

 

4. Two and a Half Men

CBS/9:30 Monday – first season

Promiscuous jingle-writer Charlie's life is turned upside down when his divorced brother Alan and young nephew Jake move into his home. Charlie's overpowering libido, unfortunately, trumps any impulse to be a responsible role model to his young nephew.  There are constant references to the steady stream of one-night stands parading in and out of Charlie's bedroom.  As for female role models, there aren't any.  Women in this sitcom consist of the bimbos Charlie sleeps with, then discards; Alan's shrewish, vindictive, gold-digger of an ex-wife; and Alan and Charlie's wealthy, materialistic and youth-obsessed mother.

Despite the presence of a precocious youngster, episodes of this show are decidedly not for children.  Scenes have depicted a woman massaging Charlie's genitals under the table at a business meeting; Charlie masturbating; and Charlie and Alan's mother sleeping with a man who used to be a woman who Charlie slept with prior before her gender reassignment surgery.  To make matters worse, ten-year-old Jake is often included in these adult situations.  In one episode, he walked in on Charlie in the shower with a girlfriend; in another he drew pictures of one of Charlie's girlfriends wearing buttocks-baring underwear after he saw her dressed that way while they were eating breakfast.

 

5. C.S.I. (Crime Scene Investigation)

CBS/9:00 Thursday – ranked #1 last season

A series about crime-scene investigators is bound to deal with some distasteful subjects, but C.S.I. takes it a step further by providing graphic depictions of decaying bodies, grisly crime scenes, dissections, flashbacks of brutal rapes and murders, and kinky and bizarre sexual fetishes.  Such content would be bad enough at 10:00 p.m., but this series airs at 9:00 (8:00 in the Central and Mountain time zones), with reruns often airing during the Family Hour.

This season, episodes have included storylines about a murder within a "swingers" community, fur fetishists who have sex while wearing animal costumes, and vampirism.  Other graphic scenes from this season include a severed head being delivered in the mail, teenagers having sex on a roller coaster, and teenagers killing another teen with hammers at a construction site. 

 

6. The Surreal Life

WB/9:00 Thursday – not ranked last season

Six B-list celebrities share a house for a couple of weeks as cameras film their daily interactions, a la The Real World.  The premise in and of itself isn't necessarily problematic; the executives at the WB, however, made sure there would be plenty of salacious material by casting adult film star Ron Jeremy; former Baywatch babe Traci Bingham; and Real World party girl Trishelle Cannatella.  One episode featured a backyard barbecue Jeremy hosted for his porn-industry colleagues, with cameras capturing plenty of footage of half-naked porn stars.  In another episode, the six housemates spent a day at a nudist camp.  Once again, camera crews made sure they captured plenty of footage of the nudists lounging and playing volleyball.  If that wasn't bad enough, throughout the show's run, Bingham and Jeremy played on ongoing game of "I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours."  Most episodes, in fact, seemed to contain at least one scene in which Bingham tries to get Jeremy to remove his pants.  Language was also extreme, with each episode featuring numerous bleeped obscenities.  Although The Surreal Life won't be returning to the WB next season, it isn't going away.  VH1 picked-up the series.

 

7. Girlfriends

UPN/9:00 Monday – ranked #7 last season

Girlfriends has earned comparisons to HBO's Sex in the City for its frank treatment of the sex lives of four friends living in Los Angeles.

No subject seems to be off-limits for Girlfriends.  Script writers will mine any topic for a cheap laugh, no matter how tacky.  One episode this season, for example, had Joan telling her boyfriend she had a yeast infection to get out of having sex with him.  In another, Joan's friend Sharon recommends classes at "Mama Gina's School of Womanly Arts," saying, "Oh Joan, those classes are wonderful.  I highly recommend 'Owning your Orgasm.'  And it's a prerequisite for 'Finding Your Vagina.'"

 

8. Las Vegas

NBC/9:00 Monday – first season

What can you expect from a show about Sin City, but sex, sex, and more sex? Las Vegas, a new drama about the staff of an upscale casino, delivers just that along with plenty of foul language and a little violence thrown in for good measure. All manner of debauchery takes place while Ed Deline, formerly of the CIA, and his sexy staff work to maintain order and keep the money flowing.

From the opening scenes of the first episode, which included Ed catching his daughter having sex with his young protιgι and a couple having sex in an elevator knowing full well the elevator was equipped with a security camera, this series has used every cheap sexual gimmick imaginable in a desperate attempt to lure viewers.  One episode from this season featured a fictitious senator, famous for his morality-and-virtue platform, secretly coming to Vegas to blow off steam. He is shown in a lewd position with an apparently nude stripper while watching other women strip. On another episode the casino hosts an indoor wet T-shirt contest in which the contestants' nipples can be seen beneath the transparent t-shirts.  Yet another installment depicts Mike, the valet, solving a heist case in the stripper suite while two half-naked blonds gyrate on a pole. Needless to say strong sexual innuendo can be found in just about every episode, and as long as there are strippers and alcohol on the Vegas Strip, the content of this show won't change.

 

9. Will & Grace

NBC/9:00 Thursday – ranked #8 last season

Will and Grace began as a sitcom about the friendship between a gay man and his best friend, a quirky straight woman. Over the last few seasons its focus has changed ever so slightly to make more room for the bawdy banter supporting characters Jack and Karen are famous for. This shift opened the door for an even higher level of crude innuendo and graphic anatomical references, both hetero- and homosexual, all of which is especially inappropriate given that episodes of Will & Grace often air during the Family Hour. 

 

Karen gives an especially offensive description of her body in one episode and later in the season her kinky relationship with Lyle becomes a main source of comedy. Infidelity also remains a common storyline. Karen continues to feud with her husband's mistress; Will's mother agrees to share her husband with his mistress; and Leo cheats on Grace. Will's sexuality is always a hot topic:  his lone female lover claims he was the best she'd ever had; a lesbian wants to sleep with him; and a nickname recalls a certain sexual practice. This show continues to rely on indecency as a source of edginess and thus will continue to rank among the worst shows for family audiences. 

 

10. Cold Case

CBS/8:00 Sunday – first season

This is a perfect example of a very adult-themed series airing in an inappropriate time slot.  Cold Case is a drama about a Philadelphia police detective who delves into old murder cases with a fresh eye.  Stories are often told in flashback, recounting graphic murders and other violent crimes.

During its freshman season, Cold Case aired scenes of a teenaged boy beating his girlfriend to death with a tennis racket; teenaged boys picking up prostitutes; and a woman being beaten to death with a car antenna. Disturbing plots included a case in which a nun accidentally kills an orphan and buries him anonymously in a field; an adult man who has his son bring young teenaged girls to the house so the father can rape them; and teenaged boys at a military school who murder the coach who molested them.

 

 


Top 10 Best and Worst Shows for family viewing on prime time broadcast TV

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org


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