The Parents Television Council's 2003-2004
TOP 10 BEST AND WORST NETWORK TV SHOWS FOR FAMILY VIEWING
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.
Joan of Arcadia
CBS/8:00 p.m. (ET/PT) Friday
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.
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,
ITV/8:00 Sunday ranked #2
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.
Sue Thomas F. B. Eye
ITV/9:00 Sunday ranked #3
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.
skillfully illustrates, without being mawkish or overly simplistic, the
challenges faced by deaf persons working in the hearing world.
WB/9:00 Friday ranked #7
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
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
6. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
Sunday first season
Extreme Makeover: Home
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
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
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
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
10. Bernie Mac
Fox/8:30 Sunday not ranked
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.
WB/9:00 Monday not ranked
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
UPN/9:00 Monday ranked #7
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
NBC/9:00 Monday first season
What can you expect from a
show about Sin City, but sex, sex, and more sex?
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
9. Will & Grace
NBC/9:00 Thursday ranked #8
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
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
a drama about a
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.