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What Are Your Children Watching?

Research on sex, violence, and profanity on Television

Rating the Top 20 Most Popular Prime Time Broadcast TV Shows Watched by Children Ages 2-17

Not all children ages 2-17 watch age-appropriate programs, according to Nielsen Media Research. Television shows that might sound innocent enough, such as Family Guy or American Dad push the limits of decency with sexual innuendo and themes. On the other hand children also flock to TV shows with positive values, like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and American Idol.  Using its traffic-light ratings system the Parents Television Council analyzed the twenty most popular prime time broadcast shows among children ages 2-7, ranking the programs according to their suitability for young viewers.


Each series was rated as suitable [green], questionably suitable [yellow], or not suitable [red] for young audiences, and then ranked individually from best to worst.


PTC ratings are based on an objective quantitative and qualitative analysis of the frequency and explicitness of foul language, sexual content, and violence present in each series. The PTC also takes into consideration time slot, target audience, themes and plotlines of each program it rates.


Most Suitable

(Best to Worst)

Questionably Suitable

(Best to Worst)

Not Suitable

(Best to Worst)


1. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

ABC/8:00 p.m. ET Sundays


2. NBC Sunday Night Football

NBC/7:00 p.m. ET Sundays


3. Deal or No Deal

NBC/8:00 p.m. ET Mondays and 9:00 p.m. ET Thursdays


4. American Idol

Fox/Returning Spring '07


5. Dancing with the Stars

ABC/8:00 p.m. ET Tuesdays


6. American Inventor

ABC/Returning Spring 07


7. So You Think You Can Dance

Fox/Returning Spring 07


8. The Simpsons

Fox/8:00 p.m. ET Sundays


9. America's Got Talent 

NBC/Returning Spring 07


10. Biggest Loser

NBC/9:00 p.m. ET Wednesdays


11. Survivor

CBS/8:00 p.m. ET Thursdays


12. Lost

ABC/9:00 p.m. ET Wednesdays


13. House

Fox/9:00 p.m. ET Tuesdays


14. The War at Home

Fox/8:30 p.m. ET Sundays


15. Grey's Anatomy

ABC/9:00 p.m. Thursdays


16. Prison Break

Fox/8:00 p.m. ET Mondays


17. American Dad

Fox/9:30 p.m. ET Sundays


18. Family Guy

Fox/9:00 p.m. ET Sundays


19. Desperate Housewives

ABC/9:00 p.m. ET Sundays


20. C.S.I.

CBS/9:00 p.m. ET Thursdays



What Are Your Children Watching?

Rating the Top 20 Most Popular Prime Time Broadcast TV Shows

Watched by Children Ages 2-17


The following listing is based on a Nielsen ranking of prime time broadcast programs most watched by children between the ages of 2-17 for the 2005-2006 television season and the first part of the 2006-2007 television season.  Only recurring or series programs were included.  Each series has been evaluated for its appropriateness for children under the age of 18 based on a comprehensive review of the content on each of these programs.

1. American Idol

Fox/Returning Spring '07


With television audiences becoming increasingly fragmented, American Idol: The Search for a Superstar has done what conventional Hollywood wisdom has declared to be impossible: it has united families in front of the television set and proven that wholesome, family-friendly entertainment can be wildly successful.  Consistently the highest-rated show on television, this talent competition has given hundreds of young men and women a shot at becoming America's next singing sensation. 


While some viewers may find producer Simon Cowell's harsh and often 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.


2. Survivor

CBS/8:00 p.m. ET Thursdays


Survivor helped usher-in the era of reality TV.  In it, contestants are left to fend for themselves in a secluded and remote location.  With only the clothes on their backs and one luxury item each, they must struggle not only to survive, but to stay in the competition.  Each week one contestant is voted "off the island" by his fellow contestants.  The last one standing wins the million dollar prize and the title of "Sole Survivor."


Content on Survivor can be somewhat unpredictable.  Some seasons are very clean, other seasons less so.  During one episode, two female contestants stripped naked during a challenge in exchange for chocolate cookies and peanut butter.  Although the nudity was pixilated, it was captured on tape and broadcast into millions of homes.  In other seasons, contestants have been involved in sexual situations inviting TV audiences to become voyeurs.  In addition, some episodes have contained graphic scenes of violence or bodily harm, as when a contestant passed out and collapsed into a bonfire, badly burning both his hands.   


3. The Simpsons

Fox/ 8:00 p.m. ET Sundays


Now in its 18th season, The Simpsons is the longest running comedy series in US TV History save for Saturday Night LiveIt has beaten the previous record holder for the longest-running prime time animated series (The Flintstones) by more than ten years.  The Simpsons hasn't changed much over the years.  In the beginning critics complained about the irreverent humor, the bumbling father figure and disrespectful attitudes displayed by the children those elements are still present, and still problematic.  On the plus side, the series depicts a loving, if somewhat dysfunctional family and episodes often contain a moral or a message. 


The Simpsons frequently contains cartoon violence, and occasionally employs mild profanities and sexual innuendo.  Such content isn't frequent, but is notable when it occurs.  In the 2005 season premiere, for example, Homer allows the mafia to film a pornographic movie in the Simpson home. There are no graphic depictions of sex in the scene, but there is talk of lesbian pornography.  


4. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

ABC/8:00 p.m. ET Sundays


Extreme Makeover: Home Edition may be the most family-friendly series on television and is an excellent example of a constructive and uplifting reality TV show. Unlike other reality series that emphasize and exploit contestants' worst qualities (greed, dishonesty, vanity, etc.); this 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.  Featured families are often chosen because of health conditions or special needs that make their current homes unsuitable.  Besides highlighting the good works for families in need, the program also features local companies that often donate funds to establish scholarships for the young children in these struggling families, ensuring they have a chance at a better future.  This series is a breath of fresh air and a television rarity.


5. American Dad

Fox/9:30 p.m. ET Sundays


American Dad is the brainchild of Seth MacFarlane, who also brought us the ultra-raunchy cartoon series Family Guy.  American Dad follows Stan, a conservative CIA agent devoted to his country and his work above anything else, even his own family. Francine is his trophy housewife, and his children are Hailey, the rebellious daughter and Steve, the geeky son who has no scruples whatsoever. The family also has Helmut, a lascivious German talking fish, and an androgynous alien from the outer space named Roger.

The show intends to be as irreverent as the Family Guy targeting American values and institutions. Stanley Smith's national sentiment is portrayed as mere jingoism making him look like the ultimate ugly white male American.  The humor consists of scatology and crude sexual innuendo.  Violence is mostly comedic but can be quite graphic at times and often includes guns and fight sequences. Language is often coarse. 


6. Family Guy

Fox/9:00 p.m. ET Sundays


Family Guy is a raunchy animated series about a blue-collar New England family and is utterly lacking in any redeeming qualities.


Although the show is intended to be a satire of the American family, it spends most of its time pushing the limits of decency with heavy sexual innuendo and sexual themes. In one episode, Peter calls his wife a "foul, venereal-disease-carrying, streetwalking, whore" during sex. In another episode the school principal is seen receiving a massage which results in an implied orgasm. Cartoon nudity is common and violence, though animated, is frequent and often brutal.  Episodes also frequently employ foul language.  Parents of young children are especially cautioned because Family Guy's animated format is sure to make it attractive to young viewers.   


7. NBC Sunday Night Football

NBC/7:00 p.m. ET Sundays


The lack of child-appropriate programming on television can be confounding for parents.  Fortunately, sports are usually a safe alternative, and in the fall, that means football.   As an added advantage, children young boys in particular love to watch sports and watching with your child can present opportunities to talk about good sportsmanship, leadership, and teamwork.  All in all, it's not a bad way to spend a Sunday evening. 


Parents really don't have to worry about content during the games but increasingly the ads during the games are a becoming a major concern with ads for male enhancement, beer and adult-oriented prime time dramas occupying prime ad space. 


8. The War at Home

Fox/8:30 p.m. ET Sundays


Similar in tone to Married with Children, The War at Home takes an irreverent look at American family life.  It may very well be one of the raunchiest and least intelligent shows currently on television.  The Washington Post described it as "unconscionably smutty," then went on to say, "the problem is not just that it's crude and gross, but that its crudeness and grossness are so pathetically forced and contrived. Its vulgarity has no integrity... all the characters are vile in spirit and objectionable in essence."


 Sexual themes and irresponsible parenting are the dominant themes in The War at Home.  In one episode, Dave supplies his 13-year-old son with lubricant because he was making himself sore from masturbating too often.  In another, Dave suspects each of his children of stealing his marijuana in the end his wife, Vicky is shown smoking the missing stash.  In another, Dave and Vicky try desperately to conceal from each other the fact that they both had sex with the same female friend in college.  Episodes also often contain scripted bleeped obscenities, including the "F-word."


9. Deal or No Deal

NBC/9:00 p.m. ET Thursdays


ABC revived the prime time game show in the late 90s with Who Wants to be a Millionaire and reaped the rewards with blockbuster ratings.  NBC has experienced similar ratings resurgence with this hit game show hosted by comedian Howie Mandel.  Deal or No Deal is a game of odds in which contestants play for a top prize of $1 million.  The contestants are allowed to bring several people to aid them in making decisions. Often they are spouses, friends or siblings and the significance of the person's relationship to the contestant is emphasized.


Completely devoid of sex and violence Deal or No Deal is an entertaining program the whole family can enjoy. 


10. House

Fox/9:00 p.m. ET Tuesdays


Dr. Gregory House is an unconventional physician and an undisputed genius. He is an infectious disease specialist capable of solving the cases that no one else can. His amazing diagnostic skills are also complemented with an astonishing perception of the human nature. With just a quick glimpse at a patient, he knows whether he is hiding something, lying, or if the condition is merely psychosomatic. Dr. House is a genius but also a misanthropic eccentric inept at personal relationships. He's has been in severe pain for years because of a leg injury and has become addicted to pain-killers.

House is not particularly violent, although some scenes depicting surgical procedures might be too graphic for young viewers.  Several episodes have contained sexual content.  In one episode, for example, a young man falls ill during sex and explicit dialogue about the possibilities of dying as a result of kinky sex followed. In another, a teenage model suffering from a mysterious condition claims to have seduced her father and manager.  Doctors later discover that she is a hermaphrodite with testicular cancer.  In yet another, an elderly woman starts showing the recurrent symptoms of syphilis, which involve an abnormally increased libido. Language can also be raw.


11. Dancing with the Stars

ABC/8:00 p.m. ET Tuesdays


Who would have thought a ballroom dancing competition would be a ratings success and one of the most popular programs with young audiences?  This surprise hit that pairs celebrities with professional dancers has earned a permanent spot on ABC's primetime schedule and has made America fall in love with ballroom dancing.


At the beginning of each episode the hosts explain the type of dances to be performed and the criteria the judges will use to determine the winner.  As the stars perform, the viewer sees the featured dance steps in action and gleans an understanding of an art and entertainment form largely overlooked by American popular culture in the 21st century.


Dancing with the Stars is an elegant program that the whole family can gather around the television to watch.


12. Desperate Housewives

ABC/9:00 p.m. ET Sundays


Now in its third season, Desperate Housewives' twisted take on American family life is as deliberately distasteful as it ever was.  There is no such thing as "happily ever after" for the women of Wisteria Lane.  Instead, marital discord, adultery, statutory rape and murder are par-for-the-course. 


Mary Alice, who committed suicide in the first episode of Season One, narrates the stories of her friends who live on Wisteria Lane from beyond the grave.  Desperate Housewives seems to have a particular fixation on statutory rape and grossly inappropriate relationships.  In the first season, Gabrielle had a long-term affair with her teenaged gardener.  In season two, Bree's teenaged son seduced his mother's bisexual, sex-addicted lover out of vengeance.  This season, Bree's teenaged daughter is having an affair with her married high school history teacher. 


13. America's Got Talent 

NBC/Returning Spring 07


No doubt inspired at least in part by The Gong Show, this talent competition invites acts from around the country to perform for three celebrity judges in front of a live studio audience in hopes of being voted into the next round of competition and bringing home the one million dollar cash prize.  If the judges aren't enjoying the act, they can press a buzzer that will stop the performance and disqualify the contestant from proceeding in the competition.  

The show's concept of having a nationwide primetime talent show seems harmless enough at first blush.  Most of the featured acts are singers, dancers, jugglers or magicians.  But some of the acts are in questionable taste and decidedly inappropriate for family audiences.  In the first three episodes of the first season, for example, two contestants performed strip teases.


14. So You Think You Can Dance

Fox/Returning Spring 07


So You Think You Can Dance gives twenty dancers a shot at dancing in a Las Vegas show.  Versatility is the key to success in this competition as dancers learn to perform a range of dance styles ranging from Hip Hop and Jazz to Modern and Ballroom.  Each week one male and one female dancer is eliminated from the competition. 


The choreographers explain techniques and influences to the contestants and the audience, helping to cultivate understanding and appreciation for the various dances. Some of the dances, particularly Hip Hop can contain suggestive moves. After the mass auditions end, the amount of questionable language greatly diminishes as does any sexual innuendo. The judges offer support and constructive criticism to the contestants.


15. C.S.I.

CBS/9:00 p.m. ET Thursdays


A series about crime scene investigators is bound to deal with some distasteful subjects.  But this series isn't just about the science behind forensic investigations the process of finding and identifying fingerprints and DNA or matching bullets to the guns that discharged them; C.S.I. takes it a step further by providing graphic depictions of decaying bodies, grisly crime scenes, dissections, and flashbacks of brutal rapes and murders.  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.


With each passing season, the storylines become more outrageous and horrifying.  Every possibly sexual deviancy and kinky fetish has been explored.  In addition to close-ups of corpses, young viewers have been witnesses to cannibalism, scenes of a brother and sister having sex, men receiving S&M beatings from a dominatrix in a sex club, a woman making a sex video for her 15-year-old stepson,  a wife-swapping sex party, a case at a mental hospital that revealed a twisted relationship of mother-son incest, a man dying from autoerotic asphyxiation and a plot involving a special Las Vegas luxury "party bus" in which men were entertained by strippers. Clearly none of this content is appropriate for children, and yet millions tune-in, week after week.


16. Lost

ABC/9:00 p.m. ET Wednesdays


Forty-eight survivors of a plane crash on a deserted island struggle to survive and adapt. The island appears to harbor a mysterious secret, as do each of the survivors. Flashbacks show us pieces of the individuals' lives. Jack, a doctor, has emerged as the leader on the island, due to his ability and desire to help everyone. Kate, a woman who was under arrest and being transported by the authorities has become a leader as well. The other survivors include a brother and sister, Boone and Shannon; a rough-around-the-edges troublemaker named Sawyer; a Middle Eastern man named Sayid who suffers from many preconceptions shared by other passengers; a Korean couple, Jin and Sun, who speak no English; a young boy, Walt, and his dad, Michael; and a mysterious hunter, Locke, who prior to the crash was paralyzed but now walks about on his own.


The violence on Lost may be too frightening for children. Recent episodes feature numerous fight scenes between the Oceanic flight survivors and the "Others."  In a recent episode, Sawyer is brutally beaten until he is covered in blood.  There are also scenes of gunplay, including a shoot out in which a woman is killed.  In one flashback a character commits suicide and in several scenes characters are covered in blood.


17. Biggest Loser

NBC/9:00 p.m. ET Wednesdays


The Biggest Loser showcases twelve contestants in their struggle to lose the most weight.  Comedienne Caroline Rhea hosts this reality competition that puts old-fashioned diet and exercise, instead of plastic surgery, to the test. The competitors are divided into two teams and given trainers that boast two very different, but apparently equally successful, diet and exercise regimens. Every week the teams undergo rigorous exercise and participate in challenges that test their commitment to this lifestyle change. The contestants are then subjected to a weigh-in and the team that loses the least amount of weight must send a member of their team home. The stakes are high, because besides a healthier, thinner body, the biggest loser will walk away with $250,000.

This is a fairly clean show. There is no violence and only rarely is there sexual innuendo. As with most reality programs, there is quite a bit of bleeped language, including the F' word. It comes mostly in times of high emotion as the participants deal with living together and also with the grueling diet and exercise programs that are not always successful.


18. Prison Break

Fox/8:00 p.m. ET Mondays


Engineer Michael Burrows gets himself arrested so that he can be imprisoned with his brother Lincoln in the state penitentiary and help him escape.  This season, the action is centered on the escaped convicts' efforts to avoid capture and to find the $5 million cash hidden by one of their fellow convicts.

As can be anticipated for a show set in prison, violence has been a major thematic element. At times, the violence depicted can be quite graphic and disturbing. In one episode from last season, John Abruzzi cut off two of Michael's toes with hedge clippers.  In another, a prison riot results in the prisoners beating and stabbing the correctional officers.


19. Grey's Anatomy

ABC/9:00 p.m. Thursdays


Dr. Meredith Grey is TV's latest angst-filled heroine.  Ally McBeal in scrubs.  The night before starting work as a surgical intern at Seattle Grace hospital, she had a one night stand with a man who turns out to be her married boss, Dr. Derek Shepard.  She is also floored by the discovery that her mother, a famous, pioneering surgeon whose brilliant mind has been ravaged by Alzheimers, had a long-term affair with the Chief of Surgery at Seattle Grace.  Her friends and fellow-interns have equally complicated love lives.


The sexual content is not explicit, but pervasive especially the recurrent theme of infidelity.  As the show is based in a hospital, a fair amount of medical procedures are shown in great detail, with blood, open wounds and surgery being a part of the storyline.  Foul language is also a frequent problem.


20. American Inventor

ABC/ Returning Spring 07


American Inventor offers average Americans a chance at fame and fortune. Innovative thinkers, average Americans and deluded oddballs all have the opportunity to demonstrate their inventions to a panel of judges including British media mogul Peter Jones; advertising executive Ed Evangelista; women's marketing expert Mary Lou Quinlan: and inventor Doug Hall. Finalists are given expert advice by the panel and assistance in developing their inventions, while the winner will receive a million-dollar prize.

Violence is not a problem for this program. Sexual content is rare and is treated negatively.  Some mild profanity is present, but not overwhelming, and while there is a large amount of literal "toilet humor," with many inventors' ideas for improvements in America's bathroom habits displayed, so far such content has not crossed the line into tastelessness.  All in all, this is a series that rewards innovation, creativity, talent and determination making it a suitable program for family audiences.



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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