Roundtable Reveals TV Writers Attitudes Toward Sex, Profanity
Written by PTC | Published May 16, 2016
Even some current showrunners are shocked by the content on TV today.
The Hollywood Reporter recently detailed a “roundtable” meeting between some of the most influential writers and showrunners working in television today. The article revealed how those in control of television revel in material – specifically, graphic sexual references and foul language -- which many Americans find neither relevant to their lives and experience, nor appropriate for their living rooms during hours when children are in the audience.
The writers wasted little time in delving into the subjects they think are most appropriate for programs shown to families on the publicly-owned airwaves, or which pay-TV subscribers are asked to subsidize: graphic sex talk and profanity.
Compounding this problem is the fact that, under a TV Content Ratings system controlled by the very people who make the programs, nearly every such example is rated appropriate for teens or younger children.
This article presents selected – but revealing – outtakes from the complete article, which demonstrate precisely where such writers’ priorities lie.
THR: David and Marta, you worked on juggernauts during the '90s with Seinfeld and Friends. What could you get away with then that you wouldn't be able to get away with now? And, conversely, what can you do now that you definitely could not have done then?
KAUFFMAN Our show was at its height during a very reactionary period. Seinfeld had just done either the masturbation episode or the condom episode, and we were doing an episode a year later [on Friends] about two women fighting over the last condom in the box, and [NBC standards and practices] wouldn't let us take the condom out of the box.
BARRIS What was the rationale behind not being able to take it out of the box?
KAUFFMAN (Sighs.) Don't start me on that. Suddenly, standards and practices were up our butts. Then we did the lesbian wedding episode, and everybody was up in arms. They put 104 operators on for fear of getting a million phone calls. They got two.
MANDEL Language-wise, when I watch a lot of network television now, I'm shocked by the discourse. It's pretty foulmouthed on regular 8, 8:30, 9 o'clock shows.
KAUFFMAN Foulmouthed like "shit"?
MANDEL Lots of penis discussion, three-way jokes, boob jokes.
THR: What can't you believe you got away with — or didn't get away with — on your shows today?
BROSH MCKENNA We had a joke about spidering, and standards and practices was like: "Oh, you're not going to get that past us. We know what that is." And I was like, "What is that?" (Laughs.)
BARRIS We ended up getting some pretty risque sex acts on — like chicken-cooping.
ESMAIL We had a sex scene that the network did talk to me about because it was between two men, and it was pretty graphic. My argument to them was, "If this was between a man and a woman, would we be having this conversation?" That was the end of that conversation.
BROSH MCKENNA People are killed on network shows in the most disgusting, gruesome, serial killer-y ways, but we had a thing where we had to cover Rachel Bloom's nipples. It's like, I don't know, man, I think the thing where someone gets garroted with their own belt is a little scarier than seeing a woman's nipples.
ROSENBERG The beauty of working at Netflix is you don't have limits. But I also work with Marvel, and their brand is generally PG-13, so no F-bombs. And if anyone was going to say f—, it would be Jessica Jones. But what's funny is that people have said: "She didn't say f—? I could have sworn she did." Because [Krysten] Ritter can deliver a "f—" with her face.
MANDEL Veep has taken foul language perhaps to an art form to some extent. Very elegant combinations of f—s and whatnot, and I love it. But I have a very hard time when I am watching the average CBS show; I'm like, "Whoa, that's filthy."
RIDLEY On ABC you can't say "asshole," but you can say "ass" in any other combination of words. So we have this litany of ass fill-in-the-blanks: ass-can, ass-hat, ass- … anything.
In this article, TV showrunners and writers talked about why and how they do what they do – which, supposedly, is creating entertainment for a mass audience. And yet, the underlying assumption of everyone involved (as can be seen in the very first question The Hollywood Reporter asked) is that TV’s writers have to “get away with” something; that is it not only expected, but almost required, that TV writers “push the envelope” into ever-more extreme areas of sex and profanity.
Using slang terms for bizarre sexual practices so arcane that one must resort to a Google search to even know what they’re talking about (“spidering” and “chicken-cooping” may be everyday, run-of-the-mill topics of conversation in Hollywood, but they’re not in most of the rest of the country); boasting about their “artful” use of the f-word, and the fact that they have a “litany” of ways to push the word “ass” into any dialogue, no matter how irrelevant; resentfully whining that, two decades ago, a network wouldn’t allow characters to wave a condom around during a prime-time comedy – this demonstrates the mindset of those who control the “entertainment” offered to Americans today.
And yet, it is notable that even some of these individuals are shocked by the level of discourse currently on the public airwaves. Former Seinfeld writer David Mandel notes his “shock” at the “foulmouthed” content on “regular 8, 8:30, 9 o'clock shows” today – “lots of penis discussion, three-way jokes, boob jokes.”
Better than anything, this demonstrates just how far standards have fallen at the networks today. Is it any wonder, then, that the same people who create and market such content also misrate it as appropriate for teens and younger children? And is it any wonder that the PTC – along with credible scientists and a large number of organizations concerned about the well-being of families – have called for Reform of theflawed TV Contents Rating System, because it is run by the very same people who create such content?