USA Network Airs Graphic Suicide Scene During National Suicide Prevention Month and Deems it Appropriate for Kids
Written by PTC | Published September 9, 2015
The morning of August 26th, television audiences getting their morning news from CBS affiliate WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, VA, were witness to a horrific act of violence carried out live on air during a remote shot. That morning, an alleged disgruntled former station employee tracked-down a reporter and her cameraman and shot and killed them both as they were covering a local tourism story about an outdoor shopping mall. Then he posted first-person perspective videos of the shootings to his Twitter feed, where many thousands more were witness to the senseless bloodshed before Twitter finally disabled his account.
The story bears a striking and eerie similarity to the plotline of the season finale of USA Network’s original drama series, Mr. Robot, which included a scene in which a man is being questioned by a reporter and commits suicide by shooting himself on live television.
The finale was already “in the can” at the time of the Roanoke shooting. And so USA delayed the airing of the season finale for one week.
USA could have pulled the finale, and let that be the end of it. They could have reedited the finale, or filmed an alternate scene. But they didn’t.
They postponed it for one week. Making matters worse, USA rated the episode TV-14, meaning that in their view, this content is perfectly suitable children as young as 14.
According to the network, content that was too graphic, too troubling, and too shocking to air on August 26th is suddenly appropriate on September 1st. And according to the network, that same content is appropriate for children.
We’ve been down this road so many times before, there are ruts in it.
In the dark days after the school shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, in April, 1999, many networks started pulling episodes that contained scenes of violence out of sensitivity to survivors and families affected by the bloodshed. CBS President Leslie Moonves even admitted, “Anyone who thinks the media has nothing to do with [the bloodshed at Columbine] is an idiot.”
In the days following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School came the announcements that violent movies scheduled for release would be pushed back. Episodes of TV shows were pulled from the schedule out of sensitivity to the families affected by the tragedy and to a nation in mourning.
The episodes finally did air. One week later.
But why is Hollywood concerned about the potential impact of violent media content only in the wake of such tragedy? And why is it only temporary? The answer isn’t to delay release of films that glorify violence but to stop making them. It’s not to temporarily delay the airing of violent episodes that bear an eerie resemblance to real-life events (only to air them a week later), but to reevaluate the messages they communicate to and rate as appropriate for kids every day.
The scene was disturbing and graphic for adults, let alone children. But USA rated the content TV-14. Sadly this instance is emblematic of a television content ratings system that is wildly inaccurate and inconsistent. At best, the industry’s application and oversight of the ratings system is self-serving and misleading; at worst it is fraudulent and corrupt.
If the USA Network was truly concerned about what happened in Roanoke, they wouldn’t have aired that scene a week later. They wouldn’t have aired that scene during National Suicide Prevention Month. And they wouldn’t have rated that scene as appropriate for children. A responsible corporation led by responsible executives would have done none of those things. Yet that’s exactly what USA Network did. Those responsible should be held to account.
Read more here about the problems with the TV Content Ratings System and what should be done to fix the system.