Family television hour as a thing of the past

posted at 3:31 pm on June 23, 2013 by Jazz Shaw

I suppose this is just one of those things that I’ve always taken for granted without giving it a lot of thought. Network TV is supposed to have tighter restrictions on the type of content they can show, particularly before 10 PM, providing a more family friendly lineup with less racy images and not so much coarse language. Cable television doesn’t hew to the same standards at any time of day, but are really allowed to go off the leash quite a bit during the late night hours. Subscriber TV, such as HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, etc. can show pretty much anything up to and including soft core pornography, trusting to the fact that parents will regulate what their children view and can keep control of pay channel access with their credit card. But the playing field has definitely shifted, particularly over the last decade, and the networks are saying that the old rules don’t really apply anymore, and they would like the restrictions loosened up a bit.

When they talk to Wall Street, broadcast moguls love to boast about their financial power and unparalleled ability to reach mass audiences. But the FCC heard a different story this week from networks as they challenged the agency’s efforts to minimize indecent programming. Companies say that the rules are too vague, that they clash with broadcasters’ First Amendment rights, and that parents can control what their kids watch. But ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC also say that rules are archaic because the networks have lost so much cultural clout. Fox says in an FCC filing, “Americans today, including children, spend more time engaged with non-broadcast channels delivered by cable and satellite television, the Internet, video games and other media than they do with broadcast media.” In a separate filing, NBCUniversal observes that ”Broadcast TV is not a uniquely pervasive presence in the lives of 21st Century Americans.” Broadcast network affiliates’ total day share of viewing “was just 28 percent in the 2010-2011 television season – compared to the 53 percent viewing share held by ad-supported cable programming networks.” CBS also notes that “the day when a child watching television was almost certain to be watching broadcast television has long since passed.”

I first caught wind of this story from Dr. James Joyner, who seems to sympathize with the networks.

They’re right.

The rules made sense thirty, even twenty years ago. Back then, cable television was essentially a platform for showing re-runs from the networks, live sports, and theatrical movies. The handful of original creative shows were mostly R-rated T&A shows that HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime—premium priced providers—aired late at night. Nowadays, the distinction between “broadcast” and “cable” or “satellite” is largely irrelevant. Even the likes of USA Network and A&E are producing their own programming and most of us time-shift our viewing via our DVRs. I frankly don’t know what time most of the shows I watch air and am only vaguely aware of which network airs them. And any show that airs after 9pm is getting watched later in the week at an earlier hour, anyway, so the “family time” concept is irrelevant.

Joyner goes even further, stating that the current generation of tech savvy kids with access to all of the cutting edge entertainment technology largely renders much of the protections irrelevant, and that most of the material on cable if already family friendly, provided we “don’t hold to 1950s notions of acceptable language and sexual depiction.” Joyner is dealing with life as a single dad, so I’m not going to judge him too much on that.

But I do have to wonder if this is a battle which we shouldn’t just give up on. I continually find myself depressed over many ills in society which seem to me – speaking only as a layman, of course – to be the result of decaying structure in the family and the community. This just sounds like one more line which we, as a society, shouldn’t completely abandon. But is it too late? Has technology left us in the dustbin of history on this one? Aside from throwing out your television entirely or keeping it in a locked room and forbidding your children the use of a computer and a mobile phone, perhaps it’s become too high of a wall to climb.

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.


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Comment pages: 1 2

For the last 15-20 years one of my pet peeves was that they had certain shows that they would not air during the 8-9PM hour because the jokes and situations weren’t for all audiences. But then 4-5 years later all those shows’ reruns were airing on all kinds of minor networks and cable stations at 5PM, 6PM, 7PM.

It was ridiculous.

Elisa on June 23, 2013 at 8:30 PM

It’s interesting you say this when a show (I Love Lucy) you specifically cited earlier as being something anyone could enjoy was, at the time, highly controversial because of Lucille Ball’s real-life pregnancy. I went into this earlier if you missed it. see:

alchemist19 on June 23, 2013 at 5:42 PM

The whole thing caused such a stir in the 50s that the show was almost cancelled because of Ball’s pregnancy, and only barely made it because Lucy and Desi were married in real life as well as on the show. They had tried to cover Ball’s pregnancy from the beginning and once it was finally acknowledged they weren’t allowed to use the words “pregnant” or “pregnancy” at all. At the time all of this was hugely controversial and certainly not appropriate for all audiences. The taboo subject nature and hype it generated helped the show pull in one of the largest audience shares in the history of television (more than 70% of TVs were tuned in). If you think about it you can sort of blame I Love Lucy, the controversy and those massive 50s audiences for teaching TV execs that controversy and pushing the envelope can be a worthwhile venture.

alchemist19 on June 23, 2013 at 9:00 PM

Practical objections are worth less than nothing when discussing principles.

It’s the difference between me not shooting you because I don’t want to waste a bullet and me not shooting you because I believe murder is wrong. The end result is the same but the motivations are worlds apart.

Like all authoritarians, your concept of rights is completely arbitrary, based on who the hell knows what. I can’t fathom why you’d even believe in property rights at all considering how useless the idea of private property is if the government can violate it for as flimsy a reason as generally preventing criminal mischief, in the abstract mind you, not even with a reasonable suspicion specifically tailored to that particular occasion.

I grant you that practical and ideological objections are worlds apart. As for the source of rights, I believe that the potential for reason and to control one’s actions through reason is what produces human dignity that serves as the basis for human rights. As such, I am a “natural rights” advocate as found in the arguments of the Greek stoics (hence the handle Stoic Patriot).

As for the government’s interference with property, I had also said that I believe the 4th amendment is primarily meant to defend against abject theft by the government. Consequently, you’ll find me far more skeptical of eminent domain than you will wiretaps.

We should change the Fifth Amendment because it’s working as intended? I don’t care what Lois Lerner did; she has a right not to incriminate herself. If, in the future, federal prosecutors decide to bring charges against her, they will have to make a solid case by gathering and collating the evidence and convincing a jury of her guilt. That’s how the system is supposed to work.

Armin Tamzarian on June 23, 2013 at 8:53 PM

Actually, that’s the real question: is it working as intended? Many legal commentators, including the heavily-libertarian Judge Napolitano (not to be confused with Janet Napolitano of DHS), have noted that she gave an opening statement, which in past cases has rendered 5th amendment rights moot since in prior case law defendants have not had the option to answer or not answer on whim — in other words, it’s an all-or-nothing proposition, and once you go on record, your full cooperation is expected. That’s why we might want to take another look at the 5th.

Stoic Patriot on June 23, 2013 at 9:02 PM

I have a TV. Once in a while I wipe off the dust and get more weather reports or look through the channels if the net’s down or my computer’s fried. Car shows and crappy science/history “documentaries” are semi-watchable if you can put up with all the crappy advertisements, and take it all with a grain of salt. Heh, the best U.S. channel is BBC America, and there’s plenty of suck on there as well.

A good bicycle is more entertaining, as long as it’s not raining, or 100 deg.F outside.

S. D. on June 23, 2013 at 9:24 PM

Joyner goes even further, stating that the current generation of tech savvy kids with access to all of the cutting edge entertainment technology largely renders much of the protections irrelevant, and that most of the material on cable if already family friendly, provided we “don’t hold to 1950s notions of acceptable language and sexual depiction.” Joyner is dealing with life as a single dad, so I’m not going to judge him too much on that.

Spoken like a parent who has not taken the time to take control of his parental controls. It can be done….it just takes work.

LL

Lady Logician on June 23, 2013 at 9:53 PM

Spoken like a parent who has not taken the time to take control of his parental controls. It can be done….it just takes work.

LL

Lady Logician on June 23, 2013 at 9:53 PM

In saner times a parent who intentionally ignored their kid going after adult material was hauled into court.

My middle school blocked adult stuff very, very well, and I’ve been a techie since I was old enough to type. I was programming while my peers were learning Dick & Jane. It CAN be done.

MelonCollie on June 23, 2013 at 9:56 PM

Judging by the comments, the degradation has already permeated the target generation. So the FCC will find solid support for their new position. As a parent, I always find the old they are doing anyway idiots mind numbing.

Zaire67 on June 23, 2013 at 9:59 PM

Zaire67 on June 23, 2013 at 9:59 PM

Unfortunately the FCC is in no position to hold back a generation of oversexed, spoiled children who worship every perversion that comes out of Hollywierd. The feds can’t be moral guardians when tearing down 10 Commandments is a national pasttime.

For that to even have a prayer of happening, you’d have to have a society that only exists in Moldyrind Tarzan’s crack-induced hallucinations. And that wouldn’t be worth the trouble anyhow.

The last time the government dared to limit the levels of treason and filth on the public airwaves (and as such was in their jurisdiction) was back around the 50′s. I don’t know what else to tell you besides cherrypicking isn’t going to work.

MelonCollie on June 23, 2013 at 10:11 PM

Blocking content is not that hard, it just takes time. BUT, you can’t block commercials. What pisses me off is that we watch daytime shows, or family shows, or live events, and they sneak in violent or sexy commercials, previews, etc. For example, I’m watching the NBA finals, and that a commercial with the “Get Lucky” song comes on and ends with a woman wearing flashing stars on her boobs. Seriously? This is a tiny example, but one of many needles on the haystack. How about watching American Idol with the family, having to hear every coming out story from every gay contestant, and then right when the show ends they cut to an exploded body or autopsy scene at the beginning of CSI. Hey, can you give me a second to reach the remote and change the channel so my 8yr-old doesn’t need to see this crap?

We have to stand up for our values and decency. Take your young daughter on a walk through a mall to see how many sexual images you find. Walk by any magazine rack at the local book store. We are desensitizing our kids and too many people just don’t care, then they wonder why families are in disarray?

Sometimes I pray for a direct hit from a large meteor. It is hard to live here…

TheLoudTalker on June 23, 2013 at 11:29 PM

So no takers to defend that “I Love Lucy” controversial smut, or any 1950s morality champions who want us to go back to images of married couples sleeping in separate beds, you know, like most normal couples do? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

alchemist19 on June 23, 2013 at 11:54 PM

Standards? WHAT standards?

When they started running “Two and a Half Men” in the 8:00 hour, and then the syndicated reruns in the after-school hours, pretty much any standards as to subject matter were out the window.

All they still honor of the old standards is physical nudity – which was not allowed at all at the time the standards were first implemented. But there hasn’t been any real “family television hours” in probably 20 years, if content means anything at all.

Adjoran on June 24, 2013 at 1:01 AM

Perhaps the mention of Lucy’s pregnancy was controversial not because it was “smut” but because such topics were often considered private.

Modesty, not shame.

Even the commercials we have today leave very little to the imagination, whether they are for “erectile dysfunction” medications or feminine-hygiene products. Yes, there are hushed-up formerly matters that we should discuss — cancer comes to mind — but I, for one, would welcome a real return to reticence and modesty about many topics.

I suppose a lot of this started in the Sixties, when modesty was mistaken for shame.

What a shame.

KyMouse on June 24, 2013 at 7:02 AM

For the last 15-20 years one of my pet peeves was that they had certain shows that they would not air during the 8-9PM hour because the jokes and situations weren’t for all audiences. But then 4-5 years later all those shows’ reruns were airing on all kinds of minor networks and cable stations at 5PM, 6PM, 7PM.

It was ridiculous.

Elisa on June 23, 2013 at 8:30 PM

More than a few can be seen in the morning hours as well…pretty much around the clock airing for questionable viewing material. No hour is completely safe anymore with all the viewing choices available and decisions to run almost anything at any time.

hawkeye54 on June 24, 2013 at 11:39 AM

Even the commercials we have today leave very little to the imagination, whether they are for “erectile dysfunction” medications or feminine-hygiene products. Yes, there are hushed-up formerly matters that we should discuss — cancer comes to mind — but I, for one, would welcome a real return to reticence and modesty about many topics.

Ditto here. Media has little concern over modesty and discretion any more. And little by little keep chipping away at whatever modesty and discretion remains.

hawkeye54 on June 24, 2013 at 11:43 AM

tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.

Stoic Patriot on June 23, 2013 at 3:56 PM

This is one of the most repugnant statements I’ve ever read. Good men with plenty of convictions, and the confidence to believe they are correct, have no need to fear tolerance. One should only fear tolerance if they are unsure that their own convictions will stand up to the comparison.

MadisonConservative on June 24, 2013 at 11:46 AM

I think the FCC should concern itself with spectrum issues and not content.

NoVAHockey on June 24, 2013 at 11:48 AM

Next thing you know, they will be DANCING!

/thread

antisense on June 24, 2013 at 11:49 AM

I quit watching television back in the 1980s. Got in a lot of reading since…

zoyclem on June 24, 2013 at 11:50 AM

Why, pray tell, would anyone want to watch the news?

Galtian on June 24, 2013 at 1:25 PM

Now I can’t watch the NFL live, I will have to DVR it, so I can skip the Zer0Care commercials, which is better time management anyway. But I’m sure Bob Costas will still sneak in some good plugs for how much better we’d all be without our current health insurance, and just have a gun at our head if we refuse to pay the fines for buying into Zer0Care.

kirkill on June 24, 2013 at 3:57 PM

The only people still watching network television are old people.

Take a look at the commercials. Who do you think the market is for reverse mortgages, Hoverounds, and Crestor?

Kids don’t watch TV anymore, unless they’re phenomenally poor or don’t have access to DVDs or Netflix. Worrying about broadcast TV nowadays is like worrying about the content of CB radio broadcasts.

DarthBrooks on June 24, 2013 at 3:57 PM

for NOT buying into Zer0Care

kirkill on June 24, 2013 at 3:58 PM

We still watch TV as a family, only it is usually Jake and the Neverland Pirates or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Sometimes we will watch something a little older,but rarely is it Network TV.

jeffn21 on June 24, 2013 at 4:17 PM

Out of curiosity, have you ever flipped to ABC”Family”?

Let’s just say I was shocked out of my underoos. Fare you now see on AbcFamily would have been at least a hard PG rating in my childhood.

Professor Blather on June 24, 2013 at 4:18 PM

A good bicycle is more entertaining, as long as it’s not raining, or 100 deg.F outside.

S. D. on June 23, 2013 at 9:24 PM

I actually don’t mind riding in the rain… provided it isn’t a downpour or will slick the road I’m on.

Riding against the wind, though… another story. Lol.

Myron Falwell on June 24, 2013 at 9:24 PM

Out of curiosity, have you ever flipped to ABC”Family”?

Let’s just say I was shocked out of my underoos. Fare you now see on AbcFamily would have been at least a hard PG rating in my childhood.

Professor Blather on June 24, 2013 at 4:18 PM

The only reason why the network is still called ABC Family is because Pat Robinson had a clause written that, if the name is ever dropped, the channel effectively ceases to exist. It’s also why the channel is stuck running the 700 Club twice a day.

Disney tried to rename the network XYZ, and quickly realized that they were legally prohibited from doing so. Buying the network from Fox turned into a multi-billion boondoggle that hastened Micheal Eisner’s departure.

Myron Falwell on June 24, 2013 at 9:28 PM

I canceled my cable TV last December and kept just the Internet portion. Haven’t missed it a bit. We still get 78 channels on our TV, many of them in HD. All of the major networks and local TV stations are there, and we get quite a few oddball channels I’m not sure we even got with cable.

I pay for Netflix and Amazon’s Prime membership for streaming content, and that’s it. It helps to be totally repulsed by what passes for prime time TV, and soft-core cable content? No thanks.

Even if the cable systems went to a totally a la carte system, I don’t think there’s be a channel I’d be willing to pay for beyond what I’m getting along with my internet connection.

YMMV.

JamesS on June 24, 2013 at 9:32 PM

Who the eff has the time or inclination to watch television?

nico on June 25, 2013 at 1:26 AM

If, like me, you think that’s a little over the top then think hard and really educate yourself before you start saying to go back to the morals of some bygone era, and if you agree that showing Lucy pregnant is scandalous then I’m glad society has left you behind.

alchemist19 on June 23, 2013 at 5:42 PM

The people who wanted to censor Lucy were one end of the spectrum.

You (and the other trolls like you) are the other end. The “anything goes and to hell with anyone who dares to think I’m slutty, um “free-spirited”.).

Most of us would like to be able keep your lifestyles out of our children’s faces, until they are mature enough. We would like to turn the channel (look it up) and not have to have it muted (just in case). If I want to pay for that stuff, fine. But it’s everywhere now, not just HBO.

America may be past viability because of people like you. Our constitution can only work for “a just and moral people”. Something you know nothing about.

Squiggy on June 25, 2013 at 7:23 PM

Your personal moral standards might evolve, but what actually IS moral does not.

CanofSand on June 25, 2013 at 9:10 PM

I find it ironic that between the article and the comment section, at least for me, there is a Hanes Bra & Hosiery ad.

Not that I’m a prude, but I’m sure that that wouldn’t have been suitable viewing material during broadcast prime time at some point between now and I Love Lucy.

CatsGodot on June 26, 2013 at 2:05 AM

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