Censorship on TV

Programming is what attracts audiences to television but advertising is the primary means of revenue generation for most networks and stations.  In a situation when 1) specific broadcast programming is attacked for containing too much “skin and sin” by traditional family values groups, 2) advertisers are inundated with thousands of email, letters and telephone calls to stop buying commercial time by concerned family group followers and 3) some advertisers withdraw, is this a triumph for the television audience, a chilling effect on broadcast TV creativity, or a step towards censorship and bland programming?   Assume each of these perspectives and cite evidence from previous program histories to explicate how these electronic media issues evolved, were resolved and continue to coexist.

 

Mackenzie

Liz

Adrienne

Monica  

I. History/Background

 

A) Concerns started early in broadcasting– government reluctant to censor outright, First Amendment concerns – different audiences have different tastes

  • What tends to happen is self-censorship – occurs to varying degrees depending on the decade, political climate
  • Always tension between family values groups, advertisers and content creators
  • All have to coexist within the framework of television production business model

 

B) Early TV – sponsors basically created the shows, would edit content as they saw fit

  • Form of self-censorship: writers of programs would stop writing controversial material, or material that could be seen as defiling advertiser’s products
    • Thunder on Sycamore St. – change black neighbor to criminal (seen as less controversial)
  • Television code: 1952 – NAB sets internal standards to follow
  • Red Channels/Red Scare: blacklisting becomes common practice within the industry – advertisers don’t want suspected Communists in shows they sponsor, so producers start blacklisting actors 
    • Jean Muir fired from The Aldrich Family  – General Foods backs out until she’s gone
  • Having a chilling effect on content, some members of audience see it as triumph (McCarthy). It is a form of censorship, and lead to blander programming

 

C) 1960s through today – advent of shared sponsorship in late 60s – no one sponsor has as much control anymore, but similar issues of appropriate content persist, technology evolves as ways to mitigate, changing audience due to popularity of cable and importance of demographics continues to change climate

l  Minow’s “vast wasteland” speech attacks TV content as too violent and full of ads – leads to dozens of bland programs – Beverly Hillbillies, Gomer Pyle

l  National Federation for Decency organized fundamentalist churches and others to protest  “unwholesome shows” like ABC’s Soap – politically sensitive, controversial material not welcome on TV – several sponsors pull out

l  Parents Television Council founded in 1995 to protect children from sex, violence and profanity on television and in other media. The group advises actions such as letters to sponsors and FCC complaints.

l  V-chip – mandated in all new sets after ’96 – way for parents to be censors for their children rather than government setting standards for what’s appropriate

  TV ratings system – to guide concerned groups about content appropriate for age groups – parents can become censors rather than the network

l  Growth of cable leads to bolder programming and sometimes to stricter measures of decency.

  “Keeping advertisers happy despite scheduling three of the most boundary-crossing shows on TV — “The Shield,” “Nip/Tuck” and “Rescue Me” — has become something of an art for FX. Cabler pulls in robust ad dollars — $271 million in 2006, according to Kagan Research.” (Variety, 2006)

l  Awards shows – 3 second delay now in place, not entirely “live” broadcast for fears of indecent content

 

II. Fact or Fiction?

 

A) Creativity

”The biggest problem with how much sex there is on TV now isn’t whether it’s offensive,” says Norman Lear, one of the people who broke television’s sexual taboos in the 1970’s to raise social consciousness. ”It’s that most of the sex on TV today just isn’t funny. It’s stupid and boring.”

               IN FACT = the Kaiser-Children Now study concedes that out of 451 depictions of ”sexual behavior” in the family hour, only 15 involved sexual intercourse.

 

ABC’s steamy intro Monday Night Football in November of 2004, featuring a naked Nicollette Sheridan jumping into the arms of Eagles receiver Terrell Owens, drew complaints from viewers and the NFL.

               IN FACT = ABC’s switchboards were not swamped by shocked viewers on Monday night. A spokesman for ABC Sports told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he hadn’t received a single phone call or e-mail in the immediate aftermath of the broadcast.

B) Exaggerating Numbers

There’s another, more insidious game being played as well. The F.C.C. and the family values crusaders alike are cooking their numbers.

 

               The first empirical evidence was provided this month by Jeff Jarvis, a former TV Guide critic turned blogger. He had the ingenious idea of filing a Freedom of Information Act request to see the actual viewer complaints that drove the F.C.C. to threaten Fox and its affiliates with the largest indecency fine to date – $1.2 million for the sins of a now-defunct reality program called “Married by America.” Though the F.C.C. had cited 159 public complaints in its legal case against Fox, the documents obtained by Mr. Jarvis showed that there were actually only 90 complaints, written by 23 individuals. Of those 23, all but 2 were identical repetitions of a form letter posted by the Parents Television Council. In other words, the total of actual, discrete complaints about “Married by America” was 3.

C) Exaggerating “Pull”

Such letter-writing factories as the American Family Association’s OneMillionMoms.com also exaggerate their clout in intimidating advertisers.

 

               They brag, for instance, that the retail chain Lowe’s dropped its commercials on “Desperate Housewives” in response to their protests. But Lowe’s was not an advertiser on the show; the advertiser who actually bought the commercial was Whirlpool, which plugged Lowe’s as a retail outlet for its products under a co-branding arrangement.

               Another advertiser that the family-values mafia takes credit for chasing away, Tyson Foods, had only bought in for one episode of “Desperate Housewives” in the first place. It had long since been replaced by such Fortune 500 advertisers as Ford and McDonald’s, each clamoring to pay three times as much for a 30-second spot ($450,000) as those early advertisers who bought time before the show had its debut and became an instant smash.

 

III. Specific Show Examples

 

l  NBC’s Saturday Night Live – March 1989 – Advertisers pull out after pressure from Christian group

1.      Ralston Purina Co. confirmed that it had dropped plans to run about $$1 million in ads on the program starting in April because it felt one of the shows “crossed over the line of good taste.”

2.      General Mills Inc. said it had canceled an undisclosed number of ads on the show after reviewing the other episode.

l  Fox’s Married…with Children – March 1989 – one woman, Terry Rakolta, from Michigan writes numerous letters to have show pulled.

1.      Several advertisers, including Procter & Gamble Inc., McDonald’s Corp. and Coca-Cola USA, cancelled or curbed their advertisements on the show.

l  ABC’s thirtysomething – In November 1989, when ABC’s “thirtysomething” broadcast an episode showing two gay men in bed talking, advertiser defections cost the network $1 million. Fearing additional financial loss, the network did not repeat the installment during summer reruns.

l  NYPD Blue – September 1993 – show’s premiere episode was not aired in 50 markets due to conservative groups targeting it for its language, violence and nudity. At ABC’s request, Steven Bochco trimmed 15 seconds from a love scene. Parents’ groups – declared the show indecent by community standards.

 

l  ABC’s Roseanne – episode where she kisses a woman in a gay bar (aired on March 1, 1994)

1.      “We have some advertisers who won’t go near it, but plenty who will say there is a price that it is worth,” said Grey Advertising senior VP Jon Mandel.

2.      Rev. Donald Wildmon, head of the American Family Assn., which has waged an ongoing campaign against “NYPD Blue,” said, “Lesbians kissing will cost them in ad revenue.”

3.      The show ran with an advisory. (In response to the network’s plan to include an advisory, “Roseanne” exec producer Tom Arnold said in a statement that the show will be delivered to the network as shot. “No editing will be done,” Arnold said.)

 

l  CBS’s The Ellen Show – Ellen’s “coming out episode” April 30, 1997 – three major sponsors pull ads. Only one affiliate in Birmingham, AL decided not to air the episode at all.

1.      Wendy’s – spokesperson Denny Lench says: “The story content no longer fits our advertising guidelines, which are primarily to avoid controversial subjects,” Lynch says. “Story lines that could be controversial or cutting-edge, we would definitely avoid.”

2.      J.C. Penney

3.      Chrysler

4.      Companies that ignored the pressure from some conservative groups not to advertise included Warner Brothers and Viacom’s Paramount Pictures, consumer product companies like Bayer and Warner-Lambert, and apparel retailers like the Gap and the Burlington Coat Factory.

 

l  CBS’s Family Law – August 13, 2001 – episode thought to have been pulled because of gun violence.

2.      Writers Guild of America president John Wells said the decision to pull episodes from the “Family Law” rerun schedule “because one advertiser [Procter & Gamble] objected to the content (was) a serious threat to the creative rights of all artists in our industry.”

3.      CBS subsequently issued a statement denying that the programming decision was forced by the sponsor, Procter & Gamble.

“If you only plan to repeat a few episodes of a series,” said the network, “it is common business sense to rebroadcast the episodes that have the most sales potential. CBS does not program its network based on directives from advertisers, and in fact neither Procter & Gamble nor its agency asked for or suggested these changes.”

Eventually CBS gave Wells what he wanted. It issued a statement in response to Wells: “We are as mindful of the rights of artists as is the Writers Guild. The episode of ‘Family Law’ in question will air on Monday, September 10.”

l  Janet Jackson’s 2004 “wardrobe malfunction” on the Super Bowl Halftime Show: “That exposed nipple shield emboldened the parents groups and religious orgs to ramp up the pressure, galvanizing the FCC to start cracking down on TV shows denounced by self-styled guardians of moral decency.” (Variety)

1.      The incident from Super Bowl XXXVIII led to severe fines. FCC fines levied on CBS: $550,000, Cost to NFL (in sponsor refunds): $10 million
more than 500,000 American complaints

l  Survivor: Cook Island – August 2006 – GM was the show’s top advertiser for 12 seasons but it severed ties with the reality show, claiming the show no longer fit into GM’s business objectives. (This was the season that the contestants were separated by race.)

1.      The show quickly merged tribes into multicultural groups early in the season, but lost out on the potential $12.8 million GM would’ve spent on advertising, as well as Home Depot, Campbell Soup and Coca-Cola North America.

l  Showtime’s Californication – September 2007

1.      Religious groups called for a boycott of the program by sponsors as it depicts explicit sex scenes, language, drug use and lewd behavior by its star David Duchovny.

l  BET’s Hot Ghetto Mess – July 2007 – critics claim the show puts black stereotypes on display.

1.      State Farm Insurance Cos. and Home Depot asked BET to drop their ads from the series debuting July 25.

 

III. Today – and beyond

 

               Screening of episodes for ad executives to calm jitters.

o   For instance, CBS screened the first episode of Kid Nation for advertising executives after growing concern about its content.

               NBC’s recent promise – returning the 8pm-9pm slot to “family hour” starting in fall of 2008. Will other networks follow suit?

               The bottom line is that if a show is hot—in ratings, critical acclaim and stars—then it can get away with more.

               Issues over sponsor’s concerns, content creators’ concerns and special interest/traditional family groups still persist and will continue to persist.

 

 

Further Reading/Article Examples:

 

1) Type in ‘Advocacy Groups and Television Advertisers’ into Search Bar in the proQuest search:

 

Advocacy Groups and Television Advertisers

Hill, Ronald Paul; Beaver, Andrea L.

Journal of Advertising; 1991; 20, 1; ABI/INFORM Global

pg. 18

 

2) Type in ‘Terry Rakolta’ into Search Bar in proQuest and numerous articles regarding “Married… With Children,” “Temptation Island,” etc., will come up—all containing information on what happened and the situation of “sexy and sin” on TV.

 

3)http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CE3D61F3AF933A05755C0A96F958260

TV NOTES; ‘Family Guy’ Loses Sponsors

 

4) http://www.mediacoalition.org/reports/wildmon.html

The Rev. Donald E. Wildmon’s Crusade for Censorship, 1977-1992


By Christopher M. Finan and Anne F. Castro

 

5) Complaints over America’s Next Top Model: http://www.parentstv.org/PTC/publications/release/2008/0408.asp

 

6) Parents’ Television Council’s Advertiser Accountability Campaign: http://www.parentstv.org/PTC/advertisers/campaign.asp

 

7) Advertisers pull from BET series: http://www.backstage.com/bso/news_reviews/multimedia/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003609482

 

8) Advertisers pull out of Californication: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10475815

 

9) Ellen comes out on show: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990CE3DD1031F933A05757C0A961958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all

 

10) MSNBC pulls Imus in the Morning: http://www.cnn.com/2007/SHOWBIZ/TV/04/11/imus.rutgers/index.html

 

11) Controversial content boosts ratings on ABC: http://media.www.dailytrojan.com/media/storage/paper679/news/2004/10/26/Opinions/Controversial.Content.Helping.To.Boost.Abc.Ratings-780724.shtml

 

12) PBS concerned over profanity used in Ken Burns’ War: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2007/08/26/MNCARP3OJ.DTL

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

2 Comments

  1. I surprise how so much attempt you set to make one of these great informative site. I have learn some just right stuff here. Definitely value bookmarking for revisiting.

  2. Thanks for the marvelous posting! I seriously enjoyed reading it, you can be a great author.
    I will be sure to bookmark your blog and will come back down the road.
    I want to encourage you to continue your great work, have a nice evening!


Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s