PTC Study: Violence, Sex and Profanity Overwhelm TV's Family Hour

The earliest hour of prime time broadcast television, traditionally called the Family Hour, is no longer family friendly, according to a new study by the Parents Television Council (PTC).

The study, titled The Alarming Family Hour, reports that 90 percent of Family Hour shows contain objectionable content.   Since 2001 violent content is up nearly 53 percent in the 8:00 (ET) hour.  Sexual content is up 22 percent, and foul language was used in more than three-fourths of the programs. 

The report identifies the Fox network as the worst offender overall.  The Fox show American Dad “took the cake” as the worst series overall based on 52 instances of objectionable content packed into each episode.

In a statement accompanying the release of the study, PTC President Tim Winter said, “This early prime time block was once reserved for programs the whole family could enjoy but it is now flooded with shows that contain adult programming. The Family Hour was once lauded by the entertainment industry and members of Congress as a solution for parents who do not want their children to be exposed to graphic content for at least one hour each night. Shockingly, this data shows that parents cannot trust what is on during the so-called Family Hour for even a minute.”

The PTC studied 180 hours of original broadcast programming on the six broadcast networks over three separate two-week “sweeps” periods in November 2006, February 2007, and May 2007.  The 180 hours represented 208 television shows.  Key findings of the study include:

·    In 180 hours of original programming, there were 2,246 instances of objectionable violent, profane and sexual content, or 12.48 instances per television hour. Because the average hour of prime time broadcast television contains about 43 minutes of non-commercial programming, content inappropriate for children occurs about once every 3.5 non-commercial minutes.

·    Scripted television is the most offensive with 16.68 incidents of objectionable content per hour, compared to 0.31 per hour for game shows and 5.82 per hour for unscripted programs.

·    Foul language was found in 76.4 percent of episodes that aired during the study period. Whether scripted or uttered on a reality program, foul language is found on almost every series airing during the Family Hour.

·    Throughout the study period, 677 sexual scenes or spoken sexual references were recorded, or 3.76 per hour. This represents a 22.1 percent increase since the PTC's last Family Hour study of the 2000–2001 television season.

·    Sexual content on CBS increased 579 percent, from 0.34 to 2.31 incidents per hour.

·    PTC recorded 754 violent acts and images during the study period, or 4.19 per hour.

·    Since 2000–2001, violent content has increased by 52.4 percent.

·    Violent content on Fox increased 426 percent, from 2.16 to 11.37 incidents per hour.

The worst network for language was MyNetworkTV; the worst for sex was ABC; and the worst for violence was Fox.  In terms of individual series, the worst for language was My Name is Earl (NBC); the worst for sex was The War at Home (Fox); and the worst for live-action violence was 24 (Fox).

By contrast the “cleanest” network was the CW, and reality and game shows Deal or No Deal (NBC), Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? (Fox), Identity (NBC), and Grease: You're the One That I Want (ABC) were named the best overall series due to the lack of foul language, violence and sexual content.

The PTC also noted the trend of networks airing reruns of more adult-themed shows in the Family Hour, for example Grey's Anatomy (ABC) and C.S.I. (CBS).  The study shows that these reruns, which accounted for 37.5 hours in the study period, contained 58 percent more instances of objectionable content that original Family Hour programming.  The reruns also contained 80 percent higher rates of sexual content than original programs, and twice as much violence per hour.

When the PTC released its last comprehensive Family Hour study in 2001, the organization was part of a bipartisan coalition in the U.S. Congress that called on the broadcast industry to self-regulate and preserve at least one hour of family-friendly programming each night.  The initial response from the networks was encouraging.  Writing in USA Today and commenting on the upcoming 2002 TV season, columnist Bill Keveney commented, “Networks are intensifying their efforts to offer new shows appealing to parents and children alike.”

The efforts were short-lived. Merely five years later broadcasters seem to have forgotten families.  However, with the record-breaking success of the Disney Channel's High School Musical 2, it is evident that a market for wholesome, family-oriented programming exists and would be lucrative.

Winter noted, “The Family Hour needs to be restored. We are calling on the broadcast industry to return to the time-honored principle of airing mature-themed content only at later times of the evening; and to provide parents with a consistent, objective and meaningful content ratings system.”  He concluded, “We are calling on the advertising industry to underwrite only time-appropriate content with their media dollars. And we are calling on parents across the country -- and their public servants -- to speak out in defense of the Family Hour.”

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.