The Frustrated Family Hour

The new fall season of television has begun. Oh, joy. What creative license has Hollywood taken now? How will this industry top - because it always must top - last year's shock? You're a parent. You come home, open the TV book and see listings like this:

"BONES (Season Premiere) A skull smashes through the windshield of a car driven by a group of teenagers on the freeway; a trail of suspects leads Brennan and Booth to a strange cannibalistic society."

A late-night offering for adults? Think again. Fox airs this gruesome twosome tracking the cannibals at 8 pm Eastern time, 7 pm Central, otherwise long known as the "family hour" of prime time television. Once upon a time, network programmers applied the brakes of restraint during the first hour, because children were watching. Today, they're slamming on the accelerator - shamelessly offering the forbidden fruits of raunchy sex and ultraviolence to kids.

For crude sex jokes, there's the brand-new CBS comedy "The Big Bang Theory." No, this has nothing to do with science. The "big bang" is....yuk, yuk, yuk. The show is about the two physics geeks living across the hallway from a beautiful waitress who is way out of their league. The entire series begins with an awkward trip to a sperm bank, which sets up this family-hour punchline:

Pretty Neighbor: "So, what do you guys do for fun around here?"

Science Geek: "Well, today we tried masturbating for money."

Do you have children, maybe grandchildren? Just imagine them watching this show. Thank you, Hollywood.

The problem only seems to get worse. The Parents Television Council recently completed its latest study of family-hour programming on the networks during the 2006-2007 season. The numbers astound.

Since 2000-2001, violent content during the family hour has increased 52 percent. Sexual content is up 22 percent. Foul language is down 25 percent since 2000-2001. But wait. The decrease is almost entirely due to the drop in less objectionable words like "crap" and "hell." The major curse words have hardly declined at all, just three percent.

And that's not all. The total number of bleeped curse words is up 40 percent, and here we're talking about the most outrageous obscenities. And the bleeping masks nothing - the child can tell exactly which obscenity was intended. The dropping of the bleeped F-bomb has almost doubled per hour of programming, and use of the bleeped S-word is up fourfold.

So you sit in your living room with your child and turn on the TV. Prepare yourself for jolts of sex, violence or foul language about 12.5 times per family hour. The CW network - that merger of UPN and WB - has the least instances of objectionable content per hour, at 9.44, and their show "Seventh Heaven" was the cleanest scripted program with 1.75 objectionable instances an hour.

Compare that to the worst network, Fox, which had almost 21 small and large outrages every family hour, almost doubling their nearest competitor in offense, CBS. Fox was "led" by "Family Guy," which had the highest frequency of offensive content with 52 instances per hour. That's not pushing the envelope. It's torching the envelope.

And that show is an animated cartoon, marketed to youngsters as well as adults.

Can things get worse? Oh, yes. We haven't touched the other problem in family hour - reruns of shows that usually air in later hours. Yes, shocking late-night shows turn up during the family hour. Fox viewers could see the episode of "House" with the father who committed incest with his teenage daughter, who turns out also to have hidden testicles. Or consider that CBS put on a rerun of "CSI Miami" where a young teenage boy is traumatized after he savagely, bloodily kills his mother with a nail gun.

Six years ago, Congress hauled Hollywood bigwigs to Washington and made some noise urging the broadcast television industry as well as advertisers to apply their "corporate conscience" and regulate themselves with at least one hour each night of family-friendly programming. Sure, sure, don't you worry, said Hollywood. And the programmers returned to Hollywood, laughing. And the advertisers returned to New York, laughing.

Laughing that someone actually cared that an entire generation of children is being poisoned.