Who Defines "Family" Values?

The Family Friendly Programming Forum consists of several dozen major television advertisers that urges the entertainment industry to build

"a commitment to and understanding of quality family entertainment." It has just announced its "Family Television Awards." To be sure, what the Forum has chosen to salute is far less offensive than so much of what is oozing out of our TV sets, but is it "family friendly'? You, dear reader, decide for yourself.

Their best drama series selection was ABC's "Lost," a gripping and popular show, but also incredibly violent. Scenes depicting torture and people being destroyed by explosives, the kind that leave pieces of flesh dangling on the shoulders of survivors, are a staple. Maybe for older teens this is acceptable. But for grade school children? The Family Friendly Programming Forum says it is.

They awarded best comedy honors to CBS's "King of Queens," centered on a married couple living in New York. It's another popular show, and often very funny and innocent. But not always. And that's the problem: You never know what you're going to get when you turn it on. One episode this season featured the wife taking stripper pole-dancing lessons to spice up their sex life. She was always fully clothed, of course, but there was that predictably racy dialogue that accompanied the story line. In your book does this qualify as family programming?

The best actor was Jim Belushi of ABC's "According to Jim," and here we go again. Would you feel comfortable putting young children on the couch with a box of popcorn to watch the episode about Jim's low sperm count? Hilarity ensues when Jim's brother-in-law puts in a "sample" of his own sperm instead for testing, and the wife convinces the two that she's been impregnated with her brother's sperm.

ABC's "George Lopez Show" was honored for the "funniest family." One recent show revolved around George's mother getting breast implants. "Oh my God, Mom! You look like you swallowed a bouncy house!" exclaims George. Later the rest of the family is introduced to Grandma's new cleavage. "Damn, Grandma! Your boobs are huge!" says one of the children. The show ends with Grandma getting the implants out. Is this your idea of a funny family? Is this the kind of story line children should be watching?

In the Family Forum's defense, programming completely free of offensive content is as scarce as heat waves in Siberia. The Parents Television Council annually awards its Top Ten Best and Worst family shows on television. This year it could only recommend nine good ones. Maybe this advertiser group should rename itself the Occasionally Family Friendly Programming Forum?

What do these awards say about the mindset of the TV czars - the producers, the carriers, and the underwriters - and their ability to define "family" TV? Six major corporations own virtually everything aired on broadcast television as well as two-thirds of the cable channels, but it's clear these companies don't have a clue about what families want on television. Worse still, they don't want families deciding for themselves what is, and isn't, appropriate family viewing. That corporate community, along with its myriad of lobbying firms and front groups, is zestily lobbying Washington to stop decency enforcement on the public airwaves as well as cable choice on cable networks. Parents are desperately are trying to shield their young children from horrific violence, vulgar language, and sperm counts. Nothing doing, says the industry. We control the vertical and horizontal. We know what's best for families.

Trust us, they said. We'll give you a ratings system. But the useless TV ratings system enacted by Hollywood proves their unwillingness to address the problem. With only a handful of TV shows rated TV-MA for adult audiences, Hollywood is saying that everything else on the tube is, to one degree or another, appropriate for children.

Trust us, they said. You can just block out the shows you don't like - if you can figure out how to do it, har-har. But you still have to pay us, through your monthly cable bills, for that very programming your family finds offensive and doesn't want to watch.

Trust us, the cable industry is now saying. There's no need for cable choice. We will design "family programming tiers" for families. We know better than families what it is they want to watch on cable.

Can anyone take this newest ploy seriously? Apparently, yes. Senator Ted Stevens, who heads the Commerce Committee and has been demanding a solution to the slime coming out of our television sets thinks this idea is dandy. So dandy, in fact, that when he endorsed it, he announced it indicates that nothing should be done on the broadcast airwave front, even though the "family tier" idea has no application to the broadcast airwaves!

This is no "compromise," as the industry claims. It is just another fraudulent public-relations ploy. And Stevens bit. Hard.