Outraged by the moral decline of America's youth? Convinced that part of the problem is foul language, violence, and sex on prime time TV? Seeking to protect your family from the corrupting influence of the boob tube, but confused by the new TV ratings system? "The "Parents Television Council" <www.parentstv.org> wants to help you practice safe TV viewing.
The PTC screens prime time TV for content it considers bad for children, and rates TV shows using a simplified system of red, yellow and green traffic lights. It also assists viewers to lobby network executives, advertisers and the Hollywood creative community for family-friendly programming. Only problem is, PTC is a project of the Media Research Center <www.mediaresearch.org>, which is part of a vast right-wing conspiracy. But more on that in a moment.
Using what it calls "scientific analysis generated from the Media Research Center's massive computerized Media Tracking System (MTS)," i.e., people watching VCRs, the PTC publishes special reports on TV content, including an annual "Family Guide to Prime Time Television." The "Family Guide" profiles every sitcom and drama on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, UPN and WB, alerting parents to subject matter it deems inappropriate for children, while giving the green light to shows it believes promote family-friendly themes like "Home Improvement," "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" and "Touched By an Angel."
To encourage Hollywood to "voluntarily restore the spirit of the Family Hour and quality family programming," the website also supplies visitors with email links to prime time advertisers and network executives. "Using the latest technology in website design, we have created an easy-to-use site that provides parents with the resources necessary to contact and influence those in the industry whose decisions most affect what families will view during prime time," says Mark Honig, PTC executive director.
The PTC's online "Guide" consists of grids showing the prime time schedule. Click on a show title to get PTC's content analysis, plus its green, yellow or red rating based on the level of sex, language and violence, but mostly sex, because PTC's analysis tends to be Freudian. So, for example, "Cosby" gets a green light for being "devoid of offensive language and violence," but is chided for "one episode devoted to a homosexual softball team that recruited Hilton thinking he was gay."
"Suddenly Susan" is red-lighted for condoning casual sex: "One co-worker of Susan's is especially ribald; she keeps a box containing a souvenir from each of her sex partners and has sexual euphemisms pertaining to just about every profession (for example, 'Has he drilled your molar?' for a dentist). Predictably, given where it's set (San Francisco), the show offers a non-judgmental view of homosexuality."
Even though Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt play a married couple on "Mad About You," their sitcom gets a red light for excessive sex: "The show's quantity of erotic innuendo decreased greatly during the pregnancy and for a while after the birth, but skyrocketed again recently as Paul and Jamie resumed normal marital relations."
"The Simpsons" animated cartoon show got a yellow light, and is not recommended for younger viewers: "The show has ridiculed entrepreneurs, religion, educators, and law enforcement officials," and "sends a mixed message on parenthood: while the father is a bumbling idiot, the mother is a loving and patient wife and role model."
Of course "NYPD Blue" got a red light. But if a show has the right message, even Sipowitz's ass can be forgiven: "Though its rough language, occasional nudity, and occasional on-screen violence make 'NYPD Blue' unsuitable for family audiences, its implicit pro-police, pro-law-and-order messages will appeal to adult viewers willing to overlook the objectionable language and sexual content."
PTC's advisory board includes such Hollywood venerables as Orsen Bean, Billy Barty, Marty Ingels, Dean Jones, Jane Seymour, Pat Boone and Jack Valenti, and is co-chaired by Shirley Jones and Steve Allen. But its founder and chairman is L. Brent Bozell III, a columnist, commentator, publisher and activist who describes himself as "one of the most outspoken and effective national leaders in the conservative movement today."
A former finance chairman for the Buchanan for President campaign and former president of the National Conservative Political Action Committee, his latest venture is the Conservative Communications Center and its online news division, the Conservative News Service <www.conservativenews.org>. Bozell is also the founder and chairman of the aforementioned Media Research Center, a conservative news media watchdog that issues such publications as "How to Identify, Expose and Correct Liberal Media Bias" and "Pattern of Deception: The Media's Role in the Clinton Presidency."Are the Parents Television Council and Media Research Center part of a vast right-wing conspiracy? All I can tell you is that at its website, MRC sells $2 bumper stickers that proclaim: "Proud Member, Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy."