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Did NBC go too far with MILF, and what is the family hour anyway?

by Allison Waldman, posted Apr 18th 2008 12:02PM
family tvEdward Wyatt's New York TImes piece questioned whether NBC crossed the line by broadcasting racy material in the "family hour." On both 30 Rock and The Office, the writers let loose, basically presenting what you might call adult rated moments in what NBC asserts is family time. All I have to say to that is, "What? There's a family hour? Since when?" Apparently, I wasn't the only one caught off guard by the raunchiness of the family hour. The Parents Television Council just today rescinded their praise for NBC's claim that programs in the 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. time period would target families. PTC is calling NBC's pledge "hypocritical."

Gallery: Family Hour?

30 RockEverybody Hates ChrisThe Amazing RaceThe OfficeTyler Perry's House of PayneAmerican DadAmerican IdolChuckDancing with the StarsFamily GuyFriendsGhost WhispererHannah MontanaHow I Met Your MotherTwo and a Half MenMy Name Is EarlNCISSeinfeldThe Bill Engvall Show7th HeavenSurvivorThe New Adventures of Old ChristineThe New Price is RightGilmore GirlsThe OfficeFamily Guy

Seriously, when you think about the kind of things discussed in many TV programs that air between 8-10 o'clock, the family hour as we knew it in the '70s, '80s and even the '90s is an antiquated notion at best. The Standards & Practices police, the censors, are asleep at the button if you ask me. What doesn't get by? The two items cited in the Times were the following: the TV show causing a stir within 30 Rock was called MILF Island, a reality TV show in which 50 eighth grade boys are stranded on an island with 20 "holy hot mamas" with whom they'd like to have sex; on The Office, in the midst of a screaming fight, Jan yelled at Michael that they should go ahead and have a "fu*kin' kid." The expletive was blipped out and Jan's mouth was digitally blurred.

Now, were the two shows funny? Absolutely. I was laughing out loud. I loved them. But some part of me did wonder, "Has TV gone too far?" This isn't the first time I felt this way. I remember when How I Met Your Mother concocted a whole episode about "the tricycle" -- Ted's opportunity to have sex with two women at the same time. My jaw dropped on that one. It was broadcast at eight o'clock at night. Would a kid even be able to comprehend what Ted and Barney and Marshall and Robin and Lily were talking about? If a parent was watching the show with a kid in the room, would they send him or her out? Of course, if a parent knew what was going on, wouldn't he or she heed the TV-14 warning? (I don't think so; that's just like the warning on the DVDs about pirating the content!)

There's a lot at issue here; not just the concept of family hour viewing. It's not just the time of night. Are families watching TV together anymore? Probably not. When I was a kid, there was only one color TV in our house. If I wanted to watch the color set, I had to watch what my parents were watching. Today, everybody has a television set. Kids nowadays are able to watch television online, on a cellphone, in their bedrooms. Are mom and dad even aware of an eight-year-olds viewing habits?

I don't think the networks are able to control or adhere to a family hour anymore, not with time-shifting and alternate technologies. But standards are something to consider. I don't want to sound like an old-fart -- although I probably do -- but shouldn't there be some things are are deemed adult fare?

NBC defended the criticism over shows like My Name Is Earl (in which they are all criminals), 30 Rock and The Office, saying they have a tradition of adult, edgy, sophisticated comedies on Thursday nights. It's true that Seinfeld often skated close to the edge of good taste, with masturbation contests, nipples in Christmas cards, et. al. And Friends' Joey and Chandler were overjoyed when they discovered they were getting free porn on their TV. Porn was labeled as something really great by Friends, making you wonder what kids learned when they heard that. What would a kid make of Christine's bizarre, incestuous dream involving her brother Matthew on a recent episode of The New Adventures of Old Christine or her and Barb's discussing lesbianism?

Censorship is not the answer. Creating an arbitrary family hour like they've done in the past is not the answer either. However, writers and producers need to realize that their audience is not adults only. Tina Fey should know that writing for the eight o'clock time period is not the same as writing for Saturday Night Live. Same with Carter Bays and Craig Thomas. How I Met Your Mother isn't David Letterman. Of course, what about the Fox animation block on Sunday night? Those shows are wickedly funny, and Family Guy and American Dad are outrageous.

On the other hand, there are eight o'clock shows that are family fare. NCIS, Chuck, Ghost Whisperer, Ugly Betty for instance. Families can watch The Amazing Race, Survivor, Dancing with the Stars and American Idol together. And sitcoms like Everybody Hates Chris, The Bill Engvall Show and Tyler Perry's House of Payne are meant to be watched by families. I interviewed Ali LeRoi, co-creator of Everybody Hates Chris, for TV Week recently, and he told me, "When I was growing up, we all watched The Andy Griffith Show, it was a family show. It was easy to understand and I don't think the enjoyment of shows like that will ever go away. I do think at times, young hip executives get into an office and think they need to reinvent the wheel and they really don't."

Families who are really concerned do have options: the Disney Channel offers Hannah Montana, and does really well. So does ABC Family with reruns of Seventh Heaven and Gilmore Girls. And nobody is stopping any parent from popping in a DVD that they deem more acceptable.

I don't want the networks to be watchdogs and wardens, but I do want these writers to think twice about what's appropriate. They can't control where the network chooses to show their programs, but more often than not, they have a good idea. Knowing that, what about being funny without resorting to vulgarities. I'm as guilty as anyone; I laugh at the jokes. But I also feel bad after the fact and wonder when television lost its conscience.

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Emerald

It takes a village to raise a child.

And, unfortunately, there are a lot of parents out there who are far too bothered with the wonderment of their own lives to take the time to monitor or teach their own child. The idea of censorship is not to coddle children, but to try and present TV that is appropriate to any person of any age, especially those whose only parenting comes from TV.

There was a time when people tried to be mindful of manners and have "common decency", but obviously those days are long over.

Just another sign that we're degrading as a population.

If you disagree, spend some time with children in public schools. The first time you hear a five year old say, "That's a MILF" to a teacher, maybe you'll agree.

Oh, by the way, that really happens. Not making it up.

April 18 2008 at 10:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Peanut

The presence of babies and former babies (also known as "people") in any television show means that somebody had sex at some time. Former babies (themselves the result of sin) who watch television shows featuring former babies are all going to hell.

April 18 2008 at 7:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
tv junkie

it's funny that people are still fussing about the so-called "family hour" when local stations are airing syndicated "family guy" and "two and a half man" at 6 and 7pm hours with "prison break" airing at 8pm... is family hour still relevant?
if parents are really concern, program their v-chip or stop watching tv - take some responsibility.

April 18 2008 at 4:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
driftwood

I think it's funny, that the whole MILF Island thing was a satire on how crazy TV has gotten...and it's being criticized for being what it's critiquing...at least in my opinion.

April 18 2008 at 4:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
viewdrix

If they ignore the TV-14 rating, it's the parents being negligent.

Case closed.

April 18 2008 at 3:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
MaxieZeus

These days, we don't need family hours... there are entire family channels. How about you parent your kids, and I'll parent mine...?

April 18 2008 at 2:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Michael 8-)

I think the better question for the New York Times and Parents Television Council is why should the term "MILF" or talk of "lesbians" be so non-family friendly?

I'm not saying that every American has to condone such behavior. I'm just asking if it isn't silly to think that hiding some words and topics from your children makes it "family friendly" and protects them from the world.

I mean, really, how hilarious is it that tv critics are twisting themselves in knots trying to write about The Office because they're not even allowed to use the word "MILF" in the newspaper.

Why don't we worry about real concerns? You know, like why there's so much violence on television, more reality than educational material, and news shows that deliver gossip instead of news?

April 18 2008 at 2:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
RevJonathan

It is fair to question the content of last week. Censorship is something that should be kept on a razor's edge, but if parents want a guideline for was is and isn't suitable for their kids they should absolutely have it. When a show breaks those guidelines, then it is fair for the parents to stop their kids from watching the show. 30 Rock is one of the best shows on the air, but if parents don't want kids seeing quite a bit of content regarding "MILF Island" then they are well within their rights to know. I'm not saying that the FCC should get involved, but if the Parent's Television Council wants to raise awareness I'm ok with it.

April 18 2008 at 2:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kristen

If NBC is billing something as "family hour," they should actually do it. No one made them dub the 8PM hour as such, and they're made out to be fools and idiots when they don't even monitor or honor their own statements. Yes, there are other offerings for families on ABC Family, the Disney Channel, Nick at Nite, and even some of the programs on network TV. But since NBC has 10 hours of programming from 9 to 11 PM Monday through Friday to be raunchy in, can't they show SOME self-control and enough awareness to keep the 8PM hour clean?

April 18 2008 at 2:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kirby

If parents spent less time trying to keep their kids from hearing a dirty word now and then, and more time teaching them to be kind to one another, the world would be a much better place. This kind of mollycoddling is disrespectful to the intelligence of kids, willfully ignorant of the reality that they see and hear worse stuff all the time anyway, and just shifts blame and responsibility. Kids are not fragile little flowers that can't handle the slightest bit of digression from the sanitized path proscribed by a never-existent, idealized version of the past.

It's reasonable that we ask shows to clearly label which standards they use, and abide by that. (Which is why Janet's superbowl show was inappropriate - nobody could reasonably expect that. Although the reaction was insanely over the top.) But if a show wants to say that they're TV-14, whose fault is it if they contain PG-14 material and someone doesn't like it?

If the networks really made all these 'Parent' groups happy, it'd be fantastic news for HBO and Showtime, and Comedy Central, and all the cable channels that could serve adult audience who don't want to exclusively watch Seventh Heaven style shows. And the end of the Network Dominance once and for all. (Which wouldn't necessarily be bad, I suppose.)

I think most kids watch Cartoon Network and the Disney Channel and the like on their TVs in their rooms anyway, and not The Office.

Really, I think it's more likely to be hit on the head by a meteor than for a kid to actually have emotional scars from this PG-13 stuff they may happen to see.

April 18 2008 at 1:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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