- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Prime-time TV broadcasts have shown a “dramatic decrease” in sexual content for the first time in almost a decade, says a watchdog group that tracks TV content.

With “raunchy reality series, envelope-pushing dramas and smutty sitcoms,” it may seem that television gets worse every year, the Parents Television Council (PTC) says in a “state of the industry” report on sex on TV.

“But it seems that the major broadcast networks are learning that, with respect to sexual content at least, less is more,” the nonpartisan group said, noting that the decline was the first noted by the council in its eight-year history.

From 1998 to 2002, sexual content declined by 9 percent in the 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. “family hour” and fell 12 percent in the second prime-time hour of 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.

At a press conference in Washington yesterday, Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, said networks — “notably ABC” — that have “taken the high road by choosing to better serve family audiences … should be applauded.”

“I thank the television industry for taking responsibility for its product and for paying attention to the health of our children and our society,” Mr. Brownback said. “It is a matter of putting public interest ahead of self-interest.”

The PTC reviewers looked at 400 hours of programming in 1998, 2000 and 2002.

Nudity, sexual innuendo, suggestive comments, sexual jokes, and references or allusions to specific sexual acts were counted as sexual content.

Reviewers found that ABC made the biggest content changes: In 2002, it registered an average 2.13 incidents of sexual content in its 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. shows, the lowest of any network.

This was down nearly 68 percent from 1998, when more than six incidents of sexual content were noted during that hour.

A spokeswoman at ABC who requested anonymity declined to discuss any rationale for program changes but said it had “strong performers” at 8 p.m., such as “8 Simple Rules … For Dating My Teenage Daughter,” “George Lopez” and “My Wife and Kids.”

She noted that earlier this month top executives Lloyd Braun and Susan Lyne said ABC was renewing “its entire slate” of family-oriented comedies and would add more to its 2003-04 lineup.

Fox, which once led the major networks in sexual content during the “family hour,” also made significant changes, dropping to 5.0 sexual incidents per hour in 2002 from 9.56 an hour in 1998.

The PTC review found that NBC had an overall increase in “family hour” sexual content since 1998, but reduced it by a third in the past two years.

CBS, which never has had much sexual content in its “family hour” programming, now registers about 2.2 incidents. A CBS spokesman said the network always seeks to present sexual content “in a responsible way.”

Cable network WB registered the biggest increase in sexual content in the 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. hour. Its number of sexual content episodes rose nearly 88 percent, from 2.75 incidents in 1998 to 5.16 incidents in 2002.

Despite the overall improvement in TV programming, “the public needs to remain vigilant and mobilized,” said L. Brent Bozell III, founder and president of PTC.

“The [Federal Communications Commission] needs to come out of its coma” and enforce laws on TV broadcast indecency, he said.

A call to the FCC was not immediately returned.

The PTC plans to issue two more reports this year on violence and vulgar language in TV programming.

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