- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — The body count in prime-time television these days rivals that of a war zone.

The popularity of CBS’ “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” its spinoffs, imitators and other crime or supernatural shows has made network TV home to an astonishing amount of blood ‘n’ guts, which has attracted little notice because of a preoccupation with sex.

During the final week of September, there were 63 dead bodies visible during prime time on the six broadcast networks. That’s up sharply from the 27 bodies counted during the same week in 2004. This year, channel surfers in that one week could spot:

• The lead character in Fox’s “Bones” discovering a badly decomposed body hanging in a tree, crows picking on the remains. The maggot-covered head falls off and lands in Bones’ hands.

• On CBS’ “CSI: NY,” a man falling after trying to climb the outside of a skyscraper. He hits a ledge, and a large chunk of bloody flesh falls to the street.

• A driver speeding up to hit a woman coming out of the clinic on NBC’s “Inconceivable.” She’s shown hitting the windshield, flying through the air and lying on the ground with blood dripping from her mouth and nose.

Then there’s the murdered woman whose eyes had been removed and eyelids stitched shut and the medical examiner using pliers to pull a diamond from a dead man’s chest.

“The whole name of the game in television is holding attention,” said Martin Kaplan, professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication. “Ever since we were creatures on the savannah — fear, sex and novelty were things that made our heads jerk.”

The reign of “CSI” as TV’s most popular show is a leading factor in the trend. CBS, in particular, keeps putting new crime dramas on the air and the public keeps lapping them up.

“I think one of the drawing cards of ‘CSI’ is that it is depicted very real and sort of gross,” said David Janollari, WB entertainment president. “It’s part of why the audience comes to see it.”

Television must compete for attention with movies, where the effects can be even more graphic, he said.

The prime-time body count was compiled — after a request from the Associated Press — by the Parents Television Council, a watchdog group that keeps tapes of network programming.

Yet the PTC, which frequently files complaints with the Federal Communications Commission about network fare, acknowledges that its focus has primarily been on sex, not gore. One reason is that no government agency focuses primarily on these issues, said Melissa Caldwell, the PTC’s research director.

Americans “seem to have more of a taste for violence, unfortunately, so it’s a little bit more difficult to get people worked up over it,” she said.

“All of the media executives are going to pay a lot more attention to what’s making them money,” said David Walsh, head of the National Institute on Media and the Family. “Their job performance is not going to include ‘What do parents think of what you’re doing?’ Their job performance is going to be based on ‘How much money did you make?’”

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