- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If your neighbor turned out to be a serial killer, you would have serious and valid concerns for your safety.

But suppose your neighbor, the serial killer, was on the police force. When his day in court arrives, you find out that he only targeted bad people, those who murdered and were never caught, or were wrongly proclaimed innocent in a court of law. That should make you feel better, right?

The irony is that this is actually part of the premise of a new show on CBS. Originally on the premium cable network Showtime, “Dexter” begins on CBS on Sunday, Feb. 17. This marks the first time a premium cable show has gone straight to broadcast television, likely because of the short supply of material during the writers’ strike (according to news outlets that reported on the decision).

While I hate to provide CBS with free publicity, as a parent, I am compelled to speak out about this show. And as the president of a nonpartisan education organization that advocates responsible entertainment, this show has me gravely concerned for the future of our society.

If you think that I am being overly concerned, consider that in the course of the 12-episode first season that aired on Showtime, the main character stalks and murders seven victims. He always uses the same procedures, injecting them with tranquilizers, after which they wake up naked and bound to a table with plastic wrap. Frequently, Dexter stabs his victims before dismembering them. Sometimes, he dismembers them while still alive.

But the biggest problem with the series “Dexter” is something that no editing can get around: The series compels its viewers to empathize with a serial killer, to root for him to prevail, to hope he doesn’t get discovered. “Dexter” introduces audiences to depths of depravity and indifference as it chronicles the main character’s troubled quest for vigilante justice by celebrating graphic, premeditated murder.

So, that leaves me and millions of other concerned parents with a dilemma. Remain silent, or request that CBS not air this show and instead leave it on Showtime, where it belongs for those who want to subscribe. While parental responsibility is always the key component of a family’s healthy media diet, CBS must grasp the magnitude of the harmful role it will be playing by airing this program. The timing is particularly troubling, given the growing culture of violence today as demonstrated by the recent spate of senseless killings in schools and city council meetings across the country.

There is no denying the influence of television.After all, what commercial advertiser would bother paying hard-earned money for television ads if they couldn’t sell anything?

Even if all the graphic violence, sex and profanity is edited out of the series, the program’s theme is equivalent to an R-rated movie.And scheduling a program for 10 p.m. does little to ensure that children will not be exposed to the content.After all, the show will air during the 9 pm hour in the Central and Mountain Time zones.

In fact, most 10 p.m. dramas — many of which contain intense violence or sexual content — are viewed by hundreds of thousands of children under age 18 and as young as ages 2-11, according to Nielsen Media Research. It’s not just parental responsibility here.

You would expect the police to arrest your serial killer neighbor after he is caught, and would be appalled if the police opted to leave him alone, saying instead that it is your job as a parent to protect yourself and your children.CBS has responsibility to ensure that its programming — which broadcasts for free over the publicly owned airwaves — is suitable for children during hours when they are in the viewing audience. There are different standards for broadcast television than for premium cable for a good reason. With the writers’ strike now over, CBS could easily opt to find another series to fill the slot.

The simple solution is one that you would ask your public servants to enforce on your serial killer neighbor: Bring this criminal to justice. CBS, protect our children and serve the public interest by not bringing this serial killer into our homes.

Tim Winter is the president of the Parents Television Council.


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