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Sex isnt selling in prime time

Pete Schulberg/On Television

Sex obviously isn't what it used to be. And if you're a longtime follower of television trends, that's the biggest shocker since Kim Cattrall's character on 'Sex and the City' ended up baby-sitting her girlfriend's toddler instead of looking for somebody to bed down with.

The latest study of sexual content on TV reports that the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) are putting less sex on the air. Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council, which conducted the study, says: 'For years, conventional wisdom in Hollywood had it that 'sex sells' and therefore, the more of it the better. But ratings data and survey results prove that's not true.'

First 'American Idol' becomes a phenomenon, and now this?

We're talking the three hours per night of prime time here even with the rabbitlike 'Friends' and 'Will and Grace' thrown into the mix. During the family hour, 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., it seems that only the WB network has increased the amount of sex-related content during the past year.

But still, I come back to the findings: less sex on the networks overall. How is that possible? Especially considering that according to a previous PTC study, sexual content had ballooned 300 percent from 1989 to 1999.

Actually, the trend has everything to do with the aforementioned 'Sex and the City,' as well as 'The Sopranos' and all those ultra-raunchy comedy concerts on HBO. Cable entries led the way in smashing through the barriers that so far, at least, have left the networks wondering what they can do to counter.

There's no way the networks can match what's happening on the premium channels and all the extra channels that are now available on the digital programming spectrum. Despite the gradual dismantling of regulations governing the broadcast industry, network stations are still licensed by the federal government (with congressional oversight). In addition, they're greatly dependent on advertisers who with the exception of the beer companies get jittery when the subject matter gets too hot.

About five years back, the networks were putting on sitcom after sitcom whose only redeeming value was that the sophomoric sex humor was so lame that the shows went away as fast as they debuted. Since then, network dramas have flourished, along with family sitcoms such as CBS' 'Everybody Loves Raymond.' In addition, Fox's 'The Bernie Mac Show' and ABC's 'My Wife and Kids' have proved that comedy doesn't have to be blue to work.

So the next question is: Will reality shows up the sex ante? We may find the answer to that later this summer, when a bevy of newbies hits the airwaves.

Pete Schulberg is the host of 'Portland's Morning News' on KPAM (860 AM). Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..