'It is realistic.'
'Art imitates life.'
'This is what people want to see.'
If you ask the producers who regularly bring crass sexual acts, gratuitous violence and abundant profanity into our living rooms, 'why aren't there any shows that I can watch with my family?' these are some of the responses you will get.
The Parents Television Council recently released two studies that showed just how wrong this stance is. Out of the 20 most-watched primetime programs by children ages 2 to17, the only shows that are appropriate for children are reality or non-scripted shows.
In a different study focused on the treatment of religion, the PTC found that while fewer than 5 percent of the negative portrayals of religion were found in reality programming, almost 60 percent of the positive portrayals occurred when Hollywood was not writing the dialogue.
This is significant beyond the obvious surprise that reality shows are no longer 'train wreck' television. That is how Reality TV began. Past shows including 'Joe Millionaire,' 'The Real World,' 'Temptation Island' and 'Big Brother' pushed the envelope of lurid acts. The formula was often as simple as getting people drunk and/or putting them in compromising situations to see how awful they can be.
Reality, it turns out, is not an episode of 'CSI' or 'Desperate Housewives.' Reality is often good people doing good things and talented people showing off their skills. Real people often respect each others' chosen faith and values, as well.
Hollywood writers couldn't imagine such a situation. Of the 20 most popular primetime shows that children watch, there are only six that are entertaining without exposing them to harmful sights and themes. Reality television shows make up the entire list of suitable programs with 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,' 'NBC Sunday Night Football,' 'Deal or No Deal,' 'American Idol,' 'Dancing with the Stars' and 'American Inventor.'
The PTC analysis found that none of the scripted shows in the top 20 are appropriate for a family audience. While kids and their families enjoy watching some of these great reality shows, they have no other choices. Hollywood is happy to air programs including 'The War at Home' and 'Prison Break' as early as 8 p.m. or push animated shows to children (like 'Family Guy' and 'American Dad') that are so lewd and offensive most adults can't stomach it.
Parents should view this list as a much-needed wake-up call as well. Children need active guardians to protect them from harmful content on TV. How can 'CSI,' which ranks as the most inappropriate program for children - due to its efforts to continually explore the realm of indecency through sexual acts, drug references, and violent material -end up among the top 20 most-watched programs by children?
The first step in addressing a problem is documenting its existence, and in these reports, the PTC has done so with painstaking detail. Next, people need to wake up and do something about it. Hollywood obviously won't correct itself or our television entertainment never would have gotten so out of control to begin with.
Parents and concerned citizens need to make our voices heard in Hollywood and ask why we have so few choices for family entertainment. We also need to educate ourselves about the state of television entertainment and contact the sponsors of programs that harm our children. All this information, from a show's content to when it airs and who is paying for it, is available from the PTC web site, www.parentstv.org.
We need more family entertainment before life starts to imitate art.
Stephanie Snow is the Portland Chapter Director of the Parents Television Council. To reach her, phone 888-372-3860. The Parents Television Council (www.parentstv.org) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization committed to protecting children from graphic sex, violence and profanity in entertainment.