This is my weekly print column that’s set to run on Monday:
The Parents Television Council, a non-profit watchdog group, sometimes comes off as a humorless schoolmarm wagging its finger in the face of racy TV programming. But when it latches onto a topic that resonates with the public, it can be quite effective.
Its members flooded the Federal Communications Commission with complaints over the Janet Jackson Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” in 2004. The FCC fined CBS $550,000. Though the case remains on appeal, the effect was palpable as radio and TV placed delay buttons on live events and scaled back crude content.
Since then, as the economy cratered, the PTC’s influence waned. TV has been pushing the boundaries of taste again. PTC efforts last year to get CBS to change the title of “[Bleep] My Dad Says” failed. Last fall, the New York Times highlighted the group’s dwindling finances and internal strife.
But last month, the PTC found its latest target: MTV’s “Skins,” dubbing it “the most dangerous show for teens.”
An American adaptation of a hit British series, “Skins” features teens partaking in explicit drug use and casual sex. And use of actors under the age of 18 has the PTC demanding government investigations into child pornography.
“The characters are completely nihilistic,” said Dan Isett, a PTC spokesman in Atlanta earlier this week to meet with local donors and press. “They don’t care about anything.”
The pressure from the PTC in no small part convinced a raft of advertisers (e.g. Taco Bell, Foot Locker, Proactiv) to not air ads during “Skins.”
Even TV Guide ran a cover headline: “Attention MTV: Cancel ‘Skins’ Now!”
The show’s co-creator Bryan Elsley, defending the show on MTV.com, said, ” ‘Skins’ is actually a very serious attempt to get to the roots of young people’s lives. It deals with relationships, parents, death, illness, mental health issues, the consequences of drug use and sexual activity. It is just that these are characterized from the point of view of the many young people who write the show.”
“Skins” has a more mundane problem: viewers are losing interest, some calling it dull and depressing. It opened at 3.3 million viewers last month, 1.2 million under the age of 18. By the fourth episode Feb. 7, its entire audience had shrunken to just 1.2 million viewers, a 64 percent drop.
In comparison, MTV’s hit show “Jersey Shore” opened at 1.4 million in 2009 and now regularly tops 8 million viewers.
PTC “is a pretty powerful group,” said Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research for consulting agency Horizon Media. “But ‘Skins’ is dying on the vine because it’s not bringing in the numbers. The controversy will probably just go away” when the show gets axed.
PTC could take some credit, but Isett said his group isn’t Chicken Little.
“Are we as a society marching on this inexorable path to coarseness?” Isett said. “Frankly, I don’t see it that way. I think there are occasionally things like ‘Skins’ that are so clearly over the line as to be repugnant and need to be combated vigorously.”
By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog