Even though I'm as liberal as it gets regarding content on TV -- usually -- I think the glee with which Hollywood seems to be greeting the recent court ruling over Broadcast TV's indecency regulations is a little unseemly. Read this article from The Hollywood Reporter for all the details, and then come back here for our comments.
Commentary: This is one case where I hope the advertisers do push back and refuse to sponsor racier programming. If producers are holding cable up as a model, most of the cable shows containing more adult content don't run before 10pm, so the idea that now on Broadcast TV shows before 10pm are going to go crazy is a little unbridled.
Part of the reason why I object is that the Broadcast Networks hold a slightly different place in the television landscape. They collectively are the Sears, the Wal-Mart, the Target, if you will, of TV, not the Victoria's Secret, the corner drug dealer or the adult on-demand on your cable system. Their very existence has depended on the approbation of the masses, while certain cable networks have managed to very carefully and deliberately prepare their particular audiences for what they're offering. FX is the best example of this, with shows that routinely are so much more explicit than anything else -- even pay cable in some ways -- but manage to fit perfectly into their image.
I find it particularly uncomfortable and creepy when network sitcoms go racy -- ick, indeed! -- and I'll tell you why. Not that I think we have to make everything kid-safe, but kids do watch sitcoms -- they're kind of the transition between cartoons and adult programming (though of course nowadays many never make that transition, witness the success of Adult Swim). The often smutty humor in CBS' Two and a Half Men seems just plain unpleasant to me, and I've hated to see my favorite The Big Bang Theory take steps in that direction.
It's not that sexual situations aren't funny, but there's an "Ewww!" line that is too frequently crossed. The ladies on TV Land's Hot in Cleveland are also dancing on that line (with many not very-veiled references to cunnilingus and so forth), and they are funny. However, since few kids are going to be watching HiC, it's no big deal, but it still is a whole different level of comedy subject matter and I'm not sure we can assume everybody is on board with it.
Have I finally become an old lady, waggling my fingers and going "Tsk Tsk!" at naughty words? Hardly. I think Louie on FX is amazing, and you won't find anything as explicit and bleak as that show. Nobody loves profanity -- in its place -- as much as I do, so that's not it.
The problem I see is that this is America. This isn't Great Britain, say, where content is much looser and people expect it and it's no problem. America is still the land of the embarrassed giggle and the adolescent snicker and our boob obsession and every other infantile sexual attitude that we still hold dear. We simply can't handle the truth, the sexual truth, that is, and it turns so many attempts to inject adult content into a show into something weird and uncomfortable. (Violence is a different issue. Flaying women on crime shows regularly is practically a rule for the police procedurals. America loves violence and guns and all that kind of obscenity.)
America is still suspicious of sex; goodness knows there are whole blocks of people out there who are simultaneously completely obsessed by sex and yet would prefer it legislated away (except for their clandestine perversions, no doubt). A current debate about whether the new healthcare bill should pay for birth control isn't really about birth control at all, it's about sex. Should women be able to have sex and enjoy it without worry? It's not about medicine, it's about that deep misogynist vein in America. Until we at least get over that, TV just can't freely get to a place where sexual content on TV is a good thing.
Really, the advertisers will make the call on this one. Can't have Broadcast TV without commercials, and if the advertisers don't like what they're seeing, it's a moot point. Unfortunately, the kind of viewers who write letters to advertisers aren't the kind of viewers I support or agree with in any other way, so I won't be with them on this, either. Might a lessening of standards bring some kind of a political backlash against any and all things liberal in thought or deed? I can see it happening. With all the real problems in the country, worrying about dirty words seems like a perfect misdirection issue to take the heat off what really needs to get done.
Oh well. Go ahead, networks, tart up your shows and see what happens. Maybe it'll work. I'm not for the "good old days" when nobody could say anything, but just try not to frighten the horses, will ya?