Foul language jumped 94% between 8-9 p.m., which the PTC said was the time when families most watched television together and the time when young children would be most likely to be in front of TV. Foul language rose 109% between 9-10 p.m. but only 38% between 10-11 p.m., when the fewest children are watching.
"The broadcast networks have made little or no effort to curb foul language during the prime time hours in the last five years," the PTC said in its report. "While there were qualitative minor improvements here and there, overwhelmingly foul language became coarser and more frequent over time across the broadcast networks, and unless checked, we can surely expect this trend to continue well into the future."
It's the second of three reports the organization will release giving a report card to the TV industry, with the first study finding that sexual content has become less frequent although more explicit. The PTC said that in 2002, there was an increase in four language on almost every network and almost every time slot. PTC said that said that in 2002, a larger share of the foul language wasn't as harsh.
Fox was singled out as being the only network with a drop in bad language between 1998 and 2002, although offensive language across ABC's offerings dropped in the final two hours of primetime. But PTC said more and harsher language were heard during ABC's 8-9 p.m. time slots. CBS, NBC, UPN and the WB went up by triple digits in various time slots.
PTC said that experts agree that violence on TV has an affect on the viewing public, particularly children, and that there's increasing evidence that sexual content on TV fosters sexual behavior at an earlier age.
"Given this growing recognition that all areas of a teenager's life can be influenced by behavior they see modeled on the screens large or small, it should be obvious that the way characters talk on TV can affect the way teens communicate in day-to-day life," the PTC said.
In a separate report, the PTC announced its 10 best family-friend programming along with the 10 worst. The PTC ranked shows in terms of violence, sexual content and foul language. "Touched by an Angel" topped the best list, although the CBS drama ended its nine-year run in April; the top show in total households, "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," also on CBS, was the worst.
Also on the 10 best list, in order were "Doc" (Pax), "Sue Thomas F.B. Eye" (Pax), "Life with Bonnie" (ABC); "Smallville" (The WB); "Reba" (The WB); "Star Search" (CBS); "The George Lopez Show" (ABC); and "8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter" (ABC). "Star Search" isn't on CBS's fall schedule, although the others will return. "Smallville," which is entering its third year, is The WB's hottest program.
After CSI, PTC's 10 worst list include "Kingpin" (NBC); "Fastlane" (Fox); "NYPD Blue" (ABC); "Fear Factor" (NBC); "Angel" (The WB); "Girlfriends" (UPN); "Will & Grace" (NBC); "Friends" (NBC); and "Big Brother 3" (CBS). "Kingpin," a critically-acclaimed limited run series that has also appeared on NBC's Bravo cable channel, isn't on the fall schedule and may not appear again. "Fastlane" didn't make it through the year on Fox. The rest will return and two shows, "Friends" and "Will & Grace," are among broadcast TV's most popular shows.
Steve Sternberg, senior vice president at Interpublic's MAGNA Global USA, said language and sexual content are always on the advertisers' radar screen. While he hadn't seen the PTC's report, he said that some advertisers have stringent guidelines on acceptable content to be associated with and others don't. But he pointed out that as the envelope as being pushed, what's acceptable to advertisers and the public does too.
Broadcast TV has come a long way from the days when the CBS show "Uncle Buck" caused an uproar with its reference to "that sucks" during the family viewing hour. A new show that has caused controversy, NBC's "Coupling," is said to have removed a reference to oral sex in the pilot. Sternberg points out that no one would have even tried to mention something like that on network TV five years ago.
"A lot of this leniency has to do with the public's willingness to accept something. We seldom see the outcries or threatened boycotts that popped up in the past over network TV content, possibly because the average home now has over 100 channels, and network TV is still relatively tame vs. cable," Sternberg said.
In a report released in June, Sternberg wrote that network TV moved away from family friendly programming in the mid-1990s when conventional wisdom believed that families had stopped watching TV together. Sternberg said that the move away from family-friendly programming and toward more narrower, edgier, cable-like fare has actually helped network erosion.
Sternberg's report said that "family programming" doesn't have to mean children's programming. Some of the most noted programming in the genre - "The Cosby Show" and "Family Ties," both '80s staples - aren't kid-centric at all and even shows like "Survivor" and "American Idol" rise above because families can watch them together.