Both children's TV advocates and cable programmers last week blasted a "raunchiness" study that cited several Nickelodeon shows for their violence.
The survey by the Parents Television Council, a watchdog group, found that basic cable's instances of "raunch" — defined as profanity, sex and violence — were more than double that of broadcast television.
The analysis concluded that cable's average per-hour rate of coarse language, lewd references and violence in primetime was 21.7, versus 9.8 for broadcast.
The study, which branded Comedy Central's South Park
as "the most offensive series" overall, also included three Nick programs on its list of the 10 most violent cable shows. Nick's inclusion prompted an immediate outcry from not only Nick officials, but from Kidsnet and children's TV advocate Peggy Charren.
Washington-based Kidsnet, a nonprofit children's-media clearinghouse, last week wrote a letter to the PTC saying it will not add the "raunch" survey to its pool of references. Kidsnet raised questions about the study's methodology, and objected to its citing Nick.
"In reviewing the material … I haven't a clue what methodology you used for this research," Kidsnet executive director Karen Jaffe told the PTC. "I'm most distressed with the inclusion of Nickelodeon programs in this analysis … Out of the 11 Nickelodeon shows you list, at least six are some of the best shows on the air for kids. These include The Brothers Garcia, Caitlin's Way, The Fairly OddParents,
and the award-winning Rugrats
and The Wild Thornberrys.
Cable officials also questioned the PTC's methodology for the study, which included an analysis of 33 series from fewer than a dozen cable networks.
The programs tracked — in addition to fare from Comedy and Nick — were from USA Network, MTV: Music Television, TNN: The National Network, ABC Family, A&E Network, Lifetime Television and Turner Network Television.
The three Nick series that made the study's list of 10 cable shows with the most violence were Invader Zim, All That
and The Fairly OddParents.
The PTC, whose president is columnist L. Brent Bozell, says its mission is to support and foster positive, family-oriented TV. Its director of research, Melissa Caldwell, said her group picked the cable shows it tracked by selecting the most widely distributed networks and choosing representative original scripted entertainment series. Caldwell said Nick fit the criteria.
As for Nick's citation for violence, she said: "A lot of that is cartoon violence. We said up front that some of the violence is in the Three Stooges
category, over the top. But some parents still object to that."
Nick defended its shows as "age-appropriate" fare that has won numerous awards.
"The study has some significant credibility issues based on its methodology," Nick spokesman Dan Martinsen said.
Charren, the founder of Action for Children's Television, defended Nick and attacked the PTC survey.
"That study is so preposterous it's really laughable," she said. "The fact that Nick is listed should clue you in not to take it seriously."
The PTC survey tracked cable programming from May 1 to Aug. 15 last year, for a total of 112 hours. Based on its study, the PTC claimed that cable now has a "push-the-primetime-envelope" mindset.
"These findings suggest that original primetime basic-cable series are, as a group, considerably raunchier than their broadcast-network counterparts," the PTC study concluded. "The present, generally sorry state of original primetime basic-cable series is not inevitable, but it will continue as long as the cable industry's mindset — edgy equals entertaining, wholesome equals boring — persists."
Comedy Central's animated South Park
racked up an hourly average of 126 instances of profanity and violence. The study period included one episode in which the word "sh - -" was used 160 times.
Comedy Central spokesman Tony Fox criticized the report on several fronts, in part by saying the PTC did not offer "a context" for its findings about South Park .
First, Fox stressed, Comedy Central and such shows as South Park
and The Man Show
are not for kids. Some 80 percent of the network's audience is 18 or older, he added.
Fox then said the whole survey was skewed because the South Park
episode with the numerous uses of the word "sh - -" was a satire and parody of profanity.
"The point of that show is America's obsession with language and language on television," Fox said. "It was a very smart social commentary."
MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch
was the No. 1 show in terms of violence, with an average 36.4 instances an hour, the PTC survey found. In fact, MTV had six out of 10 shows on the list for most sexual references: Undergrads, The Andy Dick Show, Real World/Road Rules Extreme Challenge,
The Real World, Celebrity Deathmatch
Officials at MTV couldn't be reached for comment.
A&E's 100 Centre Street
was No. 10 on the list for sex, while TNT's Witchblade
ranked No. 2 in violence.
An A&E spokesman said, "Any study that cites Rugrats
for violent content must be questioned."
Like Nick and Comedy Central, TNT raised questions about the PTC's methodology.
"We have not yet reviewed this study in its entirety and have some questions about the methodology it used," a TNT spokesman said. "Witchblade
is considered a fantasy drama, which places it in a different category than programs that reflect reality and real behavior. We have received no complaints from our viewers about its content."