IRONY: Rating systems have killed family-friendly TV shows

by Michael Foust, Guest Reviewer |

LOS ANGELES (Christian Examiner) – Parents who believe television content has grown coarser in recent years now have data confirming their suspicions, and it shows that one of the elements meant to assist families – the ratings system – has actually made things worse.

The 29-page report by the Parents Television Council (PTC) compared a two-week period of programming in 1997 – the first year of the ratings system – to a similar two-week stretch in 2014 and found that:

  • The number of hours of TV-G programming fell 100 percent, from 27 hours in 1997 to 0 hours in 2014.
  • The number of hours of TV-PG shows decreased 39 percent, while the number of hours of TV-14 shows increased 160 percent.
  • Every hour of content on broadcast primetime TV is rated either TV-PG or TV-14, meaning that broadcasters recommend all of their programming for either young teens or children – a concept that many parents would find objectionable.

No continuing program on broadcast TV is rated TV-MA, the television equivalent to an R-rating.

Just as significantly, the study showed that there is very little difference between a TV-PG program and a TV-14 show. According to the ratings system, TV-14 shows include more adult content than TV-PG ones.

"The implications in our report are enormous and should give the TV industry significant pause," said PTC President Tim Winter. "The industry should have to answer as to why TV-G rated primetime series are extinct, why the lines between TV-PG and TV-14 shows are blurred, why more adult content is being shown on TV-PG shows, [and] why nudity and violence are increasing on broadcast TV overall," Winter said.

The study found that between 2011 and 2014, there was a 93 percent increase in nudity or pixelated nudity and a 17 percent increase in weapon-related violence. Additionally, between 1997 and 2014, there was a 156 percent increase in sexual situations and coarse language in TV-PG shows.

One problem, Winter said, is that TV networks rate their own shows, "creating an inherent conflict of interest." That differs from theatrical movies, which are rated by a separate board.

"You don't see any TV-MA rated (the highest adult TV rating) shows on broadcast TV," Winter noted. "It's not that some of the shows don't warrant the MA rating, it's that the networks are financially motivated not to rate programs properly because most corporate sponsors won't advertise on MA-rated programs."

The self-regulated ratings system has created an unexpected quirk in which many TV-PG television programs have more adult content than TV-PG movies at the box office.

"Congress, the FCC, public health advocates, and parents must insist that the TV Content Ratings System be accountable to the public and meet the needs of the parents and families it was intended to serve," Winter said. "Parents must be alerted to potentially harmful TV content, and the ratings system, which the V-chip utilizes to block unwanted content, can only work if the ratings are accurate."