Primetime TV shows to get racier after court ruling

Fri Jul 16, 2010 12:44am EDT
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By Elizabeth Guider

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - During a particularly unbridled episode of Fox's "American Dad" in January, Stan, well, gave "full release" to a racehorse.

That shenanigan was duly hit with a fine from the Federal Communications Commission. But five years ago, it wouldn't even have aired. Fade whatever is left of the family hour: It's about to get even racier out there.

Primetime TV this fall is going to be chock-a-block with even more blatant sexuality and raunchy language. It's a trend that's been a long time coming and is now accelerating. This week, the FCC's regulations on indecency were struck down by a federal appeals court that termed them "unconstitutionally vague," essentially loosening strictures against profane language on the small screen.

And it's not just about those fleeting expletives. The CW has been upping the quotient of sexy goings-on on "Gossip Girl" and its updated "90210"; CBS turned a blind eye, as it were, to a contestant caught topless on "Survivor" with the naughty parts blurred. And now we're bracing for couples doing it on "Friends With Benefits" on NBC; Kathy Bates smoking pot on "Harry's Law" (and she plays a lawyer!), also on the Peacock; and a CBS sitcom starring the irrepressible William Shatner titled "$#*! My Dad Says."

Said Andrew Schwartzman, head of the Media Access Project: "There's no question that this decision is going to mean more (sexual content on television)." The appeals court opinion, if upheld, could stymie the FCC in its ability to put the genie back in the bottle when it comes to the f-word and such; the court all but begged the watchdog to clarify and simplify its rules on such issues.

Within networks' standards and practices units, the decision was met with a collective sigh of relief. As one longtime network standards expert put it: "We have been living in an unbelievable netherworld of ambiguity and uncertainty with an amazing backlog of cases pending, when the culture, our society as a whole, has moved on. This new ruling, if it's upheld, lifts a cloud of uncertainty. It will make it easier to interpret the rules and not have to second-guess everything we want to put on air."

One reason the floodgates have opened -- and this came long before the court ruling -- is the incessant pressure from the Internet, including the increasingly out-there postings on social-media sites.

Another reason is the huge bite that cable -- which has never been under FCC regulations -- has taken out of the broadcast ratings pie, partly because it has been able, in shows as varied as "Saving Grace," "Rescue Me," "The Shield" and those on Adult Swim, to be more profane and provocative.   Continued...