Primetime profanity on broadcast TV increases 69 percent in five years, PTC says

PTC-profanity-reportImage Credit: Rtimages/Tetra Images/CorbisThe Parents Television Council has issued an awesomely titled report, “A Habitat for Profanity,” on the amount of foul language hitting the airwaves on the broadcast networks in primetime. Comparing the first two full weeks of fall TV programming in 2010 with the first two full weeks of the 2005-2006 season, PTC says its found a 69.3 percent increase. (Pause while you appreciate the humor in that number not being 68 percent or 70 percent.) The PTC blames the increase on the broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and The CW) failing to regulate themselves properly in light of the courts striking down the FCC’s attempt to limit the broadcast of “fleeting expletives” to the late-night “safe harbor” hours. Here’s the full report, which breaks down the percentage change on various words — there’s a 2,409 percent increase in the use of a bleeped or muted “f—,” from 11 instances to 276 – as well as by network. (Fox posted the greatest increase in the general use of profanity — up 269 percent.) The PTC is particularly upset because the greatest increase in the use of the “harshest profanities” across the board was found in the 8 p.m. “Family Hour” and 9 p.m. hour, as opposed to the later 10 p.m. hour. Across all networks, “f—” was used 111 times in the 8 p.m. hour (up from 10) and 156 times at 9 p.m. (up from only 1).

Now, there is a part of me that reads this report and chuckles that the use of the words “balls” and “boobs” are up (2oo percent and 90 percent, respectively), while “damn” and “bastard” are down and “douche” remained steady. Also funny: The report includes Chuck Lorre’s full Two and a Half Men vanity card presumably addressed to PTC president Tim Winter. But those are some interesting numbers. I wish the PTC would have broken it down show-by-show, so we’d know if it’s the same shows getting progressively more risqué or if the networks are leaning toward shows that lend themselves to that kind of dialogue. I’ll admit that I’m still surprised when I hear the word “ass” spoken on broadcast TV, but that’s not because I’m offended. I never use the word “butt” for “ass” unless I’m around my 23-month-old niece. (And then, technically, I use the word “booty,” which she prefers.) But that’s the PTC’s point, isn’t it? Parents can say they’ll block certain shows, but without knowing the guidelines each broadcast network is using, they could be missing something. The PTC wants the networks to disclose their standards to viewers.

What do you think? The urge of many will be to question why anyone’s so hung up on suggestive (and bleeped or muted) language when there’s gratuitous violence on TV that we could be worried about. Let’s not debate that here. Let’s just focus on the issue of language. Does it offend you personally? Have you noticed an increase on the shows you watch, or does it not even register because it’s how you speak? If it doesn’t offend you, can you see the PTC’s point?

Read more:
Memo to the Parents Television Council: We’re boycotting your boycotts
Parents Television Council on ‘Glee’ photo shoot in ‘GQ’: ‘It borders on pedophilia.’
‘$#*! My Dad Says’ exclusive: Co-creator responds to PTC’s campaign against CBS sitcom
Parents Television Council object to CBS’ ‘$#*! My Dad Says’

Comments (73 total) Add your comment
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  • RK

    #$$@#$@#$@# YEAH!

    • JAM

      I think the PTC should f off

    • Zombie Jesus

      Dirty mouth? Clean it up with….. oh wow commercials really do stick with you don’t they?

      • Casey

        Shut the front door! Lol yeah they really do stick with you.

  • lettergirl

    i curse like a sailor but it still shocks me to hear certain words on regular tv. i guess i just remember when i was little and it was a BIG DEAL to hear even a minor curse word on your show. even though the F word is my favorite word, it still burns my ears if i hear it TOO much in a movie/tv show (SOPRANOS comes to mind). i have noticed cable tv shows are getting way looser with what they say. it only bothers me when my kids happen to be walking thru the room and hear something during the 8 pm hour that i wish they hadn’t.

    • Birv

      I agree- I mentioned the seeming rise of the word D**K on Vampire Diaries… is this a word that’s okay on TV now?

  • Chris

    I’m sure Raising Hope would score pretty high. I love that show!

    • JAM

      that show is hilarious. MAW MAW!

  • Ben

    The PTC is a bunch of bootyholes and they can suck my lollipop.

    • joblo

      what’s wrong with not wanting to hear profanity? Especially in family hours? Even as an adult I’d rather the language be kept to some sort of minimal standard of decency.

      • JAM

        when 8pm hits, family hour is over

    • lta


    • Squirella

      Ben, does mommy know you’re on the computer? Run along now…

  • Templar

    Here is my question. Why is it perfectly OK to say crap, manure, excrement or poop, but you can’t say S**t?

    • Katja

      This is my issue with cussing. When it’s something like a racial epithet or a hate word like the N word or the F– word, I can understand why people don’t want to use them. In that case, use of the word basically indicates the user’s hate for whoever the word is supposed to describe. When it’s just your basic four-letter word, however, it just doesn’t make sense to me. As you say, sh*t has synonyms that are okay to use. For some reason, however, sh*t has become the random assemblage of sounds that is somehow damaging to the ears of listeners and indicative of moral decay….even though you could go to a non-English-speaking country and cuss up a storm and no one would care, because those sounds mean nothing to them. People assigned meaning to these sounds, and then somehow also assigned extra outrageousness to some of them, and that last part simply makes no logical sense. My policy is that I don’t care if my husband or myself cuss in the home; we can drop however many F-bombs we want. The important thing to consider is the attitude and self-control behind the usage. When either of us starts cussing in a rage about something, it’s a problem, but not because of the language. When we good-naturedly cuss each other out while playing Mario Kart, it’s a non-issue. It’s all about the intent! (I will say that I won’t cuss around other people because I don’t want to be offensive, but the whole concept of swear words still doesn’t make sense to me.)

    • REASON

      sh*t was used in ER a few times i think, and I had heard it was used in Gilmore Girls once, but watched the entire series and never heard it.

    • RK

      Manure isn’t so bad. The first word is Ma, and the second word is “newer”.

      • Me Fail English?

        I like the name Seven.

  • Jill

    I didn’t notice it until you said you’ve heard the word ass more, and then I realized that I have too. It doesn’t really register most of the time, but looking bad, I guess there’s been a uptick. Bitch too.

    Did that report only measure when it’s spoken, or does $#*! My Dad Says skew the numbers?

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  • Mr. Holloway

    More than anything, I just don’t think there is such a thing as a 8-9 p.m. “Family hour” anymore.

    Shows that currently air at 8 p.m. that I wouldn’t let my (hypothetical) child watch: Glee, Community, House, Bones, Vampire Diaries…just off the top of my head.

    Once again, it comes down to parents monitoring what their children watch. It’s probably more difficult than ever because they don’t have the “Oh it’s 8 p.m., it’s fine for the kids” safety net. But just because it’s more challenging for the parents doesn’t mean that they’re off the hook and they can place all the burden on the broadcast networks.

    • Cult of Personality

      Which is part of the reason why my kindergartener gows to bed at 8:00pm even on weekends

    • Sarah

      Exactly. When I was a kid, I watched Blossom, Full House, Step by Step, Home Improvement, Family Matters, The Cosby Show, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Boy Meets World. I can’t think of a single show on the major 4 networks that are like those.

      • Mr. Holloway

        The only one that comes to mind that is even kind of close to being of that ilk is “The Middle.” (It’s not exactly like the shows you mentioned, but I’d be ok with my theoretical kid watching it.)

      • Sarah

        I actually thought of “The Middle” after I typed this. But I don’t know how many kids would actually “get” the show. Even though it’s about a family, the humor is still more geared towards adults.

      • Jill

        Judging by the shows you named, you were a kid in the late 80s-early 90s like I was, a time when very few homes had channels like Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. Kids didn’t have anyplace else to go, so broadcast networks were much more focused on family-friendly shows. In the current days of niche marketing and 400 channels, there are other places that families can watch together, so broadcast networks’ target audience is 18-49 year olds, not families.

        That being said, I would certainly let my kids watch Modern Family and probably the Middle.

      • Flyer

        I think “Modern Family” is a really good family show. It’s actually funny, now that I think about it, that it airs at 9 p.m. instead of 8 or 8:30.

    • lta

      If a parent has a small child awake at this time, they are watching Nick Jr and hoping for an end in sight. Trust me.

      • Mr. Holloway

        I hear ya, but I’m not even talking about Nick Jr.-aged kids. I don’t think I’d let 8-12 year olds watch any of the shows I listed in my original comment.

      • Mr. Holloway

        If I were a parent, I would be much more concerned about the proliferation of “gay” shows during the family time block. Tim Gunn, Modern Family, and the afore-mentioned Glee all come on at a time where children can easily view them. Parents do their best to keep their kids safe in the streets, but perhaps they should monitor what agendas are being pushed onto them by television.

      • Brigid

        I know, best to monitor the agendas, because what on earth is worse than a child learning to accept people who aren’t exactly like them in a country that promises liberty and justice for all?!

      • @ 2nd Mr. Holloway

        Really? Again?

        Get a life (and your own screenname).

    • Amber

      Many of those shows I do let my child watch. With me and my husband (or just me if dad is working), and if something inappropriate is said, we discuss it. My four year old loves House and Bones, especially the science part. He’s too little to understand a lot of what is said, but he we do have a lot of conversations about House being a bully. It hasn’t turned my son into a nymphomaniac or Quentin Tarantino to hear any of that. But I make sure I address what is going on with him.

      • Mr. Holloway

        See, what you’re talking about sounds excellent. I’m not saying that kids should be banned from watching those shows, but you’re CLEARLY monitoring what they’re watching.

        I was talking more about the idea of plopping your kid down in front of a TV from 8 to 9 p.m. and blindly assuming that whatever came on would be appropriate for them.

  • Bren

    I’d be curious to see the breakdown between scripted vs. reality shows. Survivor, Big Brother and Wipeout air during the 8 p.m. hour and they have a lot of bleeped out words. It doesn’t really shock me that they do. I just wonder if that has a major impact on the overall numbers. Of course, I can’t say I wouldn’t be screaming some expletives myself if I were going through one Wipeout’s insane obstacle courses.

  • dally

    69%? Somehow that seems appropriate.

    • Ktct

      That was my thought, too!

  • Kiki

    Why don’t those PTC people just place their children in people-sized boxes until they turn 18? Come on! The vast majority of prime time TV shows are about teens and adults, age groups that–news flash!–use profanity.

  • Sarah

    What the f#&$ are they talking about? That’s bull$&%!

  • MaryMary

    I have noticed more profanity on AMC, of all places. A couple times on Mad Men and particularly on The Walking Dead (I don’t watch Breaking Bad). I didn’t realize you could say “sh*t” on TV, but they do on AMC. Both shows are on after 10pm on Sundays, but most media, including this blog, still won’t print that expletive.

    • MaryMary

      The Wallking Dead used the N word too, which made narrative sense but also surprised me

    • GimplyGumpo ☺

      That’s because AMC, while basic cable, is still cable. Something people have to pay to watch and not free over the air. Nip/Tuck and Saving Grace come to mind as shows on basic that have shown out and out nudity.

    • MCS

      Breaking Bad often uses the F word. Not ‘Sopranos’-often but often enough. But I agree with the above comment – it’s a subscription service, you’re paying for what you get. If you dont like it, dont pay.

  • David

    Why on earth do you report on anything the Parents Television Council says? Right-wing, stuck-in-the-1950s morons.

    • joblo

      Right. Because only people on the “right wing” don’t want their children to cuss and use offensive language…?!?!?

  • betty

    Sounds like they want bigger government and a nanny state.

  • Pete

    Most prime time TV shows aren’t made for young children. The language should be honest, the way people actually speak. If you have a problem with swear words, teach your children why you don’t like them. But don’t expect to censor the airwaves because you don’t want to parent your children.

    • Templar

      Kids are going to hear it all at school or away from home anyway, field trips, sports meets etc. You can’t keep them ignorant no matter how diligent you think you are being.

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