Wake up! Reality versus Hollywood

Thursday, January 11, 2007

By Deanna Gilbert

"It is realistic."

"Art imitates life."

"This is what people want to see."

If you ask the producers who regularly bring sexuality, violence and profanity into our living rooms, "Why aren't there any shows that I can watch with my family," those are some of the responses you will get.

Recently, the Parents Television Council released two studies that showed this stance to be wrong. One study looked at the 20 most-watched prime-time programs by children ages 2 to 17. Unfortunately, only reality and unscripted shows, and only six of them, were appropriate for the entire family to watch together.

In a different study that focused on the treatment of religion, the PTC found that while less than 5 percent of the negative portrayals of religion were found in reality programming, almost 60 percent of the positive portrayals occurred when Hollywood was not writing the dialogue.

This is significant since reality shows are no longer what I call "car wreck" television. You know, when people see a car accident on the other side of the highway and they don't want to look but still slow down and rubberneck to witness the misery of others?

Reality TV seems to fulfill the desire to view the private side of various situations. Reality shows, including "Joe Millionaire," "The Real World," "Temptation Island" and "Big Brother" pushed the envelope of lurid acts. The formula was often as simple as getting people drunk or putting them in compromising situations to see how they react.

Reality, it turns out, is not necessarily an episode of "CSI" or "Desperate Housewives." Reality is often good people doing good things and talented people showing off their skills. Real people often respect each others' chosen faith as well. Hollywood writers often cannot imagine this scenario.

Of the 20 most popular primetime shows that children watch, there are six that are entertaining while not exposing them to harmful sights and themes. Reality television shows make up the entire list of suitable programs with "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," "NBC Sunday Night Football," "Deal or No Deal," "American Idol," "Dancing With the Stars" and "American Inventor."

The PTC analysis found that none of the scripted shows in the top 20 is appropriate for a family audience. While children and their families love to watch some of these great reality shows, they have no other choices. Hollywood is happy to air programs like "The War at Home" and "Prison Break" as early as 8 p.m. or to push animated shows to children like "Family Guy" and "American Dad" that many adults find lewd and offensive.

Parents should view this list as a much-needed wake-up call. Children need active guardians, and many are not getting the guidance they need to protect them from harmful TV content. How can a program like "CSI," which ranks as the most inappropriate program for children -- for sexuality, drug references and violence -- be listed among the top 20 most-watched programs by children?

Parents allowing their children to watch these programs should pay more attention to program content. Parents should make their voices heard in Hollywood and ask why they have so few choices for family entertainment.

The first step in addressing a problem is documenting its existence, and with these reports, the PTC has painstaking documented its findings in detail. Secondly, people should become involved and try to do something about the problem. Hollywood will listen if viewers get involved and make complaints.

Parents and concerned citizens need to educate themselves about the state of entertainment and contact the sponsors of programs that harm our children. Information, including show content, air time, and who is paying for it, is available from the PTC Web site: www.parentstv.org.

We need more family entertainment before life starts to imitate art.

Deanna Gilbert is the Carbondale/Paducah chapter director for the Parents Television Council, which is committed to protecting children from graphic sex, violence and profanity in entertainment.

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