Sex On Television Essay, Research Paper
Once upon a time in the Golden Age of television, networks deferred to their own in-house offices of standards, which kept profanity, questionable morals, and salacious behavior off the airwaves. Today s standard- free TV shows are obsessed with sex and it is very obvious to even the most casual viewer. This paper will discuss in depth, where all of this sex stuff started and how bad it s really gotten, on Network Television sitcoms.
The following research study, sponsored by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and conducted by the University of California- Santa Barbara, is described as the most comprehensive study of sex on TV. According to this news study of sex on TV, over half (fifty-six) percent of all programming contains sexual content. In prime time, over two- thirds (sixty-seven) percent of all shows deal with sex. Sitcoms, surprisingly, deal with sex, only (fifty-six) percent of the time. The study also found that most of the sexual content is talk. About one- fourth of the shows (twenty- three) percent actually depict sexual behavior- usually passionate kissing- and three percent show the characters having intercourse. Eight percent of the shows include sexual content involving teenagers.
Sex on television did not just happen over night. It has evolved from what we now consider extreme minimal sexual contact. For example, in the fifties, I Love Lucy – a show based on a middle class family (the Ricardos) living in New York City. The husband Ricky Ricardo wanted his wife to stay home and take care of the house while he earned a living entertaining at a local nightclub, the Tropicana . Lucy Ricardo was never satisfied with the dull day to day activities of a housewife. So every episode depicts her taking on another adventure, or getting herself into a messy situation and trying to get out of it before Ricky got home.
In the beginning of this show, whenever there was a scene at bedtime, in the Ricardo s bedroom were two separated twin beds. The two were never shown together in the same bed until much later on in the series. Another issue on the show occurred when Lucille Ball in real life became pregnant. The producers decided to play off the pregnancy on the show as well with Lucille character, Lucy Ricardo. This seems like an easy task to TV viewers today, but the rules for television content were so strict at that time that they could not even use the word pregnant on the air. These kinds of standards continued, not just through the fifties but the sixties as well.
The seventies were a little different however. A television show that aired on CBS in 1971, was part of a new type of sitcom that advanced sexual content to what at that time seemed extreme to a lot of people. All in the Family was a well- written sitcom and it s respected for the pure thought of a typical blue collared, white male, in the 1970 s. Due to the fact that 1970 s were a time of political and social turmoil, we should not consider Archie Bunker as demeaning to races, but as a middle aged, traditional, and conventional man who had difficulties accepting change in society. (News and Information) Every episode of All in the Family may not have been perfect technically speaking, but every episode is powerful. Homosexuality, gender roles, rape, and birth control, (or as Archie would say it, birth patrol ) became new topics to be aired on network television. Many networks had learned of a variation of this show two times in years before. At that time, they agreed that it was humorous, but didn t want to take the risk in airing such questionable material. CBS, however, decided to risk it, and bought thirteen episodes, that started airing in 1971. The show ended up being a tremendous hit, and thus, the issue of sex on television continues to escalate.
This brings us into the eighties. Kids are growing up way too fast. Half the teenagers in America are sexually active today. I mean, what s going on with these kids? (www.ultimatetv.com) Is just a sample of the many sexual issues discussed on a popular TV sitcom, Family Ties . This show was about the Keatons and everyday life handling everyday issues, including sex. This show joked about sex, but also conveyed a seriousness with certain issues. In one episode, Mallory (the oldest daughter) was uncertain about having sex for the first time with. She was in love , not married, and still a teenager, trying to decide whether or not she s ready to have sex. The whole episode focuses around this issue, and in the end Mallory decides she s not ready for the whole sexual experience.
In the nineties, sex takes on a whole new dimension. Sex and sexual related content is virtually overflowing from network television. Shows like Roseanne , Seinfeld , and Ellen take topics previously discussed, or at least referred to and bring them to a whole new level of raciness.
These three sitcoms represent the same issues in a variety of ways with a variety of people.
Roseanne aired an episode that discussed sexual dreams. David, a boyfriend of Roseanne s daughter Darlene, had a sexual dream about Roseanne. This became the main focus, and then the writer s turned it into an almost comical situation. Dan, Roseanne s husband was shown comforting David, by telling him of a sexual dream he had had about Roseanne s mother. In essence, they normalized this behavior. Sexual dreams may have been discussed previously, but about relatives? This was something new.
Master of your domain otherwise known to the characters of Seinfeld as: masturbation, was the subject of conversation during an episode. While sitting around doing nothing Kramer, Elaine, George, and Jerry, came up with a bet to see who could go without masterbation for the longest amount of time. Whoever won would be the Master of their Domain .
On March forth, 1997, ABC announced that Ellen Degeneres title character on her popular sitcom Ellen will reveal that she is a lesbian. This Landmark coming out episode aired on network TV, on Wednesday, April thirtieth, 1997. This marked a huge event in TV history. ABC was taking a huge chance in airing a show with lesbianism. There were mixed reviews on this decision with the public. Some were outraged and others thought it should have been done a long time ago. The next season, the show Ellen was cancelled. ABC, blames it in the severe decline of ratings, but there were speculations of lesbianism being to much of a touchy subject for prime time.
There s even more! On ABC s Dharma and Greg the title couple and their parents engaged in a lengthy argument about the merits of circumcision. Living in Captivity on Fox took this one step further: one of the major adult characters had his foreskin cut while much of the neighborhood looked on. NBC s Mad About You gave the penis unprecedented prime time attention when lead character Paul took Viagra, then hobbled around Manhattan with an erection that wouldn t quit. (Advertising Age, vol.69, pg.18)
All of this sexual content has brought about huge concern by the viewers, especially where children are involved. This had led to the passage of legislation requiring television sets to include a v-chip so parents can block unwanted content; an agreement by the television industry to develop a system for rating television programs regarding their sexual content. New rules requiring TV stations to provide at least three hours of educational programming a week for kids have been set. Also, there are now efforts to persuade television programmers to reserve the first hour of prime time for shows that are suitable for all ages-the return of the family hour .
We have seen how sex has evolved on television and what it has in turn caused legally, but the question still remains: Why is this happening? First, lets look at synergy . If you were to look up synergy in the dictionary, the definition would be as follows: combined action, working together. In the corporate world this definition would only scratch the surface of the true meaning. Companies can now make money from the start of a project, to the end, from the top of the line, down to the bottom. They don t just focus on one thing anymore, now industries make money by selling rights all the way down the line. (Sanjek, 180). Therefore, synergy is more accurately defined as internal momentum, circular action. (Sanjek, 182). Due to synergy, the fact that the power is placed in the hands of a few, we now have huge wrestling matches between conglomerates who are desperate for sales. In the television business, they are desperate for ratings. (Moerer, 75). The importance of ratings to the survival of a specific television program cannot be overestimated. (Campbell, 148). If a television show wants to raise money, it obviously needs high ratings. The higher the ratings means the more people who are tuned in. Networks are in constant battle with each other, and there s only a handful of networks. This means that there can t be much originality for long. Each constantly push the limits, and the others must either try to mock this or go beyond. Sex fits right in there. The more they can get away with the further they push, it s all for ratings and ratings mean money.
Another competitor that helps contribute to the vast amount of sex on TV, is cable. During the late fifties through the end of the seventies, CBS, NBC, and ABC, ruled prime time programming. (Campbell, 136). Prime time audiences were and are still those people who tune in between eight and eleven P.M.(Campbell, 120). During this era of supremacy, networks accounted foe ninety-five percent of all prime time viewing. However, by 1995, the previous statistic, had dropped down to fifty-five percent. (Campbell, 136). Certain technological advances such as the VCR along with government regulations and the emergence of new networks such as, Nickelodeon hurt the major networks. The main reason for this decline though, was the increased popularity of cable television. Cable as most people know, offers a wide array of nudity, sex, and many other similar issues that make it more exciting and appealing to a wider audience. By putting more sex on Network sitcoms and television, the networks are just trying to catch up with their competitor.
Sex has made many leaps in history. Everyday, it seems like there s something else that you can t believe is being aired, on television. The bottom line is, what people watch, seems to determine what s on TV. Ratings are pretty much everything in television, the higher they are for a particular program, the more likely we will continue seeing it. I believe the following wraps up how far television and sex have come and where they re headed: Last week, Scott Sassa (the new entertainment president at NBC) specifically said, he wants the Peacock network to have less of an emphasis on sex. That night, on NBC s Tonight Show, Jay Leno noted Sassa s remarks and said, Well, there goes the monologue. Then, of course, Leno launched into the same old sex gags that pepper his opening remarks every night. (Arts and Entertainment, 2/22/99). Sassa s heart may be in the right place, and certainty critics and viewers have complained for years about prime time television s obsession with sex. But, ironically, Jay Leno actually out this all into perspective. Even if Sassa is sincere, the people that work for him, the writers, the producers, and the stars in TV comedies- are so used to taking the easy, sex-laden route, that it is very unlikely things are going to change. It s already been exposed so heavily, that it s almost become a norm, in society, and I don t think we can ever go back.