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Hey TV networks: Keep it clean

Critic Al Gini yearns for the days of shows like ‘I Love Lucy,’ when TV humor didn’t rely on profanity. (AP photo)

The advent of cable and satellite options changed everything with regards to TV censorship. Cable and satellite TV did not use the public spectrum and therefore were not under the purview of the Federal Communications Commission. Cable and satellite TV are subscription services, and so two basic axioms of capitalism applied:

(1) “If it is not specifically forbidden, it is allowed!” Hence nudity, vulgarity and violence were fair game.
(2) Caveat emptor, “Let the buyer beware!” Hence the motto, warning and promise of one premier cable channel: “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.”

For a while it seemed like the networks, which must still comply with FCC guidelines, were the last bastion of civility on TV. But that’s changing, too. A number of recent studies have suggested that the broadcast networks are trying to compete with cable by pushing the language envelope. Popular shows like The Office, 30 Rock, Two and a Half Men, American Dad, Mike and Molly, Family Guy, Grey’s Anatomy and 2 Broke Girls have been dancing on the edge of censorship rules by regularly referencing genitalia in their comedy skits and joke lines. In other words, in an attempt to draw attention to their shows, in an attempt to be edgy and hip, they are pushing the boundaries of family-friendly language and good taste.

I, for one, agree with Marty Kaplan, media professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, that: “Words that you hear in many 10th grade biology classrooms are probably the most benign end of the spectrum (regarding sexual titillation).” Like Kaplan, I don’t think there’s a danger of children growing up philosophically and psychologically malformed by learning these words.

My problem is much more basic. I don’t think the gratuitous mention of genetalia is as much profane or a threat to cultural standards as it is vulgar and not at all funny! Like children, the script writers are using “potty talk” and “naughty words” for shock value. Instead of trying to write something clever, something funny – their shows offer jokes that are more titillating than they are humorous. Frankly, I’m not offended as much as I am bored. Continuously mentioning body parts and toilet references is simply not funny!

Now I know I sound like an old curmudgeon, which I am, but there is a whole history of comedy on television that was funny without being rude, lewd or sexually suggestive. Parts of The Office, 2 Broke Girls, and especially 30 Rock are brilliantly funny; but when push comes to shove, I’ll take Lucille Ball, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar or Jackie Gleason any day of the week!

My advice to the networks is, let’s keep “potty talk” in the “potty.” Get to work on developing better comedy scripts and funnier gag lines.

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