The ‘family hour’ that used to be the kid-safe television viewing ‘prime time’ in the evening doesn’t exist anymore, and society may be suffering as a result.
By Deborah Lambeth
In any given evening on most of the channels, there are multiple shows depicting violence, showing suggestive scenes, and a host of other activities that most parents don’t want their children to see. Many still believe there is a ‘family viewing hour’ or a ‘prime time’ hour, that is dedicated to family-friendly shows. That is not the case anymore; there is not a ‘family hour’. Back in 1975, the FCC established a policy that ‘each television network in the United States had a responsibility to air ‘family-friendly’ programming in the first hour of the prime time lineup (8 to 9 p.m. ET).
However, in 1977 the mandate was hotly contested, and due to lawsuits, the FCC backed down and removed this requirement. What is unique about the chain of events that led to the FCC creating the family hour in the first place, was that, parents were arguing over the amount of sex and violence that was being shown on television at night. This was back in 1974―30 years ago! Times certainly have changed from then-the level of violence, sexually suggestive scenes, and other morally questionable activities has definitely increased on television, and no doubt, has contributed to some of the moral decay in our country.
In 1997, the FCC and other agencies were still seeing the need for some kind of regulation and information about the appropriateness of material shown on television. So, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the National Cable Television Association (NCTA), and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) came together and created the ‘TV Parental Guidelines’ booklet (http://www.fcc.gov/initiatives.html) The booklet was created in concert with the FCC’s order to find an acceptable way to rate the programs children were watching, as well as ratings for programs for general viewing audiences. Also, at this time, the FCC created consumer electronic equipment (primarily the V-chip), so that parents could have more control over the shows their children were able to watch.
The FCC established a ratings system for shows specifically geared towards children, so that parents would know the content of the show. For example, the rating of TV-Y means a program is designed to be appropriate for all children, while a rating of TV-Y7 is for children 7 years and older. They also created categories and guidelines for the general television audience using a rating system similar to the movie system. The ratings start at TV-G for general audiences all the way to TV-MA for mature audiences.
Looking for a way to make their voices heard, The Parents Television Council (www.parentstv.org) was formed in 1995. Originally begun as a grassroots council with a few members, the council has grown to having 1 million members, whose primary goal is to advocate responsible entertainment, and to ensure that children are not constantly assaulted by sex, violence, and profanity on television, and in other media. The non-partisan group works with elected officials, advertising companies to help enforce and maintain decency in television. There is also a celebrity advisory board that assists the PTC in achieving their goals. Some of the more notable people on the board are Connie Selleca, Naomi Judd, Billy Ray Cyrus, Pat Boone, and Tim Conway.
The PTC designed an Entertainment Tracking System (ETS) that is used to research and track programming of shows during prime time television. The ETS also analyzes the prime time hour and the ratings system of television shows. Using this custom-designed technology, the PTC routinely compiles information to produce their ‘Family Guide to Prime Time Television’. This guide looks at every sitcom on most major channels and cable channels, and highlights for parents which shows contain inappropriate subject matter for children.
Certainly, parents and other people are concerned with the quality of television today. Hopefully, within the FCC, the cooperating communications agencies, the PTC and other watchdog agencies, there may come a time when there will be a perceived family hour, and television will, once again, be safe and enjoyable to watch.