Local column: On TV, the envelope’s been pushed too far

TV comedies have ‘pushed the envelope’ way too far by using crude humor for cheap laughs, writes Terry Miller.

For several weeks. I’ve been trying to figure out how to write a column on the increasing emphasis on sex in commercial TV comedy shows and not come off as a prude or someone whose head is stuck in the 1950s.

Today my horoscope said: “Your logic filter might not be functioning optimally, prompting you to act on a gut feeling before your common sense kicks in.” …But here goes anyway.

A couple of decades after Rigby’s Philo Farnsworth gave birth to TV, FCC Commissioner Newton Minow declared “When television is good, nothing…is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air… keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland. “

In response, the producers of “Gilligan’s Island” named their wrecked boat “The Minnow.”

I’m sure Philo would be turning over in his grave and Samuel Morse’s 1844 telegram to Congress asking “What has God wrought?” would be apropos these days.

I like good comedy and, as a Supreme Court Justice said in 1964, “I’ll know it when I see it.” Of course he was referring to pornography at the time but there’s little difference on TV these days. Yes there is a TV rating posted on each show, but it disappears after the first two seconds.

TV has been evolving and pushing the envelope since it began and as any parent knows, kids rebel to see how much they can get away with. (Unlike Jimmy Carter, I can’t remember a time I “lusted in my heart” — although there was that one moment on a ship with Lonnie Anderson….but that’s another story.)

In a way, pushing the envelope has been a good thing. “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “The Jeffersons,” “Golden Girls” and “Mary Tyler Moore” were ground breakers that dealt with racial, political and gender issues. And they worked.

Take a look at the old “Rowan and Martin” shows and the numerous gay jokes and gestures, then compare that to the original 1998 Will and Grace” series and you’ll see how far the needle moved. The “Will & Grace” reboot last week was funny, but also a bit disturbing. TV’s current obsession with genitalia jokes makes me cringe even when I’m watching them alone.

The 1975 family friendly viewing hour (7-8pm ) was in response to a growing complaint of sex and violence on TV. It was overturned two years later as a First Amendment violation.

A Pew Research Center survey showed that 75 percent of the 1,505 adults polled wanted tighter enforcement of rules on broadcast content, particularly when children are most likely to be watching. And, a 2005 Time Magazine poll revealed 68 percent believed the entertainment industry had lost touch with viewers’ moral standards. Another 58 percent said there was too much cursing and 50 percent said there was too much sex.

In 1972 comedian George Carlin released a monologue called “Seven things you can’t say on TV.” That list seems to be getting shorter and shorter each season.


Terry Miller is the retired News Director of KIDK-TV and has a variety of opinions on most everything. He can be reached at asoundbite@yahoo.com.


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