Monday, November 22, 1999

Shows aimed at adults often watched by kids

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If 65 percent of kids have a TV in their bedrooms, what are they watching after school? NYPD Blue?

        They could. Reruns of the very adult police drama air weekdays at 3 p.m. on the FX cable channel.

        Or maybe kids are watching old Saturday Night Live shows rated TV-14 (not suitable for children under 14) at 6 p.m. weekdays on Comedy Central, and other age-inappropriate programs.

        Nobody knows for sure, which is the alarming fact that emerges when you connect the dots between a new Kaiser Family Foundation report on “Kids & Media @ The New Millennium” and other TV research:

        • 65 percent of children ages 8 and older — from second grade up — have a TV in their bedroom, where parents can't monitor them.

        • 61 percent of those children say their parents have no rules about TV watching.

        • 61 percent of parents never use the TV Parental Guidelines ratings (TV-G, TV-PG, TV-14, TV-MA), says an Annenberg Public Policy Center study from June.

        My unscientific research — talking to parents' and school groups — tells me that the number of parents ignoring content ratings is probably closer to 91 percent.

        Why else would fourth- and fifth-graders (ages 10-12) tell teachers at a Pleasant Ridge school their favorite show is South Park, the 10 p.m. Comedy Central cartoon rated TV-MA (for mature audiences; unsuitable for children under 17)?

        If parents look at the TV Parental Guidelines, they may be shocked.

        Many shows airing 3-8 p.m. are rated TV-14 with this warning: “Parents are strongly ... cautioned against letting children under 14 watch unattended. The program contains intense violence (V), intense sexual situations (S), strong coarse language (L), or intensely suggested dialogue (D).”

        Not just soap operas are slapped with TV-14 warnings. Here's a sampling of the weekday TV-14 landscape between the end of school and the start of prime-time:

        • NYPD Blue, which has stirred viewer protests for being too adult at 10 p.m., repeats TV-14 episodes at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on FX cable.

        Nobody seems to care.

        “We haven't received any complaints that I know about,” says David Gardner, FX spokesman. “It's funny, I guess. Standards are changing.”

        • L.A. Heat, an oldsyndicated action series flagged for violence and language, airs 4 p.m. weekdays on TNT.

        • Drew Carey, designed for 9 p.m. on ABC, airs a TV-14 rerun about male strippers at 7 p.m. today (Channels 64, 45).

        • Saturday Night Live, produced for late-night, repeats at 6 p.m. on Comedy Central. Many episodes, including Wednesday's, are TV-14.

        • ER, written for a 10 p.m. audience, airs 7 p.m. weekdays on TNT. Today's TV-14 episode carries warnings for intense sex, violence and language. (On Wednesday, TNT airs a TV-14 episode at 6 p.m.)

        • JAG, CBS' popular military drama, has a TV-14 episode with heavy violence at 7 p.m. Tuesday on USA. Today's show is TV-PG-V (parental guidance; unsuitable for younger children; with moderate violence).

        • Friends, weeknights at 7 p.m. on Channel 19, fluctuates between TV-PG and TV-14, with the more adult content on Thursday and Friday.

        • Unhappily Ever After, the ribald sitcom that aired at 9:30 p.m. on WB, usually has a TV-14-D-L (suggestive dialogue and coarse language) warning at 7:30 p.m. weekdays on Channel 25.

        • Roseanne, mostly TV-PG, has a TV-14 show at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday on WTBS.

        At 8 p.m., parents may be surprised at the popular prime-time shows rated TV-14 this week: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Felicity, Third Watch, Shasta McNasty, Cops, WWF Smackdown! and WCW Monday Nitro. Rated TV-14 last week were Dawson's Creek, Beverly Hills 90210, Popular, Ally, Chicago Hope (Lifetime) and Walker, Texas Ranger (USA).

        And the list will get longer. The S-L-V-D content ratings have given producers a license to push the boundaries, like the TV-MA rating for Fox's Action at 9 p.m. in September. A Parents Television Council study says sexual content, foul language and violence increased by 31 percent since the TV Parental Guidelines started in 1997. @subhead:Don't trust ratings @body:

        Now here's a warning about the TV warnings: You can't always trust them. The content ratings are determined by producers, studios and networks, which may not share your family values.

        Seinfeld, the hilarious adult comedy repeating 7:30 p.m. weekdays on Channel 64, rarely is rated TV-14. The infamous masturbation contest and birth control sponge shows are rated TV-PG. So is the funny episode about Jerry and George reportedly being gay — not that there's anything wrong with that.

        You may strongly disagree with these labels. Your standards may be much higher than Hollywood. (Duh!) Not that there's anything wrong with that.

        But the TV Parental Guidelines make an excellent reference, a good starting place, if you take 10 seconds to look at them in the Enquirer TV grid, TV Week magazine, TV Guide or during the first 15 seconds of each show.

        Get the picture?

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. His column appears Monday and Wednesday. Write: 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: 768-8330.

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. Write him at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, 45202.