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Friday
Jun252010

CBS Curses Social Norms for Ratings

Back in 1999, CBS made television history when it aired the “s-word” during prime time viewing hours.  This fall, they are lowering the bar even further with a show that features the same curse word in its title.

CBS is officially calling the show “$#*! My Dad Says.”  It’s based on a comedic Twitter feed that does not try to obscure the real word.  Neither do some of the critics who have written about the new show on-line, opting to keep it real rather than abide by the network’s obfuscation.  And neither will many viewers, in my opinion.

I’m not going to lie.  I swear.  Sometimes, I may swear a lot.  But there is a time and place for it.  Coming out of our televisions during the “family hour” of prime time is not one of them.

To think that CBS was once considered the “Tiffany Network” because of the quality and respectability of its programming.  Not anymore

When CBS first broke this new ground in 1999, it was on the drama “Chicago Hope” that aired after 10:00 PM eastern.  According to “Chicago Hope” producer Michael Pressman, actor Mark Harmon needed to say “s-word happens” because nothing else would do.  He told the New York Post:

It’s a painful story that ends up with [Harmon] being unable to make his point clear.  It’s a full embodiment of what the episode is about, and there really wasn’t a better way to say it.

Oh-kay.  If you say so, Michael.

But crossing the line, necessary or not to that particular show, was like opening Pandora’s box.  Emboldened programmers have taken us far since that fateful day in 1999.  Especially on basic cable networks such as FX, where stretching the limit on once-prohibited language and images has gone much further than on the traditional broadcast networks.  Comedy Central’s late-night “Secret Stash,” for instance, aired movies and specials that included language and some nudity that might not be seen at other hours.  Only open drug use seemed verboten.

And now there is a show with the s-word in the title airing at 8:30 PM eastern — in what many people regard as the family hour.

Not long after the watershed episode of “Chicago Hope” aired, the new trend was mocked on Comedy Central’s “South Park.”  Big time.  In an episode called “It Hits the Fan,” the s-word was used 162 times in 30 minutes (even less time when you take out time for commercials).  To make sure the viewer knew how many times the s-word was used, there was a counter in the bottom of the screen keeping a running score.

But there was a method to the madness.  In that episode, which specifically parodies the “Chicago Hope” episode, prolific swearing on television led to the awakening a killer dragon that the boys of South Park later slay with the help of the mythic knights of the Order of Standards and Practices.

Amongst all the silliness, “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone imparted this wisdom at the end:

KYLE:  The knights of Standards and Practices were created to make sure that bad word were kept to a minimum. “Curse words.”  They’re called that because they are a curse.  We have to go back to only using curse words in rare, extreme circumstances.

STAN:  And besides, too much use of a dirty word takes away from its… impact.  We believe in free speech and all that, but… keeping a few words taboo just adds to the fun of English.

CARTMAN:  So please, everyone.  From now on you’ve got to try and watch your language.

Remember that when you start seeing commercials for “$#*! My Father Says.”

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