TV violence ratings fail parents

Gory shows on broadcast networks get milder cautions that similar shows on cable
Associated Press
Dec 10, 2013


Violent dramas on the broadcast networks carry milder parental cautions than cable shows like "The Walking Dead" but can equal them in graphic gore, a failure of the TV ratings system, a new study found.

Scenes of stabbings, shootings, rape, decapitation and mutilation invariably received a TV-14 "parents strongly cautioned" rating on network TV, according to the Parents Television Council study released Monday.

But similar fare on cable typically was given the most stringent label, TV-MA for mature audiences only, researchers for the media watchdog group found.

"There are zero-point-zero series rated TV-MA on broadcast," said the media watchdog council President Tim Winter, despite programs that are awash in violent scenes.

It is vital to examine the media's effect on children and real-world violence, Winter said, adding that he hopes his nonpartisan group's findings are part of a wide-ranging search for solutions.

The study of 14 series during a four-week period found a 6 percent difference in the overall incidence of violence of all types on cable versus broadcast, with 1,482 violent acts on the cable programs and 1,392 on the network series.

Federally regulated broadcasters face sanctions if they cross the line on indecency or expletives but not violence. With competition from unregulated cable and its variously daring series such as "Breaking Bad" and "Masters of Sex," networks have resorted to more mayhem.

Episode ratings are decided by networks and cable channels, similar to how the movie studios' Motion Picture Association of America self-governs by issuing its own movie ratings. The TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board, which is composed of TV industry members and public interest advocates, checks for ratings uniformity and responds to public complaints. It received 38 complaints in the past year.

The ratings system "serves as a valuable resource for parents and helps them make responsible viewing decisions based on what is appropriate for their own families. The industry regularly reviews the TV ratings to ensure they continue to be useful to parents," Missi Tessier, spokeswoman for the board's executive secretariat, said in response to the PTC study.

NBC, CBS, Fox and CW did not comment on the study, which did not include any ABC shows.

Under political and social pressure in the mid-1990s, the voluntary system was established by the TV industry to be used with the so-called V-chip that can block shows electronically.

Networks find it financially vital to avoid applying TV-MA ratings, Winters said, which scare off advertisers.

To assess how the ratings are used, the PTC said it analyzed the seven shows each on cable and broadcast TV that had the highest levels of violence. Each show's first four episodes of the 2012-13 season were analyzed.

TV-14 warns that a program may include intense violence, sex or language not suitable for children under 14, while TV-MA is intended for shows that might have indecent language, graphic violence or explicit sexuality, according to the TV Parental Guidelines webpage.

The PTC study defined graphic as "especially vivid, brutal and realistic acts of violence" that are explicitly depicted. Among the network examples cited:

— A bar fight scene on NBC's "Revolution" in which a character wields a sword and a dagger to slash open a man's chest, cut another's neck and stab a third in the chest. The blood-spattered character pulls his sword from the last victim's body.

— CW's "Supernatural," in which a trail of blood leads to the bodies of two priests impaled on a cemetery's wrought-iron fence. Their eyes have been gouged out and blood drips down their faces.

— A woman is tortured in captivity, with an implanted camera sending images of her agony online in an episode of CBS' "Criminal Minds." An FBI agent watches as a hammer is driven into the victim's head.

Depictions of shootings, stabbings and dismemberment were found on cable shows including AMC's "The Walking Dead" and "Breaking Bad" and FX's "Sons of Anarchy." Five of the seven cable shows had TV-MA ratings, with "Walking Dead" eventually switching from TV-14 to MA.

Other broadcast shows in the study included NBC's "The Blacklist," Fox's "Sleepy Hollow," CBS' "CSI" and NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."

Although administered differently, movie ratings have also been criticism for being soft on violence. A study last month found the number of scenes featuring gun violence in PG-13 movies has come to rival or surpass the rate of such action in R-rated projects.

The PTC's Winter said his group's study, taken together with the movie report, "starts to weave together a fabric that urgently needs a public response."



Peninsula Pundit

I wholeheartedly agree!
Don't you dare show a breast for a split second, but they show gore that goes beyond the pale on many of these shows.
George Carlin has one of the funniest takes on this phenomena on his album, 'Toledo Window Box'.
All this gratuitous violence and then folks wonder how criminals think up such heinous crimes we see on TV.


What happened to a parent being the PARENT. Are people not smart enough to make the decision for themselves with out STRANGERS doing for them? Are these the same people who cry about the ratings on a tv show/movie but allow kids to listen to the music of today's popular artists? Buy them the latest video games?


There may be 100 additional acts of violence on network shows, but I guarantee there is more explicit nudity and more overt sexual situations on cable shows--so yes, they are going to receive more stringent ratings overall. As far as comparing violent incidents on network vs. cable, it seems as if the study used valid guidelines. In the shows used in the study--such as Criminal Minds and CSI, for example--it is expected that there will be very adult situations. Ultimately, the programs are on during the 9 or 10pm slots (no longer the "family" hours), and the ratings are merely a GUIDE for parents who should be the ones deciding if/when their kids will be watching tv.


I personally don't think the ratings mean much, whether they're fair and accurate or not. Too many parents can't be bothered with actual parenting, and they pay no attention to those ratings anyway. They don't pay any attention to things like bedtime either, so the "family hour" doesn't apply like it used to.

The issue isn't with violence, gore, or nudity on TV, CD, or the movie screen. It's with parents (or parent) who aren't raising their kid but rather biding time with any "babysitter" they can find until the kid is out of the house (and can continue the cycle, of course).

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

It's all about context, or rather the ability to discuss these issues with your child. I agree that if left as a passive form of entertainment or guidance it can be irresponsible and dangerous. Both boobs and bullets exist on screen and off and it is up to parents/guardians to frame the discussions about them in a way that brings facts to the table, conveys a lesson of some kind, and reinforces a line between fantasy and reality.

I am in the trenches with this every day. For what it's worth many of those in the geek community are capable of doing the above and I have seen it happen personally. It may be a small segment but it's there and a good start!

Stop It


"The TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board, which is composed of TV industry members and public interest advocates, checks for ratings uniformity and responds to public complaints. It received 38 complaints in the past year."

Out of how many billions of people that live in this nation?! Really?!


I raised lots of kids and a parent cannot monitor every thing a child does. You can only try and we all know kids will find a way to do what they want, listen to who they want and watch what they want. Those of you that think you have perfect little angels, WAKE UP!


I agree. The same people who wants to blame the parents for everything is the same ones complaining about people working. This is not new we grew up to Jason, Freddy Kruger and way more gory movies. Like I said before I grew up in a single parent house and my mom worked two jobs so I guess that made her a bad parent because I went out and did teenage things. People need to get off their high horse and come to reality.