Watching Out For Prime Time
Monitor reviewers try their hands at rating for family viewing this season's top 20 shows
Back in February, in response to public concerns, television executives agreed to design a system for rating roughly 1,000 hours of programming per day for objectionable content. Since then, an implementation group has been hammering out the design, which will be unveiled in January 1997.Skip to next paragraph
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Just what is around the corner? To preview what viewers may learn from a rating system - and to illustrate what the prime-time-TV landscape looks like now - the Monitor undertook its own rating project, focusing on the 20 most popular shows.
We used Nielsen's season-to-date rankings for the top 20 from Sept. 16 to Oct. 6 (note that there were four ties). Three Monitor reviewers signed up to watch each show over a two-week period, from Oct. 13 to Oct. 27. Most shows were thus viewed twice, although five were preempted the second week: "CBS Sunday Movie," "Pearl," "Seinfeld," "Single Guy," and "Suddenly Susan." A few episodes had only two reviewers.
Each reviewer ranked violence, profanity, sex, horror, and drugs and alcohol on a scale of 0 to 3: 0 for none and 3 for extensive. Programs were also given an age-based rating for each show in the familiar G, PG, PG-13, and R format used by the Motion Picture Association of America.
"Home Improvement" came out the cleanest, with a 0 average in all five categories, making it the only G-rated show in the group. All other programs earned either a PG or PG-13. The only show to garner a 3 was "The X-Files," for horrific scenes.
V - Violence
P - Profanity
S - Sex
H - Horror
D/A - Drugs and alcohol
Following are the compiled averages of reviewers' evaluations:
NBC, Thursday, 10-11 p.m.
V P S HH D/A
This Emmy-winning medical drama set in a Chicago emergency room is timed about right at 10 p.m. While there was almost no profanity or violence in the episodes we saw, the surgery scenes can be quite graphic, and the characters frequently have sex. Also, the show deals with adult themes that, while often treated discreetly, are inappropriate for anyone under 13 - as in one episode where George Clooney's character has a one-night stand with a woman he doesn't know, who subsequently goes into seizures and dies. The event makes him (and his co-workers) question his shallow way of life. (PG-13)
NBC, Thursday, 9-9:30 p.m.
The neurotic New York pals are all over the map as George poses for risqu photos, Elaine becomes obsessed about her medical charts, and Kramer inadvertently frames Jerry for mail fraud - bringing the wrath of mailman Newman down on Seinfeld's head. One viewer was particularly offended by a scene where Elaine rubs her rash on a receptionist's phone, hoping her condition is contagious. Sex is a frequent topic of this popular comedy, and the conversation can get downright racy. (PG-13)
3. Suddenly Susan
NBC, Thursday, 9:30-10 p.m.
V P S D/A
Brooke Shields is suddenly facing life on her own in this lukewarm new comedy. Vicky, her co-worker, decides to exploit Susan's height and recruits her for her basketball team. But she gets miffed when teammates vote Susan most valuable player. One regular watcher remarked that it was a particularly tame episode - sexual innuendo usually figures more prominently. (PG-13)
NBC, Thursday, 8-8:30 p.m.
Six twentysomethings pal around the Big Apple in this phenomenally successful show. Sex was the subplot in one episode where Ross and Rachel compile lists of celebrities it would be OK to have sex with, despite the couple's ongoing, supposedly monogamous, relationship. Also, Phoebe's half-brother assumes she and her fellow masseuses are prostitutes, and he gropes one of them. Reviewers said the material, besides not being very funny, was inappropriate for an 8 p.m. show. (PG-13)