Children watching TV during the so-called family hour last season were exposed to bawdier humor and more coarse language and violence than in 1999, according to the Parents Television Council.
The conservative watchdog group's fifth analysis of program content during the early prime-time hour found a bleak picture, said PTC President L. Brent Bozell III.
"I don't think enough parents realize just how awful it's become," Bozell said. "Some of the worst programming is now being put on during that hour and it's being directed deliberately at children."
Bozell noted that the study, released Wednesday, looked at broadcast television, not late-night, obscure cable.
"We aren't talking about quality, mature programming like Frazier or ER designed for adult audiences being broadcast during the Family Hour. We are talking about low-brow, raunchy programming, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Boston Public, and Smackdown!, being aimed deliberately and directly at young children," he said.
The group studied 200 hours of programming airing in 2000-01 on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, WB and UPN during the first hour of prime time 8-9 p.m. on the East and West coasts and 7-8 p.m. in the Central and Mountain time zones.
More than 10 million children, on average, are watching television during that hour, according to Nielsen Media Research figures cited by the study. PTC's Family Guide to Prime Time Television deemed only about 12 percent of last season's family hours appropriate for all ages.
Overall, what viewers found was coarse language, up 78 percent to 2.6 instances an hour compared to 1999, the PTC study said. If milder curse words such as "damn" were included in the tally, the per-hour rate of foul language usage would reach 6.1, Bozell said.
Violence rose 70 percent to 2.8 occurrences per hour, the study found. Fifteen percent of those depictions involved a gun.
Although sexual material dipped 17 percent, to a per-hour average of 3.1 instances, it was rawer than in the past, the PTC said.
The PTC study found UPN was the worst offender among the networks with a combined per-hour average of 18.1 instances of sex, violence or crude language, while NBC was second with 9.1 instances. The other network figures: Fox, 7.8; WB, 7.5; ABC 6.7 and CBS, 3.2.
The study said UPN "lapped the field" in violence, which Bozell attributed to broadcasts of the World Wrestling Federation's "WWF Smackdown!"
"At UPN, we strongly believe in the viewers' right to make an informed choice about what they watch, which is why we voluntarily and clearly label every UPN program with a content rating," the network said in response to the study.
Children Now, a nonpartisan children's advocacy group based in Oakland, echoed the PTC's call for more network responsibility.
"Prime-time programmers really do appear to have forgotten children are part of the viewing audience," said Patti Miller, director of the children's and media program fo Children Now.
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