TV’s expanded Parental Guidelines ratings system gets off to a rocky start today, with NBC still a nonparticipant and ABC red-flagging “Ellen” for no reason other than the title character’s sexuality.
ABC spokeswoman Julie Hoover cautions that networks are just beginning to grapple with the new system, and “there is bound to be a certain amount of confusion and inconsistency. It would be a shame if people didn’t accept that fact right at the beginning.”
Nonetheless, ABC’s opening-night letter-grades for its four sitcoms are ripe for inquiry and debate.
“Ellen” is getting the severest rating of the four, a TV-14. “Spin City,” “Dharma & Greg” and “The Drew Carey Show” are receiving seemingly tamer TV-PG ratings. Here’s where it gets interesting.
“Dharma & Greg” and “Carey” also are affixed with D and L, two of the four new designations under the expanded system. D connotes “some suggestive dialogue” and L “infrequent coarse language” under the Parental Guidelines system.
Here are the thumbnail story lines for the two comedies:
On “Dharma & Greg,” “Dharma makes a concerted effort to win over Greg’s mother, Kitty, who turns the couple’s plans for a simple party into a big country-club affair, including a renewal of their wedding vows.”
And on “Carey,” “It’s no more Mr. Nice Guy as pushover Drew decides to be more assertive in both his professional and private lives.”
“Spin City,” which leads off the ABC lineup at 7 p.m., is receiving a D. Here’s the deal: “Paul moves in with his mom following his falling-out with Claudia. Meanwhile, the mayor’s office takes on the issue of pornography.”
The TV-14 rating for “Ellen” is unadorned with any of the four new designations, which also include V for violence and S for “sexual situations.” But can a TV-14 stand alone? Here’s the unequivocal description of a TV-14 program in Parental Guidelines literature: “Parents strongly cautioned,” it says. “This program contains some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age. Parents are strongly urged to exercise greater care in monitoring this program and are cautioned against letting children under the age of 14 watch unattended. This program contains one or more of the following: intense violence (V), intense sexual situations (S), strong, coarse language (L) or intensely suggestive dialogue (D).”
Hoover says the stand-alone TV-14 rating given by the network “might be more for theme.”
“There are people in this country,” she says, “that are uncomfortable with the idea that a woman has disclosed her sexual identity, and that she’s a lesbian. … We wanted to recognize the fact that there are many people uncomfortable with the subject matter, even though no explicit language is used and there’s no sex or violence.”
“Ellen” has been rated TV-14 ever since last May’s famed “coming out” episode, which was preceded by star Ellen DeGeneres’ hardly stunning disclosure that she likewise is gay. Hoover said all episodes of the sitcom likely will receive a blanket TV-14 rating. In other words, Ellen Morgan could knit for a half-hour and still merit a harsher rating than a pornography-themed episode of “Spin City” airing 90 minutes earlier.
The seemingly tame story line for Wednesday’s “Ellen” says she “tries rock climbing in a rather rugged effort to impress an outdoorsy (female) fitness instructor.”
A handful of other prime-time series are getting TV-14 ratings in the coming week. Unlike “Ellen,” all have additional letters attached.
CBS’ season premiere of “Chicago Hope” on Wednesday merits a V for its depiction of a shooting in the emergency room.
Thursday’s “Cracker” on ABC is adorned with an L, V. Police psychologist “Fitz” Fitzgerald investigates a stabbing death.
ABC’s Saturday episode of “Total Security,” subtitled “One Wedding and a Funeral,” gets L, S. CBS’ “Walker, Texas Ranger” not surprisingly gets a V for its usual assortment of swift kicks.
And Monday’s episode of CBS’ new “Brooklyn South” is garnished with an L, V. Included is the beating of a Hasidic man and his granddaughter.
Less than a week before air date, ABC still hadn’t decided on a rating for the season’s first episode of “NYPD Blue,” another likely candidate for a TV-14 and then some.
Your ratings are likely to differ, of course. But here’s an open question. Should “Ellen” receive an automatic TV-14 for the character’s sexuality even if the program otherwise isn’t graphic enough to merit an L, S, D or V? Your faxes and letters are welcome.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: What they mean TV ratings Y For all children Y7 For children 7 and older G General audiences PG Parental guidance suggested 14 Parents strongly cautioned MA Mature audiences only Content advisories: D Some suggestive dialogue FV Fantasy violence L Infrequent coarse language S Sexual situations V Violence