Parents Television Council: Shocking Results of New Study on TV Content Ratings

Posted on October 15, 2019 at 4:07 pm

Copyright Stylus 2014
It isn’t shocking to learn that television has become less and less child-friendly over the years. Anyone who has ever turned on a set knows that. What is shocking is how little has been done to give parents the information they need to protect their children from what they don’t want them to see. As my dad, who has been fighting for better television, especially for children, since he was Chairman of the FCC 1961-63 says, we spend a lot of time making sure our children know not to talk to strange and possibly dangerous people and yet we invite strange and dangerous content into our living rooms, kitchens, and, increasingly, unsupervised bedrooms, when we let them watch television. His book, Abandoned in the Wasteland, documented this in detail.

Today, the Parents Television Council has released a new report called A Decade of Deceit with some very disturbing findings that every parent should think about carefully. For example:

We found that on shows rated TV-PG, there was a 28% increase in violence; and a 44% increase in profanity over a ten-year period. There was also a more than twice as much violence on shows rated TV-14 in the 2017-18 television season than in the 2007-08 season, both in per-episode averages and in absolute terms.

There were no G-rated programs on Fox, CW, or ABC (even though ABC is owned by Disney) in any of the “sweeps” periods, in either 2007-2008 or 2017-2018. The overall number of G-rated shows in 2017-2018 was almost identical to that a decade earlier: five or fewer. Some “sweeps” periods contained no G-rated programming at all.

Networks are packing substantially more profanity and violence into youth-rated shows than they did a decade ago; but that increase in adult-themed content has not affected the age-based ratings the networks apply. On shows rated TV-PG, there was a 28% increase in violence; and a 44% increase in profanity over a ten-year period.

Almost 90% said that they have never used the V-chip or parental controls to block programs, and an incredible 92% couldn’t explain what the industry’s D, L, S and V content descriptors stand for. This clearly demonstrates that parents WANT an effective and trustworthy content ratings system…but they don’t trust and don’t understand the one that exists now – and has existed for over 20 years. A 2014 poll in Costco Connection Magazine found an astonishing 97% of readers agreed that we should rethink the rating system for television and film. In fact, the only public opinion polls that show support for or satisfaction with the existing ratings system are those paid for by the industry.

Most astonishing is that there have been no changes to the rating system — in which the television network employees rate their own shows with no real oversight by those with expertise in child development — has not changed at all in 20 years, despite the fact that this period has had significant changes in media, technology, and culture.

The report concludes:

In a letter to the PTC dated June 3, 2019 – and which was sent just a few weeks after the FCC delivered its report to Congress – Michael Powell, President & CEO of the NCTA (The Internet and Television Association) and current chairman of the TVOMB stated, “The Monitoring Board shares your goal of ensuring that the TV ratings system remains a source of accurate and helpful information, and we are deeply committed to continuing to provide parents with the necessary resources to enable them to make informed choices about TV viewing in their homes.”

It sounds good; but this assertion is simply not true. Despite two decades of parental concerns about the TV content ratings system, the entertainment industry has consistently defied public calls for reform. There have been promises of improvement, but no improvement, as this report demonstrates.

We strongly support the PTC’s recommendations:

Ratings Accuracy
A symposium of pediatricians, children’s mental health experts, and child/family advocates should be convened to review the definitions of each age-based content rating (TV-Y7, TV-G, TV-14, et cetera) in order to ensure that each rating category definition accurately and effectively reflects contemporary knowledge. International best practices should be considered and incorporated into this review.

Because the entertainment industry stands to benefit financially when content is inaccurately rated for younger audiences, to avoid any potential conflict of interest, TVOMB industry members should be permitted to offer their opinion, but not to alter the outcome of this independent review of the rating definitions and their application.

Every exhibitor and distributor should commit to airing a minimum number of public service announcements about the content ratings system. Most parents have never heard of TVOMB, and most have no idea it is their obligation to complain to TVOMB about a rating that they may find to be inaccurate.

Public service announcements about the TV content ratings system should provide contact information and urge parents to communicate with TVOMB regarding any questions or concerns they might have. The mere existence of a TVOMB website and phone number provides absolutely zero value without public awareness.

Every effort should be made by TVOMB to bring more digital distribution platforms to the table. This would include the major independent players in the digital entertainment arena (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube, et cetera) as well as those that are owned or controlled by TVOMB members (CBS All Access, Disney+, Pluto TV, and others).

TVOMB should expand its member composition to create a more balanced weighting of industry, health experts and parental groups.

Entertainment industry “front groups” which currently hold a number of the family advocate seats should be removed.
Formal terms, and term limits, should be applied to Board members, to ensure that fresh perspectives are represented.
Board member qualifications should be provided to the public.

Meetings should be regularly scheduled and announced to the public.

Meetings should be open to the public and to the press.

How to file a complaint about a program’s rating, and the TVOMB’s subsequent adjudication process, should be clearly explained.

It is time for the TV content ratings system to reflect the realities of today’s entertainment media technologies and cultural landscape. Bold, positive and comprehensive improvements to a 22-year old system are needed to bring it into the 21st century.

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Parenting Television

Critics Choice Documentary Award Nominees 2019

Posted on October 14, 2019 at 12:11 pm

The nominees for this year’s Documentary Awards from the Broadcast Film Critics Association are:

American Factory (Netflix)
Apollo 11 (Neon)
The Biggest Little Farm (Neon)
The Cave (National Geographic)
Honeyland (Neon)
The Kingmaker (Showtime)
Knock Down the House (Netflix)
Leaving Neverland (HBO)
Maiden (Sony Pictures Classics)
One Child Nation (Amazon Studios)
They Shall Not Grow Old (Warner Bros.)

Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts, For Sama (PBS)
Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, American Factory (Netflix)
John Chester, The Biggest Little Farm (Neon)
Feras Fayyad, The Cave (National Geographic)
Peter Jackson, They Shall Not Grow Old (Warner Bros.)
Todd Douglas Miller, Apollo 11 (Neon)
Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang, One Child Nation (Amazon Studios)

Ben Bernhard and Viktor Kossakovsky, Aquarela (Sony Pictures Classics)
John Chester, The Biggest Little Farm (Neon)
Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma, Honeyland (Neon)
Nicholas de Pencier, Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (Kino Lorber)
Muhammed Khair Al Shami, Ammar Suleiman, and Mohammad Eyad, The Cave (National Geographic)
Richard Ladkani, Sea of Shadows (National Geographic)

Georg Michael Fischer and Verena Schönauer, Sea of Shadows (National Geographic)
Todd Douglas Miller, Apollo 11 (Neon)
Jabez Olssen, They Shall Not Grow Old (Warner Bros.)
Amy Overbeck, The Biggest Little Farm (Neon)
Lindsay Utz, American Factory (Netflix)
Nanfu Wang, One Child Nation (Amazon Studios)

Jeff Beal, The Biggest Little Farm (Neon)
Matthew Herbert, The Cave (National Geographic)
Matt Morton, Apollo 11 (Neon)
Plan 9, They Shall Not Grow Old (Warner Bros.)
H. Scott Salinas, Sea of Shadows (National Geographic)
Eicca Toppinen, Aquarela (Sony Pictures Classics)

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (Kino Lorber)
Alicia Vikander, narrator
Jennifer Baichwal, writer
The Biggest Little Farm (Neon)
John Chester and Molly Chester, narrators
John Chester, writer
The Edge of Democracy (Netflix)
Petra Costa, narrator
Petra Costa, Carol Pires, David Barker and Moara Passoni, writers
The Elephant Queen (Apple)
Chiwetel Ejiofor, narrator
Mark Deeble, writer
For Sama (PBS)
Waad Al-Kateab, narrator
Waad Al-Kateab, writer
Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People (First Run)
Adam Driver, narrator
Oren Rudavsky and Bob Seidman, writers
One Child Nation (Amazon Studios)
Nanfu Wang, narrator
Nanfu Wang, writer
Western Stars (Warner Bros.)
Bruce Springsteen, narrator
Bruce Springsteen, writer

Midge Costin, Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (Matson Films)
A.J. Eaton, David Crosby: Remember My Name (Sony Pictures Classics)
Pamela B. Green, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché (Kino Lorber/Zeitgeist Films)
Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, Honeyland (Neon)
Richard Miron, For the Birds (Dogwoof)
Garret Price, Love, Antosha (Lurker Films)

Amazing Grace (Neon)
Apollo 11 (Neon)
Maiden (Sony Pictures Classics)
Mike Wallace is Here (Magnolia)
Pavarotti (CBS Films)
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (Netflix)
They Shall Not Grow Old (Warner Bros.)
What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali (HBO)

David Crosby: Remember My Name (Sony Pictures Classics)
The Kingmaker (Showtime)
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Greenwich)
Love, Antosha (Lurker Films)
Mike Wallace is Here (Magnolia)
Pavarotti (CBS Films)
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (Magnolia)

Amazing Grace (Neon)
David Crosby: Remember My Name (Sony Pictures Classics)
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Greenwich)
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Abramorama)
Pavarotti (CBS Films)
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (Netflix)
Western Stars (Warner Bros.)

American Factory (Netflix)
The Edge of Democracy (Netflix)
Hail Satan? (Magnolia)
The Kingmaker (Showtime)
Knock Down the House (Netflix)
One Child Nation (Amazon Studios)

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (Kino Lorber)
Apollo 11 (Neon)
Aquarela (Sony Pictures Classic)
The Biggest Little Farm (Neon)
The Elephant Queen (Apple)
Honeyland (Neon)
Penguins (Disney)
Sea of Shadows (National Geographic)

Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable (Entertainment Studios)
Diego Maradona (HBO)
Maiden (Sony Pictures Classics)
Rodman: For Better or Worse (ESPN)
The Spy Behind Home Plate (Ciesla Foundation)
What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali (HBO)

Aquarela (Sony Pictures Classics)
Cold Case Hammarskjöld (Magnolia)
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (Netflix)
Screwball (Greenwich)
Serendipity (Cohen Media)
They Shall Not Grow Old (Warner Bros.)

The Chapel at the Border (Atlantic Documentaries)
(Director and Producer: Jeremy Raff)
Death Row Doctor (The New York Times Op-Docs)
(Director: Lauren Knapp)
In the Absence (Field of Vision)
(Director: Yi Seung-Jun. Producer: Gary Byung-Seok Kam)
Lost World
(Director and Producer: Kalyanee Mam. Producers: Adam Loften and Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee)
Mack Wrestles (ESPN)
(Directors and Producers: Taylor Hess and Erin Sanger. Producers: Erin Leyden and Gentry Kirby)
Period. End of Sentence. (Netflix)
(Director: Rayka Zehtabchi. Producers: Melissa Berton, Garrett K. Schiff and Lisa Taback)
The Polaroid Job (The New York Times Op-Docs)
(Director: Mike Plante)
Sam and the Plant Next Door (The Guardian)
(Director and Producer: Ömer Sami)
The Unconditional
(Director and Producer: Dave Adams. Producers: Adam Soltis, Renee Woodruff Adams, Josie Swantek Heitz, and Chris Tuss)
The Waiting Room (The Guardian)
(Director and Producer: Victoria Mapplebeck)

Dr. Amani Ballor – The Cave (National Geographic)
David Crosby – David Crosby: Remember My Name (Sony Pictures Classics)
Tracy Edwards – Maiden (Sony Pictures Classics)
Imelda Marcos – The Kingmaker (Showtime)
Hatidze Muratova – Honeyland (Neon)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin – Knock Down the House (Netflix)
Linda Ronstadt – Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Greenwich)
Dr. Ruth Westheimer – Ask Dr. Ruth (Hulu)

The first-time winner of the new D.A. Pennebaker award for lifetime achievement will very appropriately go to the legendary Frederick Wiseman. There is hardly an institution in America, from high school to mental hospital to upscale department store to library that has not been the subject of one of and illuminated by his documentaries.

Another outstanding awardee is Michael Apted, who will receive the Landmark Award for the groundbreaking UP series. There’s never been anything like it. A documentary about school children turned into one of the most extraordinary longitudinal studies in the history of science. I always look forward to the next episode.

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Awards Documentary

Women Directors Make Unprecedented Progress

Posted on October 9, 2019 at 4:08 pm

Variety notes the significant and unprecedented progress made by women directors this year. The #metoo and #timesup initiatives have made a difference, for the first time resulting in systemic changes.

In January, Stacy L. Smith — the founder of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which tracks representation in front of and behind the camera — published a report about female film directors. Her findings could not have been more bleak. Of the 112 directors behind the 100 top-grossing movies of 2018, only 3.6% were women. Even worse, that number was down from the year before, when women represented 7.3% of the top 100. To emphasize the blighted landscape, Smith and her research team put their key finding in bold: “The percentage of female directors has not changed over time.”

Ten months later, based on the year’s releases so far and what’s still to come, Smith is making a wholly different declaration. “It looks for 2019 like at least 12 movies — which is an all-time high — will be directed by women across the top 100 films,” Smith says. That number could go as high as 14, she adds….Yes, there has been progress, with movies like “Captain Marvel” (co-directed by Anna Boden) and “Hustlers” (Lorene Scafaria) leading the charge at the box office. Still to come this year are “Frozen 2” (directed by Jennifer Lee) — sure to be a blockbuster — Elizabeth Banks’ “Charlie’s Angels” reboot and prestige films that may also be hits, such as Kasi Lemmons’ “Harriet,” Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” Gerwig’s “Little Women” and — for once — quite a few more.

Given that the percentage of women directors has fluctuated year to year, it may be too soon to declare a sea change. But Smith maintains that in looking ahead to 2020, this year’s numbers aren’t just a blip. “2019 won’t be a one-off,” she says. “We’re moving — finally — in the right direction, toward more inclusion behind the camera.”

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Directors Gender and Diversity

MVP of the Week: Zazie Beetz

Posted on October 3, 2019 at 8:00 am

There are two major nationwide releases this week, “Lucy in the Sky” and “Joker.” Both are stories of people who go nuts after losing their jobs. And both feature the wonderfully-named and wonderfully-talented Zazie Beetz. She is a highlight of both otherwise very uneven films.

I was impressed with her performance as Domino in “Deadpool 2.” Her two appearances this week in small but vital roles show her range and powerful screen charisma. In “Joker,” she plays a single mom who lives in the same building as the title character. In “Lucy in the Sky” she plays the main character’s professional and romantic rival. In both films, the main characters obsess about her character, and we can see why. She will return to the Domino role for “X-Force” and I am especially intrigued by another of her upcoming projects, “Nine Days,” a fantasy about a soul waiting to be born, where she will appear opposite Bill Skarsgård, and Benedict Wong.

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Batman’s Nemesis Joker — Who Played Him Best?

Posted on October 2, 2019 at 8:10 am

As Joaquin Phoenix’s “Joker” comes to the screen this week, we take a look at previous incarnations of Batman’s most popular villain:

Copyright DC Comics 1940

1. The Joker made his debut as a serial killer whose poison left victims with a gruesome rictus “grin” in the very first Batman comic, created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson. He was originally intended to be killed off, but the editor at DC liked him and he appeared in nine of the first twelve Batman issues.

2. Cesar Romero played Joker in the campy 1960’s television series.

3. My personal favorite — Jack Nicholson played Joker in the Tim Burton “Batman” movie opposite Michael Keaton.

4. Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his Joker, in the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight movie with Christian Bale.

5. I’m not a fan of Jared Leto’s Joker in “Suicide Squad,” but you have to admire his commitment.

6. The great Mark Hamill provides the creepy laugh and voice of the Joker in the animated series.

7. And now Joaquin Phoenix takes over in the first film to make Joker the lead character (we only glimpse future Batman Bruce Wayne as a young boy).

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Actors Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Great Characters
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