Friday, January 15, 2016

Not a Golden Age for Family Television Viewing

Has there ever been a time when television viewers have had so many high quality original programs to choose from? Pay cable giants HBO and Showtime have been producing original programming for decades, and in recent years they have been joined by their basic cable brethren at AMC and FX. And now the streaming services at Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are mass-producing prestige programming at such a rate that it is hard to keep up with it all.

It really is a new golden age of television.

Or is it? For people who hold conservative family values, this new explosion of quality television offers very few choices.

Most people are familiar with ratings system for movies, with PG, PG-13, and R being the most common. The TV Parental Guidelines have similar ratings, with TV-PG, TV-14, and TV-MA being mostly equivalent to their movie counterparts. (TV-MA stands for "Television-Mature.")

Parents who would not allow their children to see R-rated movies often have questions about which of the new original television programs they should let their children watch. But, many of the most talked-about shows, such as "The Walking Dead," "Breaking Bad," "House of Cards," and "Game of Thrones" fall into the TV-MA category.

Many conservative parents just steer clear of original programming that is not on the broadcast networks. "I can usually tell from the promos or commercials which shows won't be for us," says Christine Lake, a mother of teenagers in Montpelier, Idaho. When asked what shows she does watch with her family, Lake said, "Just a few on the broadcast networks. 'Castle' and 'The Middle.' We also watch 'Dr. Who,' 'Mythbusters,' 'Downton Abbey,' and a bunch of PBS."

When asked if any of the new original programming from the streaming services interested her at all, Lake said, "'Mozart In the Jungle.' It's about music and it just won a Golden Globe, so I might take a look at it." Told it is rated TV-MA, Lake dismissed it with, "Oh well, I guess not."

Prestige programs at the click of a button.

"Family television viewing is not the same as it used to be," said Deran Olson, and instructional designer from Boise, Idaho. "Families don't sit down in front of the TV and watch the same show together anymore. Individuals just pull up what they want to watch whenever they want to watch it."

How will parents control what shows their children see? Fans of the PG-13 rated Marvel Comics movies, such as "The Avengers," "Iron Man," and "Captain America" might be interested in the original Marvel programming from Netflix. However, "Daredevil," "Jessica Jones," and the upcoming "Luke Cage" are all TV-MA.

With the critical acclaim and success of TV-MA shows like "Man In the High Castle," and Emmy Award winner "Transparent" from Amazon; "House of Cards," "Orange Is the New Black," and "Narcos" from Netflix; "Fargo," American Horror Story," and "Louie" from FX; and "Breaking Bad," Mad Men," and "The Walking Dead" from AMC, other cable networks are trying to get into the mature television business. SyFy, TNT, USA, and even TV Land are attempting edgier original programs. (The USA Network's TV-14 rated "Mr. Robot" was able to snag the Golden Globe for best television drama.)

But what about prestige television that families can watch together? Olson thinks it will happen, eventually. "Right now the prestige shows are like 22 hours of television at a cinematic level. The hope for family viewing is that someday there will be television of Pixar quality that parents and children can watch together. We're not there yet, but should get there someday."

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