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Subject: AEJ 94 KayeB MCS NYPD Blue and media hype: Analysis of sex and profanity
From: Elliott Parker <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:AEJMC Conference Papers <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 2 Mar 1996 08:49:36 EST

text/plain (1598 lines)

NYPD Blue and Media Hype:
An Analysis of Sex and Profanity
Barbara K. Kaye
Barry S. Sapolsky
Lucia M. Fishburne
Submitted to the Mass Communication and Society Division
of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, 1994.
Running Head: NYPD Blue
Barbara K. Kaye
356 Diffenbaugh Building  R-42
Department of Communication
Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL 32306-2064
        The ABC crime/drama NYPD Blue premiered in Fall, 1993.  It was greeted with
        criticism for its supposed graphic portrayals of sex and excessive
frequency of offensive
            language.  The present study was undertaken to examine the validity
of these charges.  A
            content analysis of NYPD Blue and selected programs appearing on
ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox was
 conducted to ascertain if NYPD Blue contains more sexual acts and references
and risqu
            language than other primetime fare.  NYPD Blue and eight primetime
programs were
     videotaped over a three week period.  Three additional episodes of NYPD
Blue were randomly
 selected and recorded. Contrary to the critics'  assertions, the results show
that NYPD
            Blue contains less sexual content than dramas or sitcoms.  Offensive
language is uttered
            with the same frequency on NYPD Blue as on sitcoms; dramatic shows
contain the least
         amount of off-color words.  This suggests that the critics' harsh
assessment of NYPD Blue
            may have been influenced by pre-broadcast media reports than the
show's content.
      Additionally, media reports more accurately reflect the frequency of
offensive language
            than that of sexuality.
                                                                                NYPD Blue
NYPD Blue and Media Hype: An Analysis of Sex and Profanity
         NYPD Blue's Fall 1993 debut was engulfed in controversy as well as curiosity.
          months before the first episode aired, the media hyped the program as
the "raciest show
            ever to appear on the networks' primetime schedule" (Kolbert, 1993,
p. C11).  Claims that
            the program would contain graphic sex, rampant profanity, and
profuse violence piqued the
            public's interest while raising outcries of disgust from critics.
Now, with the first
           half of the 1993-1994 season completed, we can examine whether NYPD
Blue has lived up to
            its controversial reputation, or whether media claims were greatly
Local TV Affiliates and Advocacy Groups
        Watchdog groups such as the American Family Association (AFA) strongly oppose
            which they believe contains excessive elements of sex, profanity and
violence (Wildmon,
            1993a).  Efforts to curb violence on television have recently gained
momentum in Congress
            (Flint, 1993b; McAvoy, 1993; Waters et. al, 1993). However, NYPD
Blue was not conceived to
 be a show that features violence (Coe, 1993).   According to the general
manager of one
            station that has refused to air the program, violence is not the
problem - "nudity and
           dialogue" are (Flint, 1993a, p. 21).
        Though the network (ABC) and the producers of NYPD Blue have a strict agreement
as to how
 much nudity and profanity the show can contain, many viewers and affiliates
claim it
          still goes too far (Flint, 1993a; Leland, et. al, 1993).      Prior to
the first airing of
            NYPD Blue, the AFA relied on media reports to assess the program's
content. The group
          urged its members to write letters and picket local ABC affiliates to
keep the "soft-core
            pornography, pornographic words and the air"
(Picket Information...,19
            93; Wildmon, 1993a, p. 2).
        The AFA and other groups such as the Family Defense Council and the Christian
            (Fight for..., 1993) opposed to NYPD Blue pressured ABC affiliates
to the point that 57
            stations (mostly in the South) did not air the opening episode.  By
mid-December, 1993, 44
 of those stations still did not carry the show (Leland, et al., 1993).  The AFA
            its campaign against the program "could become the turning point in
the battle against
           indecency in the media" (Wildmon, 1993b, p. 2).
        Certainly NYPD Blue has not been the first program to draw fire from special
           groups. Decades ago rating hits such as The Untouchables,  All in the
Family, Maude, Love
            American Style and Soap all contained controversial content that was
blasted by advocacy
            groups.  Some groups were more successful than others in curbing
objectionable content
           (Montgomery, 1989).
        Successful campaigns initiated by special interest groups seem to have two
       denominators: (1) goals compatible with the networks' current position on
sensitive issues
 and (2) public support and interest (Montgomery, 1989).   Current pressure on
       networks to minimize sexual and violent content coupled with intense
public interest in
            these issue have provided the conditions necessary for keeping NYPD
Blue off the air in
            some markets.
        In general, when media bow to content restrictions and place limitations on
          freedom the outcome is often the absence of controversy, an increase
in positive messages
            and an overall blandness of programs (McQuail, 1992).
Local TV Affiliates and Network Programming and Community Standards
        A local affiliate's decision to carry a program is based on the audience
composition and
            characteristics for that market, potential ratings success,
recommendation by the national
 networks, and sometimes, as in the case of NYPD Blue, the presumptions of
         standards (Collette, 1994).
        The decision of whether or not to broadcast a program can be complex,
especially if the
            show is controversial.  Viewing audiences can be unpredictable and
advertisers indecisive;
 yet local affiliates often must decide if they will carry a program well in
advance.  If
            a substantial number of local affiliates make the wrong programming
decision it can have
            devastating effects on the network's ratings, advertising support
and thus its economic
            health (Collette, 1994).
        When ABC announced that NYPD Blue would be part of its Fall 1993 line-up, many
          affiliates were immediately inundated with requests from individuals
and advocacy groups
            requesting them not to run the program.  The networks predicted a
ratings smash and the
            show premiered with a 27 share, the best in the 10 p.m. time slot
since 1988 (Mandese,
           1993). Despite this, one local affiliate's decision to ban the
program "arose from moral
            concerns surrounding" NYPD Blue's content (Collette, 1994, p.1).
The management of a
          local affiliate may base programming decisions on assumption's about
the local community's
 standards.  However, without a public referendum it is difficult to assess
          standards and whether the most vocal group represents the majority or
minority interests.
        In a study conducted in an Illinois market where NYPD Blue was not broadcast,
        respondents were nearly evenly divided in their support of the local
affiliate's decision
            to ban the program. More importantly, 91% of the respondents agreed
with the statement: "I
 think I am the best judge of what's appropriate for me and my family to watch
on TV"
           (Collette, 1994, p.14).
        In a northern Florida community NYPD Blue was banned from the airwaves until
           1994.  When the program was finally broadcast the local ABC affiliate
conducted a
      telephone survey asking viewers to respond to the question of whether the
episode of NYPD
            Blue was appropriate for the local viewing audience.  The poll
revealed that 93% of the
            respondents agreed that the episode was indeed appropriate.1
        The above examples illustrate situations where local affiliates acquiesced to
           interest groups claiming to represent the majority opinion.  However,
it was shown that in
 the Tallahassee television markets the majority of viewers would like to have
seen the
            program aired rather than banned, and in the Illinois TV market
viewers were evenly
        divided on seeing NYPD Blue but in general want to judge for themselves.
Local TV Affiliates and Advertising
        Commercial television program content is often adjusted to minimize any
possible offense
            to social or minority groups, especially since negative publicity
can have dire effects on
 a show's advertising.  Thus, advertisers can limit freedom of expression by
            the networks to edit content or preempt shows thought to be
offensive to advertisers or
            viewers (McQuail, 1992).
         In its attempt to block the airing of NYPD Blue the AFA recommended that its
members ask
 businesses advertising on their local ABC affiliate to discontinue buying air
time from
            that station (AFA hands ABC...,1993).  Despite the show's healthy
ratings, AFA President
            Donald Wildmon contends that "the share average has not translated
to advertising success
            for the network" (Coe, 1993, p. 19). Additionally, Wildmon asserts
that ABC is getting
           "less money for spots on this show than they would otherwise" (Coe,
        Advertisers are reportedly apprehensive about possible boycotts. Thus, after
three months
 into the season NYPD Blue has failed to attract appreciable amounts of
advertising from
            the "industry mainstays: beer, cars and fast food" (Leland, et al.,
1993, p. 59).
       Commercial time on some of NYPD Blue's earlier episodes was purchased by
            advertisers such as weight loss and personal hygiene products (Coe,
1993).  Since that
           time, however, NYPD Blue has drawn advertising from Coors, Nike,
Volkswagen of America,
            Unilever and Warner-Lambert  (Mandese, 1994).
        ABC is airing fewer 30 second spots on NYPD Blue than on its other programs.
            during an hour long program ABC will air between twelve and fourteen
30-second commercial
            spots at about $115,000 each.  During the first half of NYPD Blue's
debut season, ABC ran
            an average of ten 30-second spots, and these were reportedly
undersold (Coe, 1993).  ABC
            contends that the show's spots sell out. However, despite an average
14.3 rating and 24
            share, each commercial unit is selling for only $100,000; far less
than what the
     commercial spots should be commanding based on audience delivery (Coe,
1993; Mandese,
        Regardless of the effect that advocacy groups have had on local affiliates and
    advertisers, it is predicted that by the second season the controversy
surrounding the
           show will ebb.  This, coupled with consistently high ratings, should
enable NYPD Blue to
            draw premium advertisers at top rates.  Further, it is predicted
that the show's
     controversial content will not have a detrimental affect on its success
and, in the long
            run, "ratings overcome content problems" (Coe, 1993, p. 20).
Program Content: Sexuality
        Sex and intimacy on primetime network television have been areas of concern for
the past
            two decades.  Numerous content analyses in the 1970's examined the
frequency of sexual
           situations in network programming (Fernandez-Collado et al., 1978;
Franzblau et al., 1977;
 Greenberg et al., 1980; Lowry et al., 1981; Sapolsky, 1982; Silverman et al.,
         Sprafkin & Silverman, 1981).   In the 1970's, depictions of sexuality
were generally
         limited to touching, hugging, and kissing, and much of the activity
occurred between
         unmarried couples.  Intercourse was infrequently alluded to either
visually or verbally,
            and couples were never explicitly shown making love
(Fernandez-Collado et al., 1978;
         Franzblau et al., 1977; Silverman et al., 1979).
        According to Cultivation Theory (Gerbner et al., 1978, 1980), viewers' beliefs
about the
            frequency and nature of sexual behavior in the real world may be
influenced by sexual
          images on television.  The implications of television's role as a
sexual socialization
           agent include unrealistic expectations, frustration and
dissatisfaction with sex.
       Children can be particularly vulnerable (Baran, 1976a, 1976b;
Fernandez-Collado et al.,
        The late 1980's brought a resurgence of interest in sex on primetime
      Greenberg, et al. (1986) analyzed three episodes each of 19 primetime
fictional series
           most watched by high school students.  The long kiss was the most
frequent incident, un
           married intercourse was the most common type of verbal reference, and
the number of
        intimate sexual behaviors was higher than in prior studies.
         A Fall, 1987 analysis of prime time network fare found the most common forms
of sexual
            activity included innuendo, suggestiveness, kissing, and hugging
(Planned Parenthood
         Federation of America, 1988).   Verbal references to intercourse
occurred at a rate of
           just over one per hour, surpassing the incidence of implied
intercourse by three to one.
        In another study of primetime television (Lowry & Towles, 1988) 20 incidents of
            intercourse were observed.  More instances of erotic touching and
intercourse involved
           unmarried partners, and the authors found an overall increase in
verbal references to
          intercourse relative to analyses of 1970's content.
        Sapolsky and Tabarlet (1991) compared the sexual content in network primetime
            in 1989 to that in programming broadcast ten years earlier.  Their
content analysis found
            no difference in the rate of sexual imagery or language in 1989
compared to 1979.  In
          1989, as in the previous decade, innuendo was the most predominant
form of sex on
      television.  Finally, instances of implied intercourse increased from four
depictions in
            1979 to nine depictions in 1989.
        Network television in the late 1980's offered for the first time  "explicit "
            of intercourse - partners engaged in intercourse with their bodies
partially hidden from
            view.  Content analyses of sex on primetime programming found
between two and four
       instances of explicit intercourse (Lowry & Towles, 1988; Planned
Parenthood Federation of
            America, 1988;  Sapolsky & Tabarlet, 1991).
        Although 15 years of content analyses have demonstrated that primetime
       programs have depicted scenes of implied and explicit intercourse as well
as partial
         nudity,  critics claim that some scenes in NYPD Blue are too risqu  for
television.  For
            example, in the first episode two characters were shown in a dimly
lit bedroom making love
 in the nude.   The male character simulated the motions of intercourse, while
       female's breasts were briefly exposed and she was seen nude from the
rear.   In a later
            episode, a male character stepped out of the shower and was shown
naked from behind as he
            walked across the room.
Sexual Content and Indecency Laws
        The FCC has received complaints of indecency regarding NYPD Blue.  Some of
      complaints have already been dismissed and others will likely follow
(Flint, 1993a).  The
            FCC defines indecency as "material that contains vivid descriptions
of sexual or excretory
 organs or activities and is patently offensive when measured against community
            for the broadcast medium" (Andrews, 1992).  The FCC can assess fines
against stations for
            broadcasting indecent material (Bering-Jensen, 1990).  The
anti-indecency law does not ban
 indecency outright but does require stations to air such programming at
so-called "safe
            times" when children are less likely to be watching.  A study of
1989 primetime
    programming revealed that significantly more sexual content occurred during
the middle of
            the evening (9-10 p.m.) than during either the previous hour or the
10-11 p.m. time slot
            which is thought to attract more adult viewers (Sapolsky & Tabarlet,
1991).  Until
       agreement is reached as to what constitutes "safe" time periods, the FCC
has decided that
            stations which violate the indecency law after 8 p.m. will not be
penalized (Coe, 1993).
Program Content: Offensive Language
        Sexual behavior and language in primetime network television have been
        researched.  A related area that has received less attention is that of
        The media spotlight on NYPD Blue has intensified concern over offensive
language on
         television.  In the opening episode of NYPD Blue, a male detective is
shown yelling at a
            female assistant district attorney.  She retorts with "I'd say res
ipsa loquitur, if I
           thought you knew what it meant."  The detective grabs his crotch and
barks out "Hey, ipsa
            this, you pissy little bitch!"  (Leland, et al., 1993, p. 57).
        The nature and frequency of verbal obscenities in broadcast programs including
            is unknown.  Mass media content is expected to reflect the
prevailing social culture as a
            whole, as well as the diversity within that culture (McQuail, 1992).
Language in public
            discourse has always been coarser and less restricted than that in
the broadcast media
           (which are legally restrained from permitting obscenities).  The
increasing frequency of
            off-color language occurring in dialogue written for network
programming may be an
       indication that television is loosening it standards in this area
(Polskin, 1989).
        There are little data on the frequency of offensive language in general
            Studies are plagued with methodological problems that make counting
actual word usage
          difficult (Jay, 1992).
        Offensive language is influenced by the context in which it is used (Jay,
1980).  For
           example,  foul words are more likely to be heard in pool halls and
sporting events than in
 the workplace.   With regard to television program content, there may be some
contexts in
 which the use of offensive language accurately reflects the culture of the
situation -
            cops on the street are likely to cuss more frequently than lawyers
in a courtroom.
        In one study of conversations overheard in natural settings, foul language was
used in
            12.7% of adult leisure conversations, 8.1% of college conversations,
and 3.5% of
     on-the-job conversations, signifying that risqu  speech is used more often
in casual co
           nversation than in more formal situations (Cameron, 1969).
        Offensive words have been categorized by frequency of use, degree of tabooness
        specific context.  Based on dictionary definitions, "swear words" can be
classified into
            eight categories; curse, profane, blasphemy, obscene, insult or
slur, scatology, taboo and
 epithet (Jay, 1992, p. 2). 3
Offensive Language and Indecency Laws
        While a  clear definitional distinction does not exist between obscenity and
indecency, a
 legal one does:  Indecency has First Amendment free speech protection,
obscenity does
           not. Within the context of broadcasting,  the amended Communications
Act of 1934 and
         separate criminal law  (18 U.S.C.  1464) gives the FCC the right to ban
and penalize
         obscene and indecent broadcasts (Lipshultz, 1992).
        In 1978 the Supreme Court ruled on the "seven dirty words" 2 case involving
         George Carlin and the Pacifica Foundation, upholding the FCC's punitive
power over
       stations airing broadcasts considered indecent or obscene.  With the
exception of the
          seven dirty words which were deemed obscene, the Court still failed to
clearly define the
            difference between the two types of speech (Lipshultz, 1992;
Spitzer, 1986).
        Although verbal indecency is constitutionally protected, the FCC requires
stations to
           limit indecent speech to "safe times" (Lipshultz, 1992).  As with
visual depictions of
           indecency, the FCC has decided not to penalize stations for verbal
infringements occurring
 in programs aired after 8 p.m., but none of the "seven dirty words" can be used
            et al., 1993).
        Offensive language changes over time. Words that were once considered obscene
or indecent
 may not be considered so at a later time (Jay, 1992).  Since the Pacifica
ruling the FCC
            is of the view that indecent language encompasses more than just
Carlin's seven dirty
          words, including "talk of the penis and animal sex" (Lipshultz, 1992,
p. 26).
         Network censors are loosening their restrictions on indecent language,
especially after
            10 p.m. when they feel freer to take risks with material that would
not be allowed at an
            earlier hour (Bechloss, 1990; Polskin, 1989).   Overall, indecent
words and phrases are
            being uttered on network television with more frequency than ever
before (Polskin, 1989).
 The first known usage of "goddamn" was on LA Law in December, 1988 (Polskin,
          Prior to 1990, the terms "penis envy" and "biker bitch" were aired on
Murphy Brown, and
            the word "slut" was repeated at least 10 times on an episode of
Married with Children
          (Bechloss, 1990).  Indecent language on network television has become
more prevalent and
            overlooked since the days when Laraine Newman had to apologize to
NBC's broadcast
      standards department for saying "pissed off" during a performance on
Saturday Night Live
            (Hill & Weingrad, 1986).
        NYPD Blue is not only the most controversial but also one of the highest rated
shows of
            the Fall, 1993 season (Coe, 1993).  While it is being hailed for its
realistic portrayals
            of police life and cutting-edge story lines, it is also being
deplored for its explicit
            sexual scenes and language.   The show's sexual content and
offensive language have led
            advocacy groups and others to force local broadcast management to
make hard decisions
          regarding airing the show and to threaten advertisers with product
boycotts. Critics claim
 that more than any other show, NYPD Blue crosses the line of what is acceptable
        television. To determine the validity of these claims the present study
examines the types
 and frequency of sexual acts and offensive language present in NYPD Blue.
            comparisons are made between NYPD Blue and a sampling of other
television programs aired
            on the ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox networks during the Fall, 1993 season.
        NYPD Blue and other eight other prime time programs aired on the ABC, CBS, NBC
and Fox
            networks were videotaped during three randomly-selected weeks in the
Fall, 1993 season:
            October 26th, November 16th, and December 7th.  Three additional
episodes of NYPD Blue
           were randomly selected and recorded (October 5th, October 19th and
December 14th).
        The two programs judged to contain the most visual and verbal sexuality on each
            were recorded.  Undergraduates (n=39) rated all Fall, 1993 primetime
programs (except for
            NYPD Blue) on the degree of "sexual behavior and language" present
in the program.  The
            two highest-rated programs from each network were selected.3  As can
be seen in Table 1,
            for each of the four networks the top two shows in terms of
sexuality  included an
       hour-long drama and a half-hour situation comedy.  Thus, for three weeks
under study, six
            hours of primetime shows across the four networks were videotaped,
along with each week's
            episode of NYPD Blue.  Episodes of NYPD Blue were recorded during
three additional weeks,
            yielding a total of 24 hours of primetime programming for analysis.
Content Categories
        The coding scheme for sexual activity was drawn from the most recently
published study of
 sex on television (Sapolsky and Tabarlet, 1991).  Sex acts include touching,
           hugging, implied intercourse, explicit intercourse, prostitution and
rape.  Sexual
       language consists of references to sexual behavior and sexual organs.
Innuendo includes
            verbal (implicit, covert reference to sex) and visual or situational
innuendo (revealing
            bodily displays and sexually-suggestive situations).  Two content
categories were added to
 the coding scheme: visual depictions of frontal and rear nudity.
        Offensive language was coded as either verbal, implied (bleeping out or
mouthing of
          dirty words) or gestural.  Further, offensive words were classified
into one of eight
          groups  (c.f. Jay, 1990).4  For example, "go to hell" is classified as
a curse, "you look
            like hell" as an insult, and "oh hell" as a profanity and "the hell
with God" as a
       blasphemy.  Any of the "seven dirty words" are classified as an
obscenity; epithets
        include words or phrases cried out in an outburst of emotion such as
"damn."   Taboo words
 and phrases are in-and-of-themselves  not necessarily offensive, but are
       unacceptable to talk about, such as masturbation.   Scatological words
are direct
      references to human waste products and processes.
        The humorous and non-humorous context of each incident was coded.
Additionally, three
            program characteristics were also noted: type (drama and situation
comedy), network and
            time period.
        The first author independently viewed and coded the videotaped programs.  The
           coder viewed all 24 hours of programming.  The second coder viewed 10
hours (41.0% of all
            programs).  Intercoder agreement was 0.90 for the sexual content
categories and 0.91 for
            the offensive language categories (Scott's pi;  Scott, 1955).
Sexual Behavior and Language
        The six episodes of NYPD Blue contain 45 incidents of sexuality or an average
of 3.75
           incidents per half-hour.  The rate of sexual acts and words in NYPD
Blue is significantly
            below that of the other program genres (F=5.32 (df = 2, 27), p
=.01).  Dramatic programs
            included in the analysis contain an average of 6.1 incidents per
half-hour and situation
            comedy programs contain more than three and a half the number of
incidents per half-hour
            (13.5) as NYPD Blue (refer to Table 4). Moreover, the rate of
sexuality in NYPD Blue is
            significantly below that for the total set of comparison programs (t
= 2.87 (23.5), p <
            .01). 5
        As seen in Table 5, the sample of NYPD Blue episodes does not contain any
instances of
            implied or explicit intercourse.  The dramatic programs depicted a
total of six
    occurrences of intercourse; the comedy programs included two additional
instances.  It
           should be noted that several episodes of NYPD Blue have in fact
explicitly portrayed
         intimacy and intercourse.  Regardless, such behavior was not present in
the six episodes
            under study.  Further, dramatic programs aired 1.4 times as many
instances (per half-hour)
 of verbal reference to intercourse as did NYPD Blue; comedy programs exhibited
6.4 times
            the NYPD Blue half-hour rate.  In fact, the only categories of
sexuality for which NYPD
            Blue demonstrated a higher rate per half-hour than dramas and
comedies are references to
            prostitution/rape and suggestive displays. The former finding would
be expected for a "cop
 show" which routinely deals with criminal behavior including prostitution and
        When the amount of sexuality within dramatic programs is considered, Melrose
Place was
            found to contain significantly more sexual acts and words than
either NYPD Blue or the
           other primetime dramas examined (F = 6.83 (df = 4, 25) p < .001; see
Table 2).
Offensive Language
         As seen in Table 4, NYPD Blue contained an average of 7.9 instances of
       language per half-hour.  This is significantly above the rate found in
dramatic programs
            (2.5) but at the same rate observed in comedy programs  (7.9 per
half hour; F = 5.14 (df =
 2, 27),
p =.01).  In addition, more incidents of offensive language occurred in NYPD
Blue than in
            all other programs combined (t = 2.19 (40), p < .05; refer to Table
4.)  Within dramatic
            programs, expletives are uttered more often in NYPD Blue  (F = 17.26
(df = 4, 25) p <
          .001; refer to Table 2).
        When all drama and comedies are considered (exclusive of NYPD Blue), the most
            occurring form of offensive language is "profanity" (1.9 times per
half hour).  Across the
 six episodes of NYPD Blue profanities were uttered 1.3 times per half hour.
           Blue insults are used more frequently than any other type of
offensive language at 3.6
           times per half hour.  Table 6 shows that two of the "seven dirty
words" ("tits" and
        "piss") - considered too obscene for television - were heard a total of
nine times. 6
           When examining the frequency of taboo words within specific programs,
Roseanne tops NYPD
            Blue as well as the other programs.7
Sex and Offensive Language
        When all categories of sex language/behavior and offensive language are
combined, NYPD
            Blue contains a slightly higher (but nonsignificant) rate per half
hour (11.7) than
        dramatic programs (8.5).  The rate of sex and offensive language found
in situation
        comedies (20.6) is significantly above that for both NYPD Blue and
dramas (F = 8.04 (df =
            2, 27), p < .01).
Other Program Comparisons
        Networks.  There were more sexual incidents in Fox programs.  ABC, which airs
NYPD Blue,
            had the second highest number of incidents of sexuality.  While Fox
led the four networks
            in sexual displays and language, it trailed the other networks in
amount of offensive
          language  (refer to Table 7).
        Time Period.  While one would expect more adult-oriented programming in the
10-11 p.m.
            time slot and, with it, more occurrences of sexuality and offensive
language, the current
            analysis reveals that there were significantly more instances of
both in the 9-10 p.m. tim
            e period (see Table 7).
        Context. As seen in Table 7 more sexual language and behavior occurred in a
            context.  This was largely due to the greater number of sexual acts
occurring in a
       nonhumorous context.  There was no difference in the content of offensive
language and
        According to pre-broadcast media reports, NYPD Blue is rife with more sexuality
         offensive language than has been previously seen or heard on
television.   The present
           study examines the content of NYPD Blue to assess the accuracy of the
media reports and
            compares the program to other current primetime network shows.
        Contrary to the critics' assertions, NYPD Blue presents fewer sexual acts and
words than
            either dramatic programs or situation comedies. In fact, sitcoms
depict more than three
            times the number of sexual incidents per half hour than found in
NYPD Blue.
        The six episodes of NYPD Blue analyzed in this study did not include any
incidents of
           implied or explicit intercourse.  Exposure to this type of sexual
content occurs more
          often when viewing other dramatic programs or sitcoms.  As has been
noted, some episodes
            of NYPD Blue not captured in this analysis have contained scenes of
implied and explicit
            sex which have been well documented by the media.   In the NYPD Blue
episodes under
        analysis two incidents of nudity occurred: a man shown naked from the
rear and the partial
 baring of a woman's breast.  These scenes are atypical in primetime network
            (no incidents of nudity were observed in the other drama or comedy
programs) and have
          contributed to the furor surrounding the program.
        NYPD Blue contains significantly more offensive language than dramatic programs
but no
            more so than comedy programs.   Overall, sitcoms and NYPD Blue have
almost the same
        frequency per half of hour of offensive language, 7.9 and 7.1
respectively.  Across both
            program genres (dramas and sitcom) the most frequently used category
of offensive language
 is profanity;  on NYPD Blue insults are most commonly used. The vocalization of
two of
            the "seven dirty words" (tits and piss) considered too obscene for
television occurred on
            NYPD Blue.  Additionally, a character on Melrose Place used the word
"pissed" on one
         occasion.  The FCC claims that it will not penalize stations for
broadcasting indecent
           language after 8 p.m.,  as long as the seven dirty words are avoided.
However, as this
            content analysis indicates, these words are being heard in rare
        In summary, NYPD Blue contains fewer sexual portrayals and sexual language than
         dramatic and comedy programs examined.  NYPD Blue does contain more
offensive language
           than these programs.   This suggests that the critics' harsh
assessment of sexuality on
            NYPD Blue may have been influenced more by pre-broadcast media
reports than  by the show's
 content.   Furthermore, the reports would seem to be more accurate however, in
          assessment of the presence of offensive language in NYPD Blue.
        Based on pre-broadcast media reports many ABC affiliates were pressured by
         groups to ban the controversial new program, NYPD Blue.  Additionally,
the program's
         advertisers were threatened with product boycotts.  A station's
decision to ban or to air
            NYPD Blue comes with considerable risk.  To broadcast the program
brings the risk of
         breaching community standards, alienating the local viewing audience,
and facing low local
 commercial sponsorship.   On the other hand, not airing a series may mean lost
 and sponsorship for a program that has been shown to receive high ratings and
            in the market, alienating viewers who want to see the show.
        The decision to keep a program off the air precedes audience viewing and in
many cases
            screening by station management.  When previewing is not possible
local affiliates and the
 viewing public often rely on pre-broadcast media reports assessing the
program's content.
  The accuracy of these media descriptions of episodes is crucial to the
management of the
 local affiliate, to the viewing audience, and to the program's producers.
        The issue of banning a program such as NYPD Blue from the airwaves has
      repercussions for the network, local affiliates, advertisers and viewing
audience.  As has
 been argued, it is not a decision to be taken lightly.  More importantly, it is
not a
           decision that should be based solely on pre-broadcast media reports
or on a partial
        preview of the debut episode.
        Viewers' perceptions of televised content can be just as important to a
program's success
 as actual content.  As seen in this study, the perception of the frequency and
    explicitness of sexual portrayals on NYPD Blue, for which the show has been
lambasted, is
            exaggerated compared with the actual content.  By comparison,
Roseanne, a family- oriented
 sitcom where sexuality might be expected to be minimal, sexual language and
          abound.  In one episode of the show, the theme revolves around
masturbation.  Though
         reference to the subject is mainly through innuendo, at one point the
character, Roseanne,
 actually says the word "masturbation."7  Although masturbation could be
        obscene according to FCC regulations, the episode did not appear to
ignite controversy.
            Yet, had "masturbation" been uttered on the opening episode of NYPD
Blue, one can only
           assume that it would not have gone by unnoticed.
        This initial look at obscenity raises several questions regarding the
         between TV content providers, gatekeepers, pressure groups, and the
viewing public.
        Future research might explore viewers' perceptions of controversial content
such as
         sexuality, offensive language or violence in television programming
relative to the actual
 frequency of instances of such content.  Additionally, when local affiliates
      pressured to ban  programs entirely or specific episodes, to what degree
are these
       decisions based on community standards or on the demands of a vocal
1. WTXL-TV, "Talk Back Tallahassee" viewing audience telephone poll. January,
11, 1994.
2.  Seven dirty words- shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and
3.  Moon over Miami (NBC) was pre-empted on November 10th and December 15th (the
show has
            since been canceled).  Episodes of Lois and Clark: Superman (ABC)
were recorded in January
 1994 to substitute for the missing episodes of Moon over Miami.
4.  Jay (1992) classifies offensive words into the following eight categories:
        1) Curse (vt): to call upon divine or supernatural power to send injury upon.
                Curse (n): a prayer or invocation for harm or injury to come to one.
                Cursing's intent is to bring harm to another person through the use of words
                Examples: go to hell, screw you.
        2)      Profane (vt): to treat (something sacred) with abuse, irreverence, or
                Profane (adj.): not concerned with religion or religious purposes: secular:
not holy
            because unconsecrated, impure, or defiled: unsanctified.
                Profanity is based on religion, and to be profane means to be outside of the
                Examples: For God's sake, oh hell.
        3) Blasphemy (n): the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence
           God: the act of claiming the attributes of deity: irreverence toward
     considered sacred or inviolable.
                Blasphemy and profanity differ as the former is a direct attack on religion or
       religious doctrine and is aimed at the church.  Profanity, on the other
hand, is
       indifferent to religion and is secular in nature.
                Examples: Screw the Pope, Shit on what it says in the Bible.
        4) Obscene (adj.): disgusting to the senses : repulsive: abhorrent to morality
or virtue;
                designed to incite lust or depravity.
                Obscenity is used here as a legal term.  Obscenity laws are enacted to protect
        listeners from harmful language.  Obscenity is determined by the courts
to restrict             or
            control media content.  Generally, obscene words are those
considered most                 offensive and
 thus are rarely, if ever, used by the media.
                Examples: piss, tits
        5) Insults (vb) to treat with insolence, indignity, or contempt: to make little
                Slurs (vt) to cast aspersions upon: disparage.
                Insults and slurs are verbal attacks on others, used to harm the person by use
of the
            word alone, by denoting real or imagined characteristics of the
                Examples: bitch, slut, bastard.
        6) Scatology: (n): the study of excrement: interest in or treatment of obscene
                Scatological terms refer to human waste products and processes.
                Examples: shit, piss.
        7) Taboo or tabu (adj): set apart as charge with a dangerous supernatural power
           forbidden to profane use or contact.
                Taboo or tabu (n): a prohibition instituted for the protection of a cultural
           against supernatural reprisal.
                Taboo or tabu (vt): to exclude from profane use or contact as sacrosanct esp.
         marking with a ritualistic symbol.
                A taboo's function is to inhibit, suppress, and control certain thoughts and
                such as speech, to maintain social cohesion and order.
                Examples: words for body parts (penis), sexual activity (masturbate).
        8) Epithets (n): a characterizing word or phrase accompanying or occurring in
place of
            the name of a person or thing: a disparaging or abusive word or
                Examples: damn, son of a bitch.
                Epithets are brief but forceful outbursts of emotional language stemming from
       frustration, hostility and aggression. An epithet is determined by the
context of its
            use.  For example, the phrase "son of a bitch" can be use as an
insult ("you're a son           of
 a bitch"), or as an epithet yelled out after smashing a thumb with a hammer.
        To classify an offensive word the context of use must be considered.  As can be
seen by
            the classifications the word "shit" can either be a curse (shit on
you), a profanity (does
 the Pope shit in the woods), a blasphemy (who gives a shit about the Bible), an
insult or
 slur (you're a piece of shit), scatology (he shit in the backyard, an epithet
(if yelled
            in an outburst of emotion) or an obscenity (if banned by the courts
from the media).
        5. The test for equality of variances (Levene's Test) proved significant.
Therefore, the
 t for unequal variances was utilized.  A t-test following a data transformation
          yielded significance on the Levene's Test.
        6.  A cop on NYPD Blue told a woman she was "A+ in the tit department."
Furthermore, a
            form of the word piss was used three times on NYPD Blue and once on
Melrose Place.
        7.  The theme of one episode of Roseanne was masturbation.  This included
saying the word
 "masturbation" one time and 16 verbally implied references to it.
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            factor      in accessing the risk of program preemption by a local
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                NYPD Blue   8
Table 1
Top Five Shows by Network
Rated by Students for Frequency of Sexual Incidents and Language
ABC                                                             CBS
Roseanne*       4.75    Love and War*   5.00
Moon over Miami*        4.73    Northern Exposure*      4.06
Lois & Clark: Superman**        4.14    Dave's World    3.80
Mr. Cooper      3.88    Murphy Brown    3.56
Step by Step    3.11    Evening Shade   3.13
NBC                     Fox
Wings*  5.06    Melrose Place*  6.34
LA Law* 5.02    Married with Children*  6.12
Sisters 5.00    Hermans Head    5.90
Mad About You   5.00    Martin  5.88
Seinfeld        4.81    Beverly Hills 90210     5.74
* Top two programs from each network selected for this study
** Moon over Miami was cancelled. Episodes of Lois & Clark Superman were
NYPD Blue     19
                                                                              Table 2
Frequency Of Sexual Acts And Reference And Offensive Language
NYPD Blue Vs. Selected Dramatic Programs
                                        Lois & Clark: Superman2
                NYPD Blue3              Moon over Miami         Northern Exposure               LA Law  Melrose Place           Total
                                (ABC)                   (ABC)                   (CBS)                     (NBC)                 (Fox)
Type of Sexual    Total                   Total                   Total                           Total                       Total
Content         Incidents       Average4        Incidents       Average Incidents       Average         Incidents       Avera
ge              Incidents       Average Incidents       Average
Non-Criminal    1               0.1     9               1.5      2                      0.3     0        0.0    45              7.5     56      2.3
Criminal        0       0       0       0.0     0       0.0     0       0       0       0.0     0       0.0
Sex Language    22      1.8     14      2.3     2       0.3     6       1.0     28      4.7     50      2.1
Sex Innuendo    17      1.4     4       0.7     3       0.5     12      2.0     2       0.3     21      0.9
Atypical        3       0.2     0       0.0     0       0.0     0       0.0     6       1.0     6       0.3
Sex responsibility      0       0.0     1       0.2     11      1.8     1       0.2     0       0.0     13      0.5
Nudity  2       0.2     0       O.0     0       0.0     0       0.0     0       0.0     0       0.0
Total     45               3.8a 28              4.7a                    18              3.0a            19      3.2a    81      13.5b   146     6.1
Offensive Language
Curse   10      0.8     1       0.2     1       0.2     0               0.0     4       0.7     6       0.3
Blasphemy       0       0.0     0       0.0     0       0.0     0               0.0     0       0.0     0       0.0
Profanity       16      1.3     10      1.7     6       1.0     3               0.5     11      1.8     30      1.3
Obscenity       10      0.8     0       0.0     0       0.0     0               0.0     1       0.2     1       0.1
Insult  44      3.7     0       0.0     1       0.2     1               0.2     5       0.8     7       0.3
Scatology       1       0.1     0       0.0     1       0.2     0               0.0     0       0.0     1       0.1
Taboo   3       0.3     0       0.0     1       0.2     2               0.3     0       0.0     3       0.1
Epithet 11      0.9     1       0.2     6       1.0     1               0.2     3       0.5     11      0.5
Total   95      7.9c    12      2.0ab                   16      2.7ab   7               1.2a    24      4.0b    59      2.5
1 Three episodes of each show.                                          Figures with different superscripts differ
by p < .05 by Newman-Keuls Test.
2 One episode of Moon over Miami, two episodes of Lois & Clark: Superman.
3 Six episodes of NYPD Blue.
4 Average per half hour.
NYPD Blue     20
Table 3
Frequency of Sexual Acts and References and Offensive Language
NYPD Blue vs. Selected Comedy Programs
                NYPD Blue2              Roseanne                Love and War                    Wings           Married with Children          All
                                (ABC)                   (ABC)                   (CBS)                     (NBC)                 (Fox)
Type of Sexual    Total                   Total                   Total                           Total                       Total
Content         Incidents       Average3        Incidents       Average Incidents       Average         Incidents       Avera
ge              Incidents       Average Incidents       Average
Non-Criminal    1       0.1     10      3.3     7       2.3     7       2.3     1       0.3     25      2.1
Criminal        0       0.0     0       O.0     0       O.0     0       O.0     0       O.0     0       0.0
Sex Language    22       1.8    35              11.7            16      5.3     11              3.7     22              7.3     84      7.0
Sex Innuendo    17      1.4     9       3       3       1.0     6       2.0     24      8.0     42      3.5
Atypical        3       0.3     0       O.0     1       0.3     0       O.0     1       0.3     2       0.2
Sex responsibility      0       0.0     5       1.7     2       0.7     0       O.0     2       0.7     9       0.8
Nudity  2       0.2     0       O.0     0       O.0     0       O.0     0       O.0     0       O.0
Total   45               3.8    59      19.7                    29        9.7           24              8.0     50       16.7   162     13.5
Offensive Language
Curse   10      0.8     3       1.0     0       O.0     1               0.3     0       O.0     4       0.3
Blasphemy       0       0.0     0       O.0     0       O.0     0               O.0     0       O.0     0       O.0
Profanity       16      1.3     16      5.3     16      5.3     7               2.3     1       0.3     40      3.3
Obscenity       10      0.8     0       O.0     0       O.0     0               O.0     0       O.0     0       O.0
Insult  44      3.7     0       O.0     2       0.7     2               0.7     1       0.3     5       0.4
Scatology       1       0.1     0       O.0     0       O.0     0               O.0     0       O.0     0       O.0
Taboo   3               0.3     17              5.7             0       O.0             0               O.0             0       O.0     17      1.4
Epithet 11       0.9    4       1.3     4       1.3     11              3.7     0       O.0     19      1.6
Total   95       7.9            40        13.3                  22              7.3     21                      7.0     2               0.7     85       7.1
1 Three episodes of each program.
2 Six episodes of NYPD Blue.
3  Average per half hour.
NYPD Blue     21
Table 4
Frequency of Sexual Acts and Reference and Offensive Language
NYPD Blue vs. Selected Network Programs
                                                        All                               All                               All Other
                NYPD Blue                       Drama                               Sitcom                              Programs Combined
Type of Sexual          Total                             Total                            Total                                  Total
Content         Incidents       Average1                Incidents       Average         Incidents               Average         Incidents       Av
Non-Criminal    1       0.1     56      2.3     25      2.1     81      2.3
Criminal        0       0.0     0       O.0     0       O.0     0       O.0
Sex Language    22      1.8     50      2.1     84      7.0     134     3.7
Sex Innuendo    17      1.4     21      .90     42      3.5     63      1.8
Atypical        3       0.3     6       .30     2       0.2     8       0.2
Sex responsibility      0       O.0     13      .54     9       0.8     22      0.6
Nudity  2       0.2     0       O.0     0       O.0     0       O.0
Total   45                   3.8a       146             6.1b    162     13.5b   308     8.6
Offensive Language
Curse   10      0.8     6       0.3     4       0.3     10      0.3
Blasphemy       0       0.0     0       O.0     0       O.0     0       0.0
Profanity       16      1.3     30      1.3     40      3.3     70      1.9
Obscenity       10      0.8     1       0.1     0       O.0     1       .03
Insult  26      3.7     7       0.3     5       0.4     12      0.3
Scatology       1       0.1     1       0.1     0       O.0     1       .03
Taboo   3       0.3     3       0.1     17      1.4     20      0.6
Epithet 11      0.9     11      0.5     19      1.6     30      0.8
Total   95        7.9b  59                2.5a  85      7.1b    144     4.0
1 Average per half-hour.
Note: Means with different superscripts differ significantly (p < .05) by the
Newman-Keuls Test.

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