It may be must-see TV in millions of homes, but the Parents Television Council has listed “Desperate Housewives” as one of the 10 worst for family television viewing. The PTC's latest report is a scathing indictment of Hollywood and also the networks, warning parents against the dangers of primetime.
Scarborough Country guest host Rita Cosby weighs in with Melissa Caldwell from the Parents Television Council and UCLA film professor Richard Walter.
RITA COSBY, SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY GUEST HOST: here's a little irony for you. Richard's sister, Jessica Walter, stars on one of the PTC's worst shows, “Arrested Development.” Richard, what did you think when you saw that, that it made the list?
RICHARD WALTER, UCLA DEPARTMENT OF FILM AND TELEVISION: Oh, you know, I wish I could say I was surprised, but I am so weary of these groups that have an authoritarian, a totalitarian agenda. They're always presented as if they are conservative, but they are really totalitarian, authoritarian.
Who needs help knowing that you shouldn't show your kids “Desperate Housewives”? And, as far as “Arrested Development” is concerned, it's the funniest, it's most original show that's been on in decades. It's like the Marx brothers. The whole family there is going to heck. The mother is an alcoholic. The father is in jail. Everybody is at war with everybody, and yet it's really, really all about family.
It's much more of the way real families really are. It preaches principles that are much more likely to gain traction among families than the romanticized, idealized kind of family shows that groups like the Parents Television Council would like to go back to, “Father Knows Best,” all of those hallucinations from the '50s.
COSBY: Let me interrupt you real quick, Richard, because, you talk about “Desperate Housewives.” We were showing some clips before. It, of course, has been all the rage since its debut last year. But the big question is, is “Desperate Housewives” the kind of show that you would watch with your kids?
Melissa, this show is very popular with the American public. You guys ranked it as the worst. What does that say about the American public?
MELISSA CALDWELL, PARENTS TELEVISION COUNCIL: We are not saying that nobody has the right to enjoy shows with more mature themes or more mature content.
COSBY: But you are saying this is the worst.
CALDWELL: But we are saying this is one of the worst show for families. Our concern, and the reason why it's on this list, is because it is watched each week by millions and millions children. So, really, what we are trying to do is just remind parents that, hey, you might enjoy watching this show, but make sure the kids are out of the room because you turn on the TV set, because this material is really not appropriate for children.
COSBY: Well, let me show you another clip from one of the other shows. This is “CSI,” which came in fifth on the list of bad shows for family viewing.
So, Richard, what is so bad about that?
WALTER: CSI is on tonight, and the scene that I caught was a police officer berating a woman for having a pot farm in her house, where she has two little children around.
It seemed to be underscoring and supporting the virtues that I uphold and that the Parents Television Council upholds. There, we certainly agree. I think, overall, it is a fine show. Much of it is not appropriate for children. I would not have my own kids watch it if they were little kids.
But it's got to be parents spending time, giving attention and consideration to their children, and not asking the FCC or some government bureau or some self-appointed group with a title like Parents Television Council becoming the parent for them.
COSBY: Melissa, are you being holier than thou?
CALDWELL: No, no. This isn't about telling people, you should disapprove of this or you should not disapprove of that.
COSBY: So, what is it about, then?
CALDWELL: It's about giving parents guidelines, so that they can make informed viewing decisions for their families and also putting a little bit of pressure and a little bit of shame on the networks.
When you consider that between the six broadcast networks, they have over 120 hours of prime time to fill, we couldn't even come up with 10 shows that we could wholeheartedly recommend for family viewing. We had to stop the list at number nine. So, that's, I think, a pretty telling indictment of the entertainment industry and the priority they put on putting shows on the air that are appropriate for family viewing.
COSBY: So, Richard, should they be changing viewing habits? Should the networks? Should viewers?
WALTER: No. The history of dramatic expression, most of these shows are dramatic shows. Even the reality shows are dramatic, in that there's conflict, one person against another. Some of those shows, like “American Idol,” are actually embraced by Parents Television Council, and I love that show myself.
But the history, the tradition of dramatic expression has always been ugliness and violence and sexuality. This was not invented in Hollywood. You know, in the ancient Greek tradition of drama, there was murder and blood lust, in Shakespeare. Hamlet ends with nine corpses on the stage. This was not invented by the networks or by the Hollywood studios. It's part of the very nature of dramatic expression, which is a safe place to deal with the lethal aspects of the human condition.
COSBY: Let me bring in Melissa. Melissa, what was the best show on the list, other than "Scarborough Country" or my show, “Live & Direct”? Other than those two obvious ones.
CALDWELL: The two best shows on network TV right now, in our estimation, are “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “Three Wishes.”
COSBY: Those were the best?
CALDWELL: And they're reality shows.
COSBY: “Extreme Makeover,” how is that better?
CALDWELL: “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
COSBY: “Home Edition.” OK. I was going to say, wait a minute.
CALDWELL: No, no, no, vast difference between the two. “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “Three Wishes” are both very positive, very uplifting, inspirational series that showcase the best aspects of human nature, unlike shows like “CSI” and “Desperate Housewives,” which too often highlight the worst parts of human nature.