Racy 'Skins' prompts Parents Television Council to call for investigation

By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 21, 2011;

The Parents Television Council has fired off a letter calling upon the chairman of the U.S. Senate and House Judiciary Committees, and the Department of Justice, to investigate whether MTV's new scripted series "Skins" is actually kiddie porn in sheep's clothing.

Some of the cast members in the sexy teen drama, which debuted Monday, are as young as 15 - and others are younger than 18, which is the danger age in child porn.

The Los Angeles-based TV watchdog group said in its letter that leaving aside the sexual content on the show, it counted 42 depictions of and references to drugs and alcohol in the 41-minute premiere episode, which has to be some kind of record.

Before the show even debuted, the PTC had already crowned "Skins" the "most dangerous program that has ever been foisted on your children," which has to have boosted the teen (a.k.a. 12-to-17-year-old viewers) ratings for the premiere by at least 5 percent.

MTV ran the premiere with a TV-MA content rating, meaning it's not suitable for viewers younger than 17, which has to have boosted its 12-to-24-year-old guy ratings by at least 4 percent.

A story in Thursday's New York Times detailed a meeting we wish we'd been invited to, in which MTV suits regaled themselves with speculation as to which of them could wind up in the hoosegow if future episodes aired as delivered to MTV by the producers, which is sure to boost teen-chick ratings by - oh wait, teen chicks don't read newspapers. Too bad.

The MTV suits seemed particularly exercised by Episode 3, set to air Jan. 31 - mark it on your calendar - in which a 17-year-old-in-real-life actor, playing a high school student who has taken a strong anti-clothing principle and simultaneously experimented with erectile dysfunction drugs, is seen running down a street; the sky's the limit on what that will do for the show's pre-teen numbers.

Is this what "Skins" executive producer Bryan Elsley meant in that letter he sent to TV critics last month noting that the show's young, unknown actors "are making the characters their own and demanding that their voices be heard"?

Taco Bell told the Hollywood Reporter on Thursday that "upon further review, we've decided that the show is not a fit for our brand and have moved our advertising to other MTV programming," which is so going to increase next week's young-guy ratings by about 2 percent.

Yes, Taco Bell: too classy for "Skins."

"On January 17, the Viacom-owned cable network MTV aired a teenager-based drama, 'Skins.' The episode included all manner of foul language, illegal drug use, illegal activity as well as thoroughly pervasive sexual content. Moreover, future episodes promise much more of the same," PTC said in a yeasty letter it claims to have "sent to Committee Chairmen Patrick Leahy and Lamar Smith" as well as "the rest of the Judiciary Committee members, Attorney General Eric Holder and Federal Communications Committee Chairman Julius Genachowski."

"It is clear," the PTC continued, "that Viacom has knowingly produced material that may well be in violation of any or all of the following federal statutes:

"18 U.S.C. § 1466A (2008) Obscene Visual Representations of the Sexual Abuse of Children

"18 U.S.C. § 2251 (2008) Sexual Exploitation of Children

"18 U.S.C. § 2252 (2008) Relating to Material Involving the Sexual Exploitation of Minors

"18 U.S.C. § 2252A (2008) Relating to Material Constituting or Containing Child Pornography."

Can someone save 'Idol'?

About 26.2 million people checked out the new judges on "American Idol" on Wednesday.

That is the Fox franchise's smallest-ever in-season debut.

On the bright side, that's about 5 million more viewers than caught the much-ballyhooed season debut of the most recent edition of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," featuring Bristol Palin.

And, in its 10th-season debut, "Idol" still managed to attract about 2 million more viewers than the combined efforts of ABC, CBS, NBC and CW on the same night.

The debut - Did we mention it's Season 10? Of a reality TV show? - is also, by a hefty margin, the highest-rated night of entertainment programming on any network this season.

But there's no getting around the fact that the first episode of the new "Idol" season attracted nearly 4 million fewer than the debut of the ninth season - a.k.a. Simon Cowell's last as resident meanie.

Those 26.2 million who came to the game Wednesday witnessed Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler becoming the best thing that's happened to "Idol" in years: a much-needed breath of let's-not-take-ourselves-too-seriously. Another treat for those who tuned in: new judge Jennifer Lopez struggling to make every moment her close-up:

See J-Lo wail, "This is so HARD!" at the show's only surviving judge, Randy Jackson, during New Jersey auditions.

See J-Lo tear at her hair as the mounting pressure of sharing camera time with all these Idolette wannabes begins to take its toll.

See J-Lo's head drop - kerplunk - on the judges' desk when she no longer has the will to hold up her hair after telling two people they cannot sing.

Until Wednesday night, the second edition of "Idol" had recorded the singing competition's smallest debut audience: 26.5 million viewers. But that was also the show's first-ever "in-season" edition.

The very first season of "Idol" actually copped its smallest numbers, though they were eye-popping at the time. That first season aired in the summer of 2002, and the show's unveiling attracted 9.9 million viewers. Technically, the summer months do not fall within the "official" broadcast-TV industry season, as set by Nielsen. I know, it's a distinction for TV wonks - but there you are.

Time for Full Disclosure: This year's season kickoff was moved to Wednesday night; since the beginning, the show has aired with a Tuesday/Wednesday play pattern. This season Fox changed that to Wednesday/Thursday. This shift may have affected the debut's audience size.

Care to join us as we go further down the ratings rabbit hole?

Very important to Fox - and Ford and Coca-Cola and AT&T, which are all back to work at their ham-handed product-placement magic in the show this season - just under 10 percent of the country's 18-to-49-year-olds tuned in Wednesday to see how Tyler and J-Lo did in their first stint as judges. That's also a record low, and that age bracket is Fox's ad sales bread-and-butter.

Last season's debut attracted nearly 12 percent of the country's 18-to-49-year-olds.

Fox issued an e-mail noting that, at 9 o'clock Wednesday, "Idol" handily beat ABC's "Modern Family" - television's No. 1-ranked scripted show among those coveted 18-to-49-year-olds (tied with ABC's "Grey's Anatomy") - both in that age group, and among "total viewers," which actually means anyone over 2 years old.

ABC was not going to take that lying down. It issued its own e-mail, pointing out that "Modern Family" scored its best-ever ratings against "American Idol" on Wednesday night.

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