The late George Carlin may have said it best during his infamous 1970s monologue, “seven words you can never say on television.” This hilarious standup still has millions of people laughing as the master comedian pokes fun at seven words considered taboo for use on American television.
Much has changed since 1972. An informal poll among network TV watchers says broadcasters these days are airing more explicit language than in years past. While they haven’t yet tapped all of Carlin’s forbidden words, American network television is definitely getting edgier, especially as progressive subject matter becomes more of the status quo.
The observations are spot on. Since 2006, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has stopped or cut down on enforcement because of ongoing litigation regarding its indecency authority. Even though the FCC recently resumed “processing new cases where appropriate,” court actions continue to hamper the commission’s authority.
It’s no secret that the rise of cable and proliferation of online content continue to negatively impact television ratings. In fact, a Nielsen study found that the average consumer spent about two percent less time watching traditional TV than the previous year during the first three months of 2012. Factor in reality television and original programming from HBO, Showtime and FX, no wonder why the curse words are flying on network TV.
Content is always king, however. While curse words used sparingly can sometimes accentuate a dramatic moment, good shows with interesting premises will win the day. Heck, “M-A-S-H” received an unheard of 60+ rating for its final episode and not one curse word was uttered during the show’s 11-year run. More than 125 million people watched that episode. While more people watch the Super Bowl or Academy Awards, that’s still pretty %^$#%* amazing.