It was encouraging, almost a decade ago, when it was announced that some corporate advertisers had banded together to offer their corporate support for television shows that were more friendly to viewing by entire families. The group was called the Family Friendly Programming Forum, and over the years, its presence certainly has helped bring some safer programming to television.
But in the world of the networks, where sleaze, sex, blood and shock are the rule, the definition of "family friendly" can easily be watered down -- and has been. One TV critic announced the FFPF's annual awards show on the CW network in a logical way: "With all the innuendo and violence in prime-time shows, it's amazing they can even field a group of nominees for the annual Family Television Awards."
Forget the trouble with fielding nominees. Ask yourself: What about the winners? The FFPF's top award-winning "family friendly" shows were NBC's "Heroes" for best drama and ABC's "Ugly Betty" for best comedy.
Just how "family friendly" are these shows?
"Heroes," an action comic book that came to life, presented a compelling first season around the concept that everyday people who discovered they had superpowers were suddenly threatened with an evil conspiracy to eliminate their gifted kind. It isn't as "corny" as a classic comic book. While its good and evil characters are assembled to root for and against, some heroes are "complex," that Hollywood euphemism for bizarre. Take, for example, the schizophrenic mother whose "super" alter ego is only heroic in that she will kill anyone who endangers her child.
"Heroes" is also a show with plenty of dark themes and violence. Its primary villain, named Sylar, has a nasty habit of slicing the tops of heads off of his victims. As the season drew to a close, another villain succumbed when a mortally wounded hero put a fist-sized hole in his skull. The whole season was predicated on one of the central heroes fearing that he would cause the mass murder of New York with the wrongful application of his powers. For young children, NBC could have easily called this show "Nightmares."
But "Ugly Betty" was an even less acceptable choice because it was presented to FFPF and ABC before it ever aired as a "family friendly" alternative. The title character is Betty Suarez, a sympathetic Mexican American secretary at a fashion magazine cursed with ugly glasses, braces and zero fashion sense. After the loss of her mother, Betty is clearly the glue that holds her family together: her father, her adult sister and a nephew. She also helps keep her fashion-magazine boss, a natural playboy, on a straighter and narrower path. She's a nerdy heroine in a morally upside-down world.