Parents Television Council Criticizes Upcoming 'Gossip Girl' Threesome
Parents Television Council Criticizes Upcoming 'Gossip Girl' Threesome
Meghan Carlson
Meghan Carlson
Senior Writer, BuddyTV has obtained a letter sent from the Parents Television Council to CW affiliates, criticizing their intention to air next week's Gossip Girl episode, "They Shoot Humphreys, Don't They?"

Promos for the episode confirm that it will include a threesome storyline for three major characters on the show, and the PTC is calling the move "reckless and irresponsible" to Gossip Girl's young viewers, and urging affiliates to not air the episode.

According to the site, "CW insiders confirm the Nov. 9 show will end with three characters in a tryst. Flashbacks from their menage-a-OMG will air in future episodes."

In the letter (printed in full after the jump), PTC President Timothy Winter blasts the threesome storyline for negatively influencing teens towards "high-risk" and sexual activity, and the show itself for routinely portraying "promiscuous and consequence-free sexual behavior." If the affiliates air Monday's episode, Winters writes, they will be "complicit in establishing a precedent and expectation that teenagers should engage in behaviors heretofore associated primarily with adult films."

Here is the full letter from the PTC. The CW has yet to comment.

November 2, 2009

Dear [Name]:

By now you must be aware of reports in Entertainment Weekly and elsewhere that the November 9th episode of the teen-targeted drama Gossip Girl will feature major characters in a sexual threesome.

To include a story line like this on a program that is expressly targeted to impressionable teenagers is reckless and irresponsible. I appeal to your highest sense of decency, respect and common sense in urging you to preempt this episode.

Television is profoundly influential in the lives of children, especially when it comes to sexual decision making - it has even been described by one researcher as a "sexual super-peer" - signifying television's power to amplify, many times over, the peer-pressure teens are already feeling to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors.

When television portrays attractive, popular teenage characters as sexually active, it sends a powerful message to young viewers that they, too, should be sexually active and in fact, there might be something wrong with them if they aren't.

Teens are aware that television influences their behavior. According to one survey, a third of youths 12 and older say the media encourages them to have sex by making it seem like "everybody does it."

At least half a dozen studies in the past few years have documented a strong correlation between exposure to adult media content in childhood and early onset of sexual activity among teens. Viewing of sexual media content has even been found to be predictive of teen pregnancy.

As one researcher who has seen these effects first-hand observed, "Children have neither the life experience nor the brain development to fully differentiate between a reality they are moving toward and a fiction meant solely to entertain. Children learn from media, and when they watch media with sexual references and innuendos, our research suggests they are more likely to engage in sexual activity earlier in life."

Gossip Girl routinely depicts teenage characters engaging in promiscuous and consequence-free sexual behavior, and that's bad enough. But will you now be complicit in establishing a precedent and expectation that teenagers should engage in behaviors heretofore associated primarily with adult films? Behaviors that not only increase health risks, but which are emotionally and psychologically damaging to participants, as well? I certainly hope not, and I'm sure members of your community and parents of children who watch your network expect more of you.

May I also remind you that it is the affiliate, not the CW network, that will bear the financial burden of an FCC fine should any of the content of the November 9th episode be found to violate broadcast decency laws.

Finally, you must ask yourself, how does airing this program serve your obligation to serve the public interest?

In a declaratory ruling last year, the FCC affirmed affiliates' ability to pre-empt any network programming that is "unsatisfactory or unsuitable or contrary to the public interest." The record on this is clear: contracts between networks and their affiliates may not legally prevent preemption of programming that does not meet LOCAL COMMUNITY standards. As a station manager you not only have a right, but an obligation to preempt programs like Gossip Girl that fail to meet that standard.

Please be advised that the PTC will monitor this episode very closely. Our members will not hesitate to contact local and national advertisers; and if this program violates broadcast decency law, rest assured that our members will contact the Federal Communications Commission.


Timothy F. Winter, President
Parents Television Council

To my Gossip Girl fans and fellow TV watchers alike: Do you think the PTC is right to be concerned about the storyline? Is Gossip Girl is a bad influence on kids?

As The Wrap notes, it's worth mentioning that the CW claims its programming isn't targeted toward teens, and that the median age of Gossip Girl viewers is 27.

For my part, I will be waiting until Monday night before I decide if this Gossip Girl storyline is too indecent for TV. But how far is too far, for a show that prided itself from the start for being a "parent's worst nightmare"? Gossip Girl has already set such a high precedent for sexy shock-value, I know I will have a hard time gauging this latest stunt, especially with my now seasoned, unshockable, old fogie eyes.

Judging from all the sex, scandal, and constant illegal activity in the two and a half seasons of Gossip Girl that have already aired (those 18-year-olds sure can drink, can't they?), I find it highly unlikely that many affiliates will pull this episode on moral grounds... and highly troubling that, as the PTC claims, parents of young kiddos have ever let them watch this show!

-Meghan Carlson, BuddyTV Staff Writer
Image courtesy of the CW