A television watchdog is decrying an increase in violent content involving children, pointing to graphic depictions and coarse language in a slew of shows.
“Euphoria,” an HBO drama about trouble teenagers, kicks off with the statutory rape of a transgender minor.
The short-lived NBC paranormal detective series “InBetween” opens with a boy staring at the mutilated body of his mother, her eyes removed.
Even the 1980s teen heroes of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” grew increasingly foul-mouthed in the paranormal series’ third season.
“There are some really wonderful things to report over the last year,” said Tim Winter, president of the Parent Television Council. “But over the last year or two Hollywood seems to have made a dangerous turn toward marketing explicit content directly to children.”
Mr. Winter said the biggest offenders are comic book-based shows, whose cartoon characters are given grisly, gritty treatment on the small screen.
The CW’s “Arrow,” based on the DC Comics character The Green Arrow, began airing its eighth season in October, and has been called out for its slow-motion depictions of machine gun bullets ripping into victims and scenes of macabre stabbings. Another CW comic book spinoff — “Riverdale,” based on the Archie Comics — has featured a high schooler having sex on his car with his teacher.
“That’s not the Archie I grew up with,” said Mr. Winter.
He said he anticipates more “toxic” content in 2020, but he also has noted bright spots in 2019 that mark greater corporate responsibility and consumer autonomy in being able to digitally shield the eyes of children.
Following reports of teen suicide linked to its series “13 Reasons Why,” Netflix in July announced it had altered a graphic three-minute scene nearly two years after its debut. Mr. Winter said he personally wrote to members of the video-streaming service’s board of director about the show’s impact in stark terms.
“They would never say it was about us, but that was a defining moment,” Mr. Winter said.
At Congress’ behest, the Federal Communications Commission also released its first evaluation of the TV Parental Guides Monitoring Board, finding that the industry-formed group lacked transparency and a working phone number, and inconsistently applied its ratings to television shows.
“The report coming out validated everything we’ve been saying for decades,” Mr. Winter said.
He said the biggest growth in TV content will be seen in streaming services, whose producers continually push the envelope on decency standards. The growing popularity of platforms such as Netflix and Hulu over broadcast television and its alphabet soup of content warnings worries Mr. Winter, whose group has charted “ratings creep” — the increasingly adult-like content slipped into television shows.
In June, “Euphoria” debuted, based loosely on the memories of its creator’s drug addiction as a teenager. The show stars former Disney standout, Zendaya, and includes dark and sexually-explicit themes.
“They say it’s marketed toward an adult audience,” said Mr. Winter. “But you [HBO] used a Disney star to do it? And who watches a show about high school children except high school children and younger? Where is the corporate responsibility in that?”
“Euphoria” is one of several shows about kids that critics say aren’t really for kids, including “Riverdale” and the British series “Skins.” But the analysis might not be all wrong, as the average age of CW viewers was nearly 40, according to Nielsen.
There’s also mounting evidence that creators in Hollywood are listening. Within two weeks of its debut last month, Disney+, which bundles various Disney classic films and new series, touted the most in-demand show across all platforms with its iteration of the “Star Wars” saga, “The Mandalorian.”
In 2020, Disney plans to release a Toy Story spinoff, a Lizzie McGuire reboot, and another Star Wars series, and Disney’s chairman has assured consumers the new service will not include any content rated “R” (using the Motion Pictures Association of America ratings).
Other streaming services, such as Netflix, follow a parental guide slightly different from the industry standard. The result, says Mr. Winter, is confusing for consumers. He also said he was skeptical of any self-regulatory moves by the entertainment industry acting alone without prompting from Congress. “What we’ve learned is that if it’s up to the industry to decide whatever the outcome will be, they will err on the side of whatever is most beneficial for the industry,” said Mr. Winter, who has called for a common ratings system across all platforms.
Mr. Winter said another oversight long-overdue for a fix will be closing the motion-picture loophole in the Family Movie Act of 2005 that allows for technology that can allow for parental edits of DVDs but not online streaming services. In July, the company VidAngel, which gives viewers the ability to skip nudity, profanity or violence on popular streamable shows, was ordered by a Los Angeles judge to pay Disney, Fox, and Warner Bros. and other entertainment companies over $60 million for copyright infringement.