October 23rd, 2016 is a day that will long be remembered in horror history for several reasons. THE WALKING DEAD Season 7 premiere delivered on its promise to shock and awe by giving us what I think is the hands down most violent, horrific and brutal moment we have seen in basic cable TV series history (I make this distinction because it will be very important to remember later in the discussion). The sheer aggressiveness that Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) used while striking Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) was stunning, but when he then continued to strike his corpse repeatedly with increasing intensity while talking massive shit to the group, that was bone chilling. While there was a momentary pause while audiences at home tried to process the shocking event that just happened, Negan wheels around and does the same thing to crowd favorite Glenn (Steven Yuen), splitting his cranium open and popping his eye out of place, still mocking him before beating his head into a bloody pulp. The utter savageness of Neegan’s act combined with the heart wrenching and emotional performances of the cast, in particular Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan), gave us a moment in both genre AND TV history that rivals any show from any time. The thing that makes it stand out even more is the fact that AMC allowed them to show it all in frame in its gory fullness…
While TWD has certainly had its bloody moments in the past, they have done NOTHING to this extreme before. I sat back after all of the complaints started to flow in about the episode, and while there were several complaints about different things in the episode, the overwhelming complaint was about how violent and unrelenting those scenes were. I began to think about other basic TV horror themed shows and how none had gone to this extreme. To give you scope, basic cable horror shows include AMERICAN HORROR STORY (FX), TEEN WOLF (MTV), THE STRAIN (FX), Z NATION (SyFy), FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (El Rey), SCREAM (MTV) as well as a handful of shows that appear on channels that may or may not be a part of your local cable company, but just about every cable company carries the above mentioned stations as well as AMC in their basic cable tier. While all of the above shows have their merit and are great representations of the genre, none of them have pushed the envelope as far as TWD has these past several years. While horror has always had a place in the hearts of TV watchers out there, we have not always been blessed with this much content and since TWD has become a cultural phenomenom that has made zombies an everyday thing in people’s lives, horror has never been more popular to the general masses…
But, as is always the case when something amazing happens for our beloved genre, the Parents Televison Council released this statement: “Last night’s season premiere of The Walking Dead was one of the most graphically violent shows we’ve ever seen on television, comparable to the most violent of programs found on premium cable networks,” council president Tim Winter said. “It’s not enough to ‘change the channel,’ as some people like to advocate, because cable subscribers – regardless of whether they want AMC or watch its programming – are still forced to subsidize violent content. This brutally-explicit show is a powerful demonstration of why families should have greater control over the TV networks they purchase from their cable and satellite providers.” Winter, who only saw video clips of the episode, told The Hollywood Reporter that the TV-MA rated episode pushed its boundaries. “When you look at the definition of MA and what content of the show is, it’s unquestionable they chose what best represented the content,” he said. “This certainly raises question of if there should be an even more severe rating than TV-MA.” (*1) I will respond to each of his comments on their own and will try to be fair in my arguements…
A.“Last night’s season premiere of The Walking Dead was one of the most graphically violent shows we’ve ever seen on television, comparable to the most violent of programs found on premium cable network”
I agree with this point. This was by FAR the most graphic sequence I have every seen on a basic cable horror themed TV show. But according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and their guidlines for Obscenity, Indecency & Profanity, AMC was well within their rights to do so. From their own webpage (*2):
Does the FCC regulate violence on television? The FCC does not currently regulate the broadcast of violent programming. On July 28, 2004, however, the FCC opened an inquiry into violent programming and its effect on children. The FCC has received public comments and opinions from many segments of the public. The FCC will publish and make available the report resolving the inquiry on the FCC website.
Do the FCC’s rules apply to cable and satellite programming? In the past, the FCC has enforced the indecency and profanity prohibitions only against conventional broadcast services, not against subscription programming services such as cable and satellite. However, the prohibition against obscene programming applies to subscription programming services at all times.
I would first like to point out that AMC is a SUBSCRIPTION PROGRAMMING SERVICE, which means that if you are not bootlegging or streaming TWD, you have to pay for it on your cable service in order to watch it. I will also bring to your attention that TWD has never been classified as indecent, obscene or profane. As long as AMC has fans that will watch the show and sponsors want to pay for advertising, they can do scenes like that any time they want on any show that they air. That is the benefit of being on the basic cable tier and not being a broadcast TV series.
B. “It’s not enough to ‘change the channel,’ as some people like to advocate, because cable subscribers – regardless of whether they want AMC or watch its programming – are still forced to subsidize violent content. This brutally-explicit show is a powerful demonstration of why families should have greater control over the TV networks they purchase from their cable and satellite providers.”
We are all forced to subsidize things we do not want when we pay for cable. There are more than 100 channels that I recieve in my cable package that I do not watch, but in order to be able to watch the shows I want, I tolerate the fact that the other stations are there. Guess what happens if something I do not like comes on a station? I TURN THE CHANNEL! I don’t start a protest, I do not demand that shows be pulled and I don’t boycott sponsors that show their products during these shows. Even though I may not want to watch it, someone else might. That is just the way it is if you pay for cable. Deal with it. As far as families having greater control over the TV networks they can purchase and watch, you can pretty much do that these days with the way digital content works. You just have to be willing to put the time and effort into looking into these options. If you are going to cry that it takes too much time and is inconvenient, in my mind that translates to you really don’t care what your family watches. Put in the time to look for yourself or pay for the convience, the choice is yours. Furthermore and once again from the FCC website:
Can I block programming that offends me or my family? Yes. FCC rules require all televisions 13 inches or larger to include the technology allowing you to block unwanted programming.
What is the V-chip? The V-chip is a technology built into your television set that allows you to block television programming you don’t want your children to watch. Most television shows now include a rating, as established by the broadcast or cable industry. The rating appears in the corner of your television screen during the first 15 seconds of a program and in TV programming guides. This rating is encoded into the programs; the V-chip technology reads the encoded information and blocks shows accordingly. Using the remote control, parents can program the V-chip to block certain shows based on their ratings. If you lose your remote control/device or need help programming the V-chip, contact the manufacturer of your television set for a replacement or operating instructions.
The FCC requires all new television sets manufactured on or after January 1, 2000, that are 13 inches or larger to contain the V-chip technology. You can usually tell whether your television has a V-chip by looking at the packaging, including the owner’s manual. If you no longer have these materials, the V-chip option usually appears as part of the television’s menu if the set is equipped with this technology. If you want the V-chip function but your television set does not have it, you can get a set-top box, which works the same as a set with a built-in V-chip. Personal computers that include a television tuner and a monitor of 13 inches or greater are also required to include the V-chip technology. For complete information on the V-chip and other methods of preventing your children from viewing offensive material, see TV Ratings and Channel Blocking.
C. “When you look at the definition of MA and what content of the show is, it’s unquestionable they chose what best represented the content,” he said. “This certainly raises question of if there should be an even more severe rating than TV-MA.”
This, to me, is where the logic comes off of the rails. TWD is a show about the survivors of a zombie apacolypse trying to survive not only the undead, but the horrors of humanity as society crumbles. This is not a feel good show about unicorns or a discussion forum for what social justice cause you want to get involved with next. The show is gritty and realistic to a point that it makes people squirm and question how they do things in real life. Sure it is entertainment, but there is obviously something in the show that resonated with over 17 million viewers that night. According to The New York Times (*3):
An estimated 17 million people tuned in to find out which of the core characters the new villain, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), killed off the show, according to Nielsen. That total made the episode No. 1 in the ratings on Sunday, topping even the perennial heavyweight “Sunday Night Football” on NBC.
It was the second-highest-rated episode of “The Walking Dead,” trailing only the Season 5 premiere of October 2014. The zombie apocalypse drama is the top-rated show on television, broadcast or cable, among adults ages 18 to 49, the most coveted demographic for advertisers.
Globally there were 4.6 million Twitter posts about the episode sent on Sunday night, with activity peaking at around 9:30 p.m. Eastern Time when the second character, a popular longtime member of the cast, was killed.
While it remains to be seen if they keep those numbers in the following weeks, it can not be ignored that a HORROR THEMED show dominated the ratings. People who watch the show know what it is about and what to expect in terms of graphic content. Granted they went to further extremes this episode, but again, this is a show about the survivors of the zombie apocalypse and the downfall of society. As far as the TV-MA rating, once again from the FCC website:
TV-MA (Mature Audience Only) means that the show is for mature audiences only and may be unsuitable for children under 17 (V, S, L, or D may accompany a rating of TV-MA).
What else needs to be said about this? AMC clearly posted the rating before the show and during commercials so that there could be no mistake about what people were seeing. The arguement that the show was not family friendly is just stunning to me. It comes on at 9 pm EST on a Sunday night. If you have a young child, what are you doing as a parent if your kid is up and watching this show? Does that not mean that you are not doing your job as a parent and are just looking at passing the blame onto someone else for your failed parenting?
In closing, it simply comes down to if you don’t like something, don’t watch it! While the show was gruesome and vile, it was meant for fans of the genre and the series. It amazes me that people can not look past the gore on the screen and see what was really going on in that scene. It was a raw, emtional moment that will stand the test of time in TV history that showed the true evil that men can inflict one another while at the same time tugging at the heartstrings of the viewers. The writers should be given more credit for making everyone have such a huge reaction to a TV show. With all of the real life horrors that we have to deal with every day, everyone is more concerned about what happened to two TV characters. It is crazy and amazing at the same time. Think about the last time a show had this kind of emotional impact on you and enjoy it. We could be on the cusp of a new revolution in horror that is meant for adults. It is long overdue…
“Because I am the Dedman, and you are not!”
Michael “The Dedman” Jones
• The Parents Television Council Thought The Walking Dead Premiere Was Too Violent
• Obscenity, Indecency & Profanity – FAQ
• Sunday’s Violent ‘Walking Dead’ Is a Ratings Smash