Much discussion has been going on about the teen show Skins, the British export airing on MTV that may be breaching child pornography laws, with its vivid portrayal of the sex lives of teenagers, including one episode showing a 17 year old nude from behind.
The Parents Television Council called Skins the “most dangerous program that has ever been foisted on your children.”
But is it? The way we see it, Skins is only the latest in a long line of television shows that have pushed the boundaries, both for teenage and adult audiences.
We took a look at 10 television shows that pushed boundaries when they were first aired. You might be surprised at what was considered controversial or offensive in its time…
It's strange to think of Sex and the City as having once been a controversial show, when it now seems so outdated and overwhelmed with annoying puns and cheap, vaguely offensive stereotypes about women, gays, marriage, and every other subject it covers. But it was! It was considered one of the first shows that gave a frank portrayal of sex and dating for single women in New York.
Anyways, below is a clip of the sort of hard-hitting subject matter the show covered:
The Sopranos, a legitimately groundbreaking show for HBO, was the portrait of a mob family, and it graphically depicted not just sex, but also deeper topics such as homophobia, addiction, crime, and depression. Unlike Sex and the City, we can still see why The Sopranos was such a controversial show in its time.
We may now think of Beverly Hills 90210 as a sort of superficial, self-absorbed show that has spawned multiple copycats and parodies. In truth, when it originally aired, it worried parents for many of the same reasons that Skins does, with its portrayal of sex (the girls actually said yes) and drugs in the lives of teenagers.
NYPD Blue aired in 1993, and its first season shocked network audiences and execs alike with its male and female nudity (including in sexual contexts, usually in darkened rooms), its crude language, and its gritty and brutal look at police culture.
There's actually nothing controversial at all about Ellen Degeneres' sitcom, which did an admirable job of combining every cloying sitcom cliche into its half hour segments. However, the show struck an important cultural moment when its popular star Ellen came out on the show, in the same year she came out in real life. The revelation ignited a storm of controversy, prompting ABC to place a parental advisory at the beginning of each episode.
The cult hit show Degrassi Junior High aired in Canada from 1987 - 1991, and 14 years later came the spinoff Degrassi: The Next Generation. The show depicts the obstacles of teenage life as intensely as possible, and covers everything from bullying to rape and death. The abortion episode in the original show was a massive controversy, and even the abortion episode in the spinoff, years later, wasn't even aired in the U.S. initially, until Degrassi's network The N committed to air every episode in 2006.
No clips available.
Source: Love to Know
Queer As Folk is another legitimately groundbreaking 1999 drama that followed the lives of three young gay men that shocked conservatives. Aired in the UK, particularly controversial was the depiction of a 15-year-old having sex with an older man, when the age of consent for gay men in the UK was 18.
Jerry Springer's talk show epitomized the concept of 'trash television,' and brought about an overall lowering of standards that eventually bled into reality television and other genres. The show has had its fair share of controversy and pushes decency boundaries for even the most libertine. It was voted the 'Worst TV Show Ever' by TV Guide magazine, a label it seems proud of.
The Real World is blamed for starting the the reality television genre, though in its original incarnation, it focused on choosing people of different cultures and countries to live together, forcing them to interact in hopes of probing more serious issues. Things have since changed, and The Real World now tries to find 20 year olds who are most likely to party, drink, hook up, and talk about it ad nauseum.
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