When contestants on the TV reality series “Utopia” stripped down, the Fox Broadcasting Company advertised – on digital billboards, no less – fuzzed out photos of the naked cast to draw attention to its program.
“Utopia,” in turn, became only the latest in a growing trend of television programs to feature nudity, joining VH1’s “Dating Naked,” the Discovery Channel’s “Naked and Afraid” and even TLC’s “Buying Naked,” all of which have debuted since June 2013.
Despite the obviously voyeuristic allure, however, these “Naked” programs aren’t scoring with audiences. “Utopia,” for example, premiered with 4.63 million viewers, only to lose nearly half that many in its second week before tumbling down to 1.52 million viewers by Sept. 19. “Dating Naked,” similarly, has struggled to stay above one million watchers on average.
“We focused closely on the ‘Dating Naked’ show on VH1, and the ratings on this one are absolutely abysmal,” Dan Isett, director of communications and policy for the Parents Television Council, told WND. “But it still remained on the air, even when they could get better ratings for reruns of network shows.
“Is there some audience for material like that?” he asked. “Sure, but it pales in comparison to the audience for more worthwhile, family-friendly, wholesome fare.”
If the ratings aren’t there, however, why, in the money-making, ratings-driven business of entertainment, are television networks pushing the envelope with blatant nudity?
“I think that’s really the question,” Isett said. “We often hear from the entertainment industry that it’s all about money: ‘We just do this because the audience wants it.’ This trend really cuts against that grain. There’s very minimal audience for any of this stuff.”
Ryan Dobson, son of Dr. James Dobson and vice president of broadcast for Family Talk, suggested there may be more of an agenda behind networks pushing “Naked” TV shows than just money.
“Ted Baehr from Movieguide.org talks about this, that in general, movies are all about profits,” Dobson told WND, “but TV shows, while money is still a Top 5 motivation, there’s still an ideology that’s being taught.
“The ‘Naked’ programs, the ‘Real Housewives’ of whatever, you watch those programs, and you see how people relate to each other. It’s teaching people something,” Dobson continued. “If you’re not having these knock-down, drag-out, screaming fights with your husband, then apparently you don’t have ‘passion’ in your life, and they’re teaching people to behave this way.
“Even Disney programs, where the kids speak so disrespectfully to their parents, “he continued, “if you play that in the background long enough, over time, parents think that’s how kids talk to parents – but it’s not; it’s how scripted TV program children talk to the their TV parents.”
WND’s David Kupelian, author of “The Marketing of Evil,” argues pop culture has been the knife itself on the cutting edge of transforming societal norms.
“Naked reality TV shows are basically soft-core porn and are helping drag Americans’ minds and morals ever further into the gutter,” Kupelian says. “The reality-show industry has found a way to give us R-rated frontal nudity in primetime TV. Pixelating body parts isn’t equivalent to putting clothes on these show participants – the viewer knows they are naked, and that in itself is degrading and corrupting, especially since the show’s producers know it’s human nature for viewers’ minds to fill in the missing details.
“In “‘The Marketing of Evil’ I show how popular culture operates on the principle of always lowering standards – always making their offerings more shocking, more explicit, more sexual, more degrading.”
Isett and Dobson also suggested viewers should consider the people producing the “Naked” programming.
“My personal opinion is that Hollywood values being ‘cool,'” Isett told WND. “And that’s what gets you into dinner parties; that’s what gets you buzz in the entertainment media. It’s not always what builds you an audience and makes you money – what’s important is the acceptance of your peers. And when your peers believe all this stuff is terrific and there should be more of it, that’s what drives the boat.”
Dobson related the story of comedian Greg Behrendt, who was a consultant on the TV show “Sex and the City” and author of the book “He’s Just Not that into You,” which later inspired a movie of the same name.
“Behrendt talks about being the only straight male as a writer on ‘Sex and the City,’ that it was otherwise all women and gay men. That’s where his book came about, because they were stunned to hear the opinion of a straight male. They had no idea this is how men thought,” Behrendt said. “And if you really watch the women on ‘Sex and the City,’ they don’t act like women, they act like gay men. The mentality they have about their sexual encounters and this whole ’empowerment’ idea that ‘we can have sex without emotions’ – that’s how gay men act, that’s not how women act. Women don’t behave that way.”
Or perhaps, Isett theorized, networks are churning out “Naked” TV because they’re “simply out of ideas.”
“You’ve seen a trend toward shows predicated on the nudity of contestants just over the last year or so – I think it’s further evidence of Hollywood’s lack of ideas,” Isett told WND. “When you have a compelling story that is told well and well produced, you will always have a successful entertainment product. Instead of going that route, doing something that will last and is of value, what you’re seeing too often is this downward trend in material.”
“It’s an indication of how desperate television executives have become in pushing the envelope to attract viewers,” added Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for the American Family Association. “It’s also a sign of creative bankruptcy – if you’ve got an idea that’s actually good enough to engage viewers, you don’t have to inject gratuitous nudity in there to make it work.”
Fischer further condemned the net effect of “Naked” programming on society.
“It’s a disturbing trend and an indication of how alarmingly sexualized our culture has become,” Fischer told WND. “These programs are deceptive and socially irresponsible. In real life, the most satisfying forms of sexual expression take place in private between a husband and wife who love each other and are committed to each other. These programs don’t exactly reinforce that ideal.”
“My dad wrote extensively about the steps of intimacy, and we’ve jumped over all of those, straight to nudity,” Dobson added. “In the ‘Naked Dating’ program and in ‘Naked and Afraid,’ you get strangers whose first encounter is buck naked.”
“Where do we go from here?” Isett asked. “The only thing left at this point is hardcore pornography. Are we going to start seeing pornography on basic cable? You already see that on premium cable, like HBO and Showtime, but that’s a different animal, because when a family subscribes to HBO, you know what you’re getting and you have the ability to pay for that or not. It’s different when you’re talking basic cable, because consumers and families are forced into a huge bundle of programming. In order to get access to Disney Channel or watch a football game, they’re forced to subsidize lots of material like what we’re describing.
“People should be able to pick and choose what’s coming into their home in the first place,” Isett said. “The question is, why are millions of families and parents forced to subsidize that kind of stuff?”
Isett also told WND, however, that people don’t have to travel to New York City or Hollywood to put an end to this kind of programming.
“There are two really effective solutions,” Isett said. “First, we spend a lot of effort at PTC reaching out to advertisers who sponsor this kind of content. We try to make sure they do that with full knowledge of precisely what kind of content they’re associating with their corporate brand. Many times, advertisers will back off a particular show. People can participate in that effort through the PTC website.
And second, the same effort is enormously powerful when people communicate on the local level,” Isett told WND. “For example, take Yum Brands, which is Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC, which has historically been a very problematic advertiser – one thing dads can do is go into Taco Bell and tell the local manager, ‘I was going to eat here today, but since you guys sponsored this particular show, I think I’m going to go down the street instead.’ That’s an enormously powerful thing. That’s the American free market at work.”