Over the years, broadcast networks have depicted such things as a doctor having his limb severed by a helicopter rotor (in good old "E.R."), or, more recently, a teenaged boy walking in on his divorced mom offering oral favors to a guy she picked up at a bar (ABC's "Cougar Town"). Neither did much to raise an eyebrow.
So why is it that whenever TV shows depict people engaging with multiple sexual partners (not particularly common, mind you, on ABC and the rest), the critics come out in force?
The issue has come to the fore once again, thanks to this week's episode of "Gossip Girl," which showed a threesome between good-guy Dan Humphrey and two female characters on the program. The CW, which broadcasts the show, is milking it for all it's worth, running promos that use the phrase "OM3!" (instead of the usual "OMG!" the show typically warrants). And the Parents Television Council is out weighing against these kinds of antics, particularly because, it says, "Gossip Girl" attracts a sizable population of viewers under the age of 18.
"The network inserted this story line into a program that they themselves deem to be appropriate for 14-year-old children based on its content rating," said PTC President Tim Winter in a prepared statement.
Seems as if we may have found our line in the sand: group sex. You can show detailed and bloody representations of human innards on "CSI." You can let goofy Jenna make a reference to having sex on the floor of one of the men's bathrooms on "30 Rock." And you can show a war vet choking his girlfriend in the dead of night on "Grey's Anatomy." But you can't show sex between more than two consenting adults without getting in trouble.
CBS found this out in the summer of 2008 when it launched "Swingtown," a 1970s-era drama filled with characters that enjoyed the occasional skinny dip, wife swap or threesome -- not to mention snort of cocaine. Traditional advertisers trod carefully, so much so that CBS started running a two-and-a-half minute direct-response ad hawking a Time-Life's "Flower Power" collection of songs from the late 1960s to help fill ad inventory.
One of the tunes featured on the album was Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco," which contains the lyrics, "If you're going to San Francisco/Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair." These days, someone might want to update the stanzas to reflect modern issues: "If you're going to San Francisco/Please make sure to avoid engaging in group sex/Or else you may not get to appear on CW or CBS."