Do TV Viewers Still Give an 'S' About the 'F Bomb'?

Or Vice-Versa for That Matter?

By Published on .

How come no one cares when "Saturday Night Live" goes from lobbing an "F-bomb" to broadcasting the "s-word"?

After pundits wag-wag-wagged their fingers when newcomer Jenny Slate inadvertently uttered the "f-word" in a sketch about biker chicks on "SNL's" Sept. 26 broadcast, they had very little to say when Lady GaGa deliberately belted out its "s"-word counterpart during one of her musical numbers this past Saturday night/Sunday morning. Does "f" still shock? Does "s" no longer do so?

Lady GaGa performs on 'Saturday Night Live.'
Lady GaGa performs on 'Saturday Night Live.' Credit: NBC
It's a wonderful question for couch potatoes and TV executives to ponder. As more cable outlets ramp up production of gritty dramas filled with all manner of salty banter and sexual acrobatics -- heck, even "Mad Men's" Don Draper has been spotted sexually threatening a woman who stood to ruin his agency's Utz chips account -- broadcast has had to try to play the same game.

Except it's a lot tougher. When Bono randomly uttered an expletive during a live awards-show broadcast, it became part of a series of events that are still being pondered today by the nation's regulators.

That hasn't stopped some networks from testing out creative methods. On NBC's cop drama "Southland," egregious words are used, but bleeped out -- even though anyone with half a brain can tell which profanity was being uttered. Fox's "Family Guy" and "The Cleveland Show" have resorted to this tactic as well. As cable and broadcast start to look more alike, you have to wonder if anyone in the audience is as shocked as they might have been 30, 10 or even five years ago.

To be certain, this stuff still rankles. The Parents Television Council, an advocacy organization, continues to find subject matter that could offend, such as sexual hi-jinks in "Gossip Girl" or double entendres on "Two and a Half Men." But as Lady Gaga demonstrated, the larger portion of viewers seem not to give an "s" about the "f-word."

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