TV study: Marriage gets cold shoulder

Adultery, teen sex and examples of extreme or unusual lust are hot topics on prime-time TV, while sex within marriage often gets a cold shoulder, a media watchdog group said Tuesday.

In a study of more than 207 hours of scripted shows on the five major broadcast networks, the Parents Television Council found spoken references about nonmarital sex outnumbered mentions of marital intimacy by about 3 to 1. For scenes that visually depict or imply sex, the ratio was 4 to 1.

Citing shows ranging from ABC's “Desperate Housewives” to NBC's “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” the study also said once-taboo topics are increasingly common, including partner swapping, threesomes, strippers and prostitution.

TV networks “are more interested in being shocking,” said Melissa Henson, the study's author. “They're more interested in being provocative than telling a story that's going to resonate with the vast majority of TV viewers.”

The study comes at a particularly uncertain time in the debate over what is appropriate for broadcast television. TV networks and the government are dueling over the rules of broadcast indecency, and a Supreme Court case looms later this year. Networks also face increasing competition for viewers from steamy cable shows unburdened by many content restrictions.

Meanwhile, technology is rapidly changing the way people watch and control video, with pay-TV and the Internet offering new viewing options.

The PTC, a leading critic of sex and violence on TV, is known for campaigning against shows it deems offensive and flooding federal regulators with complaints.

Critics of the group say its studies support a broader agenda.

“The Parents Television Council won't be satisfied with television content until they convince the government to enforce their personal, selective judgments,” said Jim Dyke, executive director of TV Watch, an advocacy group backed in part by the entertainment industry and CBS, Fox and NBC.