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Parent alert works? Viewership collapses for 'dangerous' 'Skins'

Published: Thursday, Jan. 27 2011 3:02 p.m. MST

Rachel Thevenard, left, who plays Michelle, James Newman who plays Tony, and Sofa Black D'Elia who plays Tea, in the new MTV series "Skins," pose for photos in New York, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011.

AP Photo/Richard Drew

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Some worried the Parents Television Council's decision to label 'Skins' the most dangerous TV show ever for children would drive even more teenage viewers to a show about teens having sex, drinking and doing drugs.

Instead, viewers and advertisers are jumping ship faster, Fox News said, 'than some of (the show's) characters lose their clothes."

First, eight advertisers bailed on the MTV series — Taco Bell, Wrigley, Subway, Foot Locker, L'Oreal, Shick, General Motors and H&R Block — with the Hollywood Reporter estimating that the defections could cost MTV as much as $2 million per episode.

Then the show's second episode tanked with viewers this week. The premier episode drew an audience of 3.3 million on Jan. 17, but the second outing lost more than half of them, falling to 1.6 million viewers. MTV's key demo, viewers 12 to 34, didn't fare any better, dropping from a 3.4 rating to 1.6.

Things are so bad, Fox quoted a network source today who said the show is in danger of being canceled. But another MTV source told Fox the network would stick by the show and put its marketing machine behind it.

The ratings spiral sent the show's creator into damage control. The Washington Post reports Brian Elsey told 'MTV News' that 'Skins' is an old-fashioned television series about "intensely moral" teens.

Elsey told the Los Angeles Times, "The show is the opposite of pornography. It isn't us who are being provocative. I think that some of the people who object to the show are being provocative in the use of that word."

But the New York Times reported last week that MTV's own executives have fretted about the possibility of being charged under federal law over next week's episode, in which a naked teenage actor is seen from behind running down the street after being locked out of his house by an intruder.

Part of the controversy, and MTV's own legal concerns, as the LA Times pointed out, is that much of the cast is underage, which isn't the case for other shows with raunchy reputations, like 'Jersey Shore.' A network source told the Chicago Sun-Times, "It would have been far simpler if we had found older actors who look like young teens, just to avoid some of the legal problems we may face."

The Parents Television Council applauded the advertisers who pulled support from 'Skins,' but called on Red Bull and Zeno Hot Spot to defend their sponsorship of the show.

LA Times television critic Mary McNamara stepped back from the hype and provided an essay on the power of television and watchdog groups like the PTC.

"The response from the creative community, which tends to go ballistic over anything that smacks of censorship, has been surprising: little to none," McNamara wrote. "No doubt this deafening silence stems from the fact that the show is, all moral objections aside, pretty darn bad. Relying on tired old stereotypes and, in early episodes, absurd and dated plot points, the American version was universally panned. Indeed, the second week saw ratings cut in half, despite the publicity and that tantalizing aura of danger. For a critic, this is very encouraging; it's always better when a show fails because the audience recognizes its poor quality rather than under the condemnation of an over-wrought watchdog group."

She said the PTC and other watchdog groups have a role in American culture but often make no dent in the popularity of a show. For example, 'Glee' and "Vampire Diaries' haven't suffered from PTC action alerts sent to the group's 1.3 million members and the media.

The bottom line for 'Skins' should be decided fairly soon, Charlie Menduni, media director of Mediassociates told the Fox entertainment blog FOX411 that any program launch anticipates some kind of ratings fall-off, though he described a drop by half as "pretty dramatic." If the decline continues, he said MTV will pull the show.

"Certainly, blue chip advertisers that have brands that appeal beyond the really young, cutting-edge target audience are going to shy away from advertising on 'Skins,'" Menduni said. "But with the initial outcry against it as loud as it is, you'd be hard pressed to find any brand manager who would be willing to bring that (show) to their board."

e-mail: twalch@desnews.com

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