Tim Winter's life changed the day he walked into the living room and found his 5-year-old daughter witnessing a sex act on primetime television.
Within a matter of weeks, the longtime network executive left NBC to join an entertainment industry watchdog called the Parents Television Council.
Now as PTC president, Winter is trumpeting the message that there is too much garbage on TV that's too accessible to children. His organization's mission is to educate families, encourage activism and networking, research and red flag questionable programming, enforce federal broadcast decency laws and protest against advertisers whose money pays for indecent TV shows.
"There is always going to be explicit adult material and that is not our concern," Winter said. "Our concern is where it’s distributed and how it’s marketed. Is it in easy reach of children? How can we help parents make better choices? How can we make sure that those who distribute material are doing it more responsibly? And yes, we are making progress every day.”
According to the organization's research, the majority of parents across the nation agree with PTC's stance. Still, the television industry pushes the boundaries.
"They wrap themselves in the flag. They defend what they do in the name of our cherished First Amendment right to free speech,” Winter said. “I love the First Amendment too, but it’s tough for me to envision the Founding Fathers thinking that the right of free speech is being used to market pornographic material to children. Sadly, that is what is happening.
“It’s a long road, but the more we get out there consumers are being awakened, and are pushing back,” Winter said.
A 'holy cow' moment
Winter still marvels at the path that led him to the PTC, a nonprofit organization founded in 1995 that has 1.4 million members organized into 53 chapters in 31 states.
Before he joined eight years ago, Winter worked at MGM Studios doing video games, ran a couple of Internet companies and spent 15 years with NBC.
“I have been at the center of media my whole career,” he said.
It wasn’t until he became a parent that he realized the potential harm in the entertainment industry. One afternoon he had what he called a “V-8 slap-the-side-of-your head” moment.
Winter was cooking dinner in the kitchen while his 5-year-old daughter watched TV in the next room. Dialogue from the show caught his attention and he moved to the living room to investigate. It was a reality dating show was called "The Fifth Wheel," which aired from 2001 to 2004.
“They were young, good-looking kids, two guys, two girls, raging hormones, a mating dance to see who will sleep with whom," Winter said. "To make it interesting they add one more guy or girl to the mix."
What followed was a pixilated sexual act. Shocked, Winter grabbed the remote and changed the channel.
“I am thinking, ‘Holy Cow!’ That was the first time I really thought, 'What kind of message does a show like this give to girls?' If you want the boy to like you, this is how you behave," Winter said. "If you are a boy, you are being taught that this is how I should be treated.
"It really shook me.”
That troublesome moment changed the course of Winter’s career. Days later he heard about PTC and learned the organization was looking for an executive director. He applied and got the job. Four years later, he became the president.
“Every aspect of my career has helped me to have some insight into our programs at the PTC,” he said. “It also allows us to have insight in terms of knowing where our economic leverage is, where we can push back against an industry worth billions when we have a rounding error of a fraction compared to them budget wise.”
According to PTC research studies, profane language is used once every six minutes on network TV shows, once every two minutes on cable shows and once every three minutes in major motion pictures.
By the end of elementary school, children witness 8,000 murders and more than 100,000 other violent acts on television. By age 18, they will have witnessed 16,000 murders and 200,000 violent acts on television.
Three out of four family hour shows on the four major networks contain some sexual content.
Nationally, 80 percent of all Americans (including parents and childless adults) believe there is too much sex, violence and profanity on television and agree it is having a negative impact on kids.
But the biggest challenge for the PTC is that their opponents control the airwaves, Winter said. With billions at stake, the PTC president says the television industry knows how to protect their investment, control the message, give heavy campaign contributions and have brilliant, highly paid legal representation.
So what can the Parents Television Council honestly do against the overwhelming weight and force of the wealthy and powerful entertainment industry?
“What I can counter them with is the voices of Americans," Winter said. "For a congressman, the only thing better than a campaign check is a happy voter. That’s why we get the attention on Capitol Hill that we do get.”
With more than a million members and counting, PTC is starting to develop some traction on the road to success.
Aside from helping parents and families to be informed, PTC has organized a grass roots campaign through its 53 chapters across the country to notify advertisers when they are sponsoring distasteful programming.
In its newsletter, PTC recently encouraged supporters to contact Burger King and urge them to suspend advertising support for the CBS show (Bleep) My Dad Says. Similar action was taken against what PTC called Comedy Centrals raunchy, racist roast of David Hasselhoff and the MTV show Skins.
We have succeeded in pulling every major sponsor off (Skins), Winter said.
The PTC also succeeded in passing a law in California that prohibits the sale of adult video games to children without adult supervision. As soon as the bill was signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the video game industry filed a lawsuit. The case was reviewed by the Supreme Court last November and a ruling could come any day.
“We are not saying the kid can’t have it, we just want the parent to be involved with the purchase,” Winter said.
Brian Urie, PTC Salt Lake City chapter director, became involved when he saw something offensive on TV and wanted to contact the network to complain, but found it almost impossible. In the process he discovered PTC.
The father of three has enjoyed participating in the cause. He oversees almost 300 members in the Salt Lake area, has written letters to legislators and articles for newspapers in Ogden and Salt Lake City, and has complained to advertisers about sponsoring nasty shows.
“I am concerned about our children and the world they grow up in," Urie said. "PTC gives me a louder voice."
For more information on PTC, visit www.parentstv.org.
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