Fox’s ‘Family Guy’ raking in the indecency complaints

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If you think Santa Claus gets a lot of mail, that’s nothing compared to the Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau, the part of the regulatory agency that handles indecency complaints.

Tim Doyle, a reporter for industry consulting firm SNL Kagan, went to the trouble of filing a Freedom of Information Act to get a little information about just how many complaints the FCC is sifting through and what shows are the biggest offenders.


Before we get to what shows are getting the most complaints, let’s look at the backlog of indecency complaints at the FCC. Doyle reports here that at the end of last year the FCC had a walloping 1.45 million pending complaints and 12,049 open cases.

The program that is keeping the FCC most busy is Fox’s animated sitcom ‘Family Guy.’ A March 2009 episode alone generated almost 200,000 complaints, according to Doyle’s arithmetic. I missed that episode, but Doyle’s story on it said the show included a plot line involving horse semen. We don’t know if that was the one that got the show an Emmy nomination or not, but either way the folks at ‘Family Guy’ probably don’t have a lot of friends in Fox’s Washington, D.C., office at the moment.

Usually, if a show generates that many complaints odds are it had some help from an advocacy group that got its membership to take part in a mass mailing. We’re not playing connect the dots here, but the first quote in Doyle’s story about the high number of complaints involving ‘Family Guy’ is from Dan Isett, a director of the Parents Television Council, a media watchdog group that is no fan of the show.

But a complaint is a complaint in the eyes of the FCC. The high volume around ‘Family Guy’ could become a big headache for the network if the commission were to go after the show. A Fox spokesman said, ‘We take any inquiry seriously and respond to each in an appropriate and timely fashion.’ Of course, the above-mentioned episode of ‘Family Guy’ is not the only one that’s been noticed by the FCC. There are thousands of other complaints about various episodes of the show piled up at the regulatory agency.

There are some other amusing tidbits amid Doyle’s findings, including one that shows the risk of panning the stands of a football game. Fox got almost 150,000 complaints when it showed a fan at a football game wearing a shirt that suggested the Philadelphia Eagles do something to themselves that is probably physically impossible.

And perhaps we can do a little public service here. Folks, the FCC does not regulate content on cable networks, especially premium channels, so stop sending in complaints about HBO’s ‘Big Love.’


-- Joe Flint