Understanding TV’s Past

November 8, 2021

Married couple in different beds from I Love Lucy.

Married couple in different beds from “I Love Lucy”.

When “I Love Lucy” ran between 1951 and 1957, Lucy and her husband Ricky had to sleep in separate beds, as to avoid some sort of scandal.  The show even feared a cancelation when Lucy had a second child, and the term pregnant was forbidden on TV.  Compared to the state of television in the 21st century, the conservative attitude taken toward sex on TV may suprise the new generation that has only ever known a world where sex on TV is commonplace.  Since “I Love Lucy”, sexualization on TV has steadily risen.  

By the 1960’s, TV couples such as Darren and Samantha Stevens in “Bewitched” could share a bed, but not much more. 

 In the 1980s, primetime TV became more provocative with soap operas like “Dallas” and “Falcon Crest, and dramas like “Hill Street Blues” and “NYPD Blue”. 

 By the 1990s, cable channels like HBO, Showtime, and MTV reduced expectations for limitations of sexualization on TV.  Shows like “L.A Law”, “Dawson’s Creek”, and “Without a Trace” repeatedly changed taboo throughout the 90s and 00s.  

From 1998 to 2005 the number of sex scences on TV doubled, reaching 75% of primetime shows by 2005.  While changing TV norms can be mostly attributed to these changes over time, the shift in the tone of TV also heavily contributed.  In the past, TV shows were seen as mass-appealing and crass, compared to the more artistic and boundary-pushing movies.  Over time TV has become more sexualized, and movies have become less, essentially switching roles in media. 

 Movies now try to appeal to a larger family oriented audience and TV takes on movies’ former role as artistic and boundary-pushing.  Recent TV dramas like “Game of Thrones”, “Scandal”, and “The Affair continue the trend of explicit content on TV, continually changing what viewers see acceptable.  Today, sexualization is not only accepted on TV, but expected.

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