Parents Television Council writes letter criticizing threesome storyline on 'Gossip Girl'

TheWrap has obtained a letter from The Parents Television Council criticizing CW affiliates who plan to air a Nov. 9 episode of Gossip Girl featuring a threesome. TheWrap says the letter claims the stations will be “complicit in establishing a precedent and expectation that teenagers should engage in behaviors heretofore associated primarily with adult films.” The author of the letter, PTC chief Tim Winter, also claims that affiliates have the right to preempt the programming. The CW has no comment.

Update: The Parents Television Council has sent EW the letter in full. See it printed after the jump.

November 2, 2009

Dear [Name]:

By now you must be aware of reports in Entertainment Weekly and elsewhere that the November 9th episode of the teen-targeted drama Gossip Girl will feature major characters in a sexual threesome.

To include a story line like this on a program that is expressly targeted to impressionable teenagers is reckless and irresponsible.  I appeal to your highest sense of decency, respect and common sense in urging you to preempt this episode.

Television is profoundly influential in the lives of children, especially when it comes to sexual decision making – it has even been described by one researcher as a “sexual super-peer” – signifying television’s power to amplify, many times over, the peer-pressure teens are already feeling to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors.

When television portrays attractive, popular teenage characters as sexually active, it sends a powerful message to young viewers that they, too, should be sexually active and in fact, there might be something wrong with them if they aren’t.

Teens are aware that television influences their behavior.  According to one survey, a third of youths 12 and older say the media encourages them to have sex by making it seem like “everybody does it.”

At least half a dozen studies in the past few years have documented a strong correlation between exposure to adult media content in childhood and early onset of sexual activity among teens.  Viewing of sexual media content has even been found to be predictive of teen pregnancy.

As one researcher who has seen these effects first-hand observed, “Children have neither the life experience nor the brain development to fully differentiate between a reality they are moving toward and a fiction meant solely to entertain.  Children learn from media, and when they watch media with sexual references and innuendos, our research suggests they are more likely to engage in sexual activity earlier in life.”

Gossip Girl routinely depicts teenage characters engaging in promiscuous and consequence-free sexual behavior, and that’s bad enough.  But will you now be complicit in establishing a precedent and expectation that teenagers should engage in behaviors heretofore associated primarily with adult films?  Behaviors that not only increase health risks, but which are emotionally and psychologically damaging to participants, as well?   I certainly hope not, and I’m sure members of your community and parents of children who watch your network expect more of you.

May I also remind you that it is the affiliate, not the CW network, that will bear the financial burden of an FCC fine should any of the content of the November 9th episode be found to violate broadcast decency laws.

Finally, you must ask yourself, how does airing this program serve your obligation to serve the public interest?

In a declaratory ruling last year, the FCC affirmed affiliates’ ability to pre-empt any network programming that is “unsatisfactory or unsuitable or contrary to the public interest.” The record on this is clear: contracts between networks and their affiliates may not legally prevent preemption of programming that does not meet LOCAL COMMUNITY standards.  As a station manager you not only have a right, but an obligation to preempt programs like Gossip Girl that fail to meet that standard.

Please be advised that the PTC will monitor this episode very closely.  Our members will not hesitate to contact local and national advertisers; and if this program violates broadcast decency law, rest assured that our members will contact the Federal Communications Commission.


Timothy F. Winter,
Parents Television Council


Comments (176 total) Add your comment
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  • likeme

    shut up! don’t judge anything before you see it. if you have no control what your kids watch don’t be a parent

    • Nick T

      The funny thing is, the producers at GG are probably loving this. Can anyone say: Free Publicity?!

      • Luis

        Gossip Girl has already use the PTC’s criticism of the show to their advantage. They used the PTC’s description, “Mind Blowingly Inappropriate” in their billboards. As a fan of the show, I say keep the publicity coming!

      • i know art

        Seriously… the show regularly shows teenagers drinking in bars, stoned, having sex with prostitutes, being prostitutes, having sex with teachers, and the uncle of your boyfriend… but a threesome makes the PTC clutch their pearls? SUDDENLY the show has crossed a line? I think it’s pretty standard, if not a bit sensational. Let’s wait and see what actually happens.

    • ernie

      The letter has a point though. I love titillating Gossip Girl scenes, but this is going to make kids feel like this is expected, normal behavior for cool young people. Most of us here are adults (I think), but I know 12-year-olds who watch Gossip Girl, bc their parents are too dumb to know it can make a difference.

      • jennifer

        Why must we dictate what is “normal” to our children? Your post assumes that a threesome is an inherently immoral practice. I disagree.

      • stephanie

        I agree with you ernie! It’s not that threesomes are immoral or not, its the consequence free approach that the GG writers give their story lines. It makes for good tv but its not responsible. Then again its the parents responsibility to filter what their kids see not the GG writers.

      • Katja

        Jennifer, whether you think a threesome is immoral or not (personally, I don’t want my kids doing it and I wouldn’t engage in one, but I suppose it works for some people and I don’t think it’s evil), you have to admit that it’s riskier than monogamous sex. More partners always equals more risk, and kids are often thoughtless and reckless enough not to protect themselves. Plus some kids may think it weird, but feel pressured into it because it seems expected of them, same as regular sex. I wish there wasn’t so much teen sex on TV in general. Most teens really aren’t mature enough to handle it well.

      • Rush

        Hi Jennifer. So you think threesomes are normal? Can I have your number? Do you have a cute friend?

      • Chase

        dear Jennifer, and Stephanie, Assuming you are both not fat, i would love to have a 3way with the two of you. Lets live out our gossip girl fantasies!

      • Maddi

        Then they’re probably going to think catfights, back-of-a-limo-sex, jetting to Europe alone to party, regular underage drinking, slipping your friends roofies to loosen them up, and watching someone overdose and not calling 911 are expected, normal behavior for cool young people too. But no one’s complaining about that.

      • Autumn

        Everything on Gossip Girl is inappropriate by conservative right wing standards.
        This show is so far fetched! Everything that the characters do on the show is quite unattainable… they fly around the world, party everywhere, are unquestioned when drinking in bars, hookers, $20 000 poker games… a threesome is actually better than any of that! As long as all involved consent, why not?!? Drugs, hookers… etc are far scarier than a threesome. Parents need to watch their children. I am a mother, and my daughter does not watch the show… but I do!! If she was older… she likely would, older teens already know what threesomes are, and they know how far fetched this show is.

    • Mike

      Thinking that parents have total control over their teenagers is a moronic idea. likeme, parents do the best they can but how are they possibly going to watch the show and then judge if it is good enough for their kids? Some level of decency on “public” television should be maintained.

  • Nerwen Aldarion

    I understand the concern of this storyline, then again I hate Gossip Girl so I’m probably biased. That being said I do not think the media is entirely to blame for high sexual activity in teens. Sure the media could stand to stop promoting unhealthy ideas but parents need to talk to their children. I’m a 19 year old college student that is not sexually active and it is because my parents raised me to understand that sex is not something to be taken lightly. I watch tv shows like Smallville and other teen shows that do show a high content of “bad” behavior but I do not find myself influenced by it because I know what is real and what is not. Blaming the media only goes so far, parents need to take responsibility and talk to their kids!

    • Danny

      Smallville has bad behavior?? Clark waited like 5 years to have sex with Lana. I think Oliver/Green Arrow is the only one who ever gets laid on that show. Smallville is the Parent’s council’s wet dream.

    • Liz

      Correct. Perhaps they should worry about parental influence. Oh wait, why not just blame someone else for their parental failures, that’s so much easier.

      • kristy

        Totally agree.Why don’t you try and parent yor kids instead of letting the TV do it for you. Here’s a thought, if you don’t like what is on the TV turn the Channel! lol

      • anon

        You simply cannot blame parents for not filtering programming. People do not appreciate how hard it has become to be strict as a parent. If you ban a child from watching it during original air time, they will watch it on a repeat, online, on youtube etc. It is impossible to monitor everything your child does, and you do hope that the media would have some base values. Threesomes are not necessarily ‘wrong’ for lack of a better word, but they are something you may come to later in life rather than at teenage years, when one is slightly more mature and completely sure of what one is doing. I agree that it is probably wrong to expose teenagers to this in such a blase manner that is usually depicted on gossip girl. I am a huge fan of the show, but I agree that it should accept that some things are definitely inappropriate for younger audiences.

    • Rush

      How does Superman have sex. Wouldn’t his semen rip Lois Lane’s vagina apart?

    • Kayla

      Nerwen, I agree. My parents raised me the same way. I watch Gossip Girl and I have not thought to myself “oh the 16 year old who looks 25 is having crazy sex. I should definitely do it too.” Parents need to take responsiblity for their kids, not blame TV.

      • Alvaro Pizarro Carranza

        I agree with you Kayla, I am a teenager too. And I mean if your parents teach you and talk to you about that stuff, when you see it on TV it’s not going to affect you or think you should definitely do it. I watch the show and I really like it, but i don’t like alcohol AT ALL or smoking.. but that’s me, because of my parents.
        And you think your precious little children don’t know what a threesome is! COME ON! THEY KNOW A LOT MORE THAN thaT.

      • Shel

        Alvaro Pizarro Carranza – hmmm, is that your real full name? If so, your parents didn’t teach you enough.

    • jordan

      Smallville hardly has any sexual content. This past episode was advertised as portraying a “legendary” moment because Lois and Clark kissed. Meanwhile, Gossip Girl is planning a “legendary” threesome.

  • HLC


    • michka

      Since when television is a children’s keeper on the first place? Parents need to get back to the education of their children, no matter what TV shows or internet broadcast. The young fans of GG also know that the main actors and actresses are for most of them involved in serious relationships and living a decent life. Btw, as far as I know GG, those parents are making a fuss out of nothing because nothing will be clearly shown, just like the “gay kiss”: 2 weeks of buzz for 2 seconds of nothing.

  • Honey

    Um, have these people ever seen ANOTHER episode of gossip girl? It’s hardly surprising that they are having a threesome. It sounds like they are a little late to this sex-drenched party.

    And I would actually be interested in knowing how many teens actually watch this show. Because the only people I know who watch are in their 20s and 30s and wish their teen years had been like that.

    I’m a college professor, and we discussed gossip girl in my freshman class a few weeks ago – only two of the students had ever seen it.

  • Kyle

    It’s not the writers of Gossip Girls responsibility to parent teens. It’s a t.v show, It’s entertainment. If he’s worried about impressionable kids sit down and talk to his kids. People take stuff like this too seriously. And no teen i’ve ever known would think to themselves “i need to participate in a 3-some cuz the kids on Gossip Girl did!”. Teenagers arent as stupid and impressionable as some adults think.

    • niki

      I agree for the most part – and it may be true that most teens woudln’t think that way.. but don’t you think that there’s at least ONE who would? Is it worth airing something like that if there’s a chance that some insecure, impressionable kid will take is seriously? The whole thing is trash, anyway.

      • Zack B

        Insecure teens will always do stupid things. I was one such teen once, and I did dumb things on occasion. Now I’m a fully functional adult capable of recognizing good and bad decisions from a safer distance. Gossip Girl exists to entertain the masses and as one of CWs most popular shows, I’d say it succeeds where something more family friendly might not.

  • GFON

    As much as a parent should have the ability to change the channel, I think this letter rightly points out the influence that a show featuring teenage characters and aimed at a teenage audience can have. If this were a show that was marketed to adults, it would be a different story. It is not; it is marketed directly to youth.

    • chris

      totally agree GFON

    • Amy

      No it isn’t. This show is aimed directly at the most coveted age group of viewers, 18-24 year olds. An 18 year old is a teenager yes, but in our country, an 18 year old is also an adult.

  • Ingrid

    My god, concerned parents really just need to turn off the TV, change the channel, or get a friggin’ v-chip and shut the hell up already!

    Chances are if teens have parents like these, they’re probably already so oppressed and having multiple orgies anyway.

  • Sarah El

    TV or not, teenagers lead very sexually influenced lives because of their hormones. I mean, I myself am a little surprised that there will be a threesome on a teen-designated show, but really, it’s still an unfair claim to make that this threesome will make kids want to go out and have threesomes.

  • Laura K.

    I’ve never seen Gossip Girl–not interested. But I’ve never gotten the impression that it is intended as an accurate representation of the adolescent experience–quite the opposite. It reminds me of nothing so much as Nip/Tuck, another show dedicated to pushing boundaries, sexual or otherwise. But only idiots accuse Nip/Tuck of glorifying plastic surgery and the narcissists who partake of it on the show. If anything, the show is making fun of all those people–I view Gossip Girl in a similar light.
    I also think it’s a good point that this is NOT a show targeted at teens. It’s a show about teens, but its main audience is clearly people in their 20s and 30s.

  • bj

    I am a parent we dont watch gossip girl. But I have taught My oldest what they should watch or not watch and I monitor what they watch. But wife and I have also taught my oldest that he can ask us questions which he has asked and we answered to the best ability we can. I dont need THE PTC telling me how to be a parent. And I wanna know these “studies” I can tell you a study that says the world is flat also that you can see Russia from Alaska

    • ger

      I want a parent like you. Well said!

    • AnnWC

      Amen to what you said about the “studies” they cited. I think the studies are accurate, but as a graduate student in psychology I’m fairly certain that they refer to young children. As in toddlers, maybe young elementary-school students. Very likely NOT teenagers.

      • K8

        BJ, my parents were very much like you, I wish more parents would be like you in cases like these!

    • anna nymous

      Exactly how a parent should be when it comes to their children’s TV viewing. Good job, bj.

  • Mindy

    If parents don’t want their kids watching this, then it is up to parents to make sure their kids aren’t watching. And if their kids do see it, it is up to parents to talk to their kids about their values and what they think is right. Refusing to air it is censorship.

  • Joseph

    Another busybody organization with way too much time on their hands. Change the channel and shut up.

    • stephanie

      LMAO! Word.

  • MSR

    Did somebody miss the part where the characters on Gossip Girl are now…. adults?! Meaning 18 or older. Not teenagers. And if teenagers think they should be having sex because of what they see on television, it’s a lack of parenting that’s the problem.

    • Emma

      Sorry, this may be irrelevant, but fyi, eighteen is still a teenager. Actually, nineteen is too. Just saying…

      • jade

        18 and 19 are qualified as young adult.

    • me

      if the word “teen” is in their age, they are considered “teen”agers

      • Chelsea Stewart

        12-18 is “teenager”, for research purposes. Not that this niggling differentiation is germane to the debate.

        Bottom line: consenting adults.

      • Amy

        Legally, they are considered adults. Someone can put a gun in their hands and send them off to another country to kill someone at 18 but they can’t watch a sexually explicit TV show? Get real.

      • JB

        You are wrong. For all purposes an 18 yr old is considered a young adult. They are leagally able to vote, they are legally able to drive a car and serve in the military. They can hold full time postions in the workforce. That is a young adult. Not a teenager.

        The word “teen” being in their name is just that, a word. It has more to do with the numerical order then being a child. After all the “teenager” part came years after the number itself was brought into existence. Try intelligence for a change instead if idiocy.

        In regard to the topic, GG is not one to aim to teach what is good and what is bad, though this season I’ve seen more moral lessons and consequences then usual(they’re subtle but they’re there). As for the sex itself, the show hasn’t been overly sex drenched in a year. This season has been incredibly tame to the point of annoyance. I do have a feeling that what is going to happen will not be seen fully onscreen and will actually have consequences of regret and shame. This is not going to go down as a happy sex fest. IMO.

        People honestly need to lighten up a bit and turn the channel if you’re turned off. I mean hey, I don’t like all the CSI and Law & Order shows because of the content/violence so guess what?? I don’t watch them!! And I’ll take sex over violence on tv ANY DAY, at least it’s more fun.

  • Caroline W

    I understand the concern, but I don’t agree with it. If you don’t agree with what is shown on the television, DON’T WATCH IT. Television shows don’t parent children, PARENTS do. If they allow their teen to watch the show, they should be ready to defend their moral standards if they don’t match up to the show. To delete the show would be fruitless and a waste of money seeing as writers and actors would have to film another. Bottom line? TV is ENTERTAINMENT. If you don’t want to watch what is on it, turn the channel. Teenagers aren’t stupid. They know what’s right and wrong.

    • concerned parent

      I don’t think you have kids. You really can’t tell a 16 or 17 year old what to watch or prohibit certain shows! I am not a prude and consider myself a very liberal and open person but I agree with the parent council on this!

      • sunny

        A 16 or 17 year old should be able to handle this content. Many many many kids/teens this age have had sex, and all of them usually know about the basics, and a good deal more than that. I think you are just trying to keep your kids sheltered. Good luck when they get to college!

      • Nikki

        I agree sunny must don’t have kids. Yes they will learn on their own but we don’t have to throw it in their faces as if it’s ok. They will learn at their own pace. If a child is not in that type of environment they will not engage in it. So what are we as society doing. We are showing it to them early on and then when they immitate it we get mad but we as society told them it was ok because we show it to them by the shows that’s on tv, children movies always have kissing scenes which make kids aware that kissing is ok and we wonder why lil johnny kissed mary in kindergarten. Why not let them explore on their own because maybe just maybe if it’s not in their faces maybe they won’t experience most of this stuff until they are grown. Maybe just Maybe.

  • Sherry

    Folks with way too much tme on their hands….Bet they have no clue what their own children are doing….

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