Conservatives blast MTV over racy teen drama `Skins'

(RNS) It happened at the 37-minute mark.

One of the main characters on the new hit MTV show "Skins," Chris
(played by 17-year-old Jesse Carere), walked down the street naked,
baring his rear for millions of the show's viewers during Monday (Jan.
31) night's episode, the third of the season.

Like its U.K. predecessor, currently airing its fifth season on the
British station E4, MTV's "Skins" is no stranger to controversy.

The racy content of the show has prompted the Parents Television
Council to label it "the most dangerous program ever" for children,
caused major advertisers to pull out, and left the show's British
creator wondering what all the fuss is about.

In the three episodes that have aired so far, "Skins" has featured
teenagers doing all the things parents worry about their teenagers
doing. They drink, smoke cigarettes and pot, pop pills, have sex, get
naked and regularly employ colorful language.

But to co-creator Bryan Elsley, the show is about teenagers, from
the point of view of teenagers. The episodes are crafted by writers in
their early 20s, and teenage consultants come in to make sure that slang
and language are true-to-life.
"`Skins' is a very simple and in fact rather old fashioned television
series," Elsley, wrote on "It's about the lives and loves of
teenagers, how they get through high school, how they deal with their
friends, and also how they circumnavigate some of the complications of
sex, relationships, educations, parents, drugs and alcohol."

It's one thing to suspect that teens are doing those things, but --
if the reaction to the American show is any indication -- it's another
thing entirely to watch 17-year-old actors gleefully popping pills and
stripping off their clothing on a popular cable channel. The U.S.
version is actually toned down compared to the British series, and
features less nudity and bleeped-out cursing.

Still, it wasn't toned down enough for some, and the response was

After the first episode aired to 3.3 million viewers three weeks
ago, General Motors announced that its ads had run during the show
accidentally, and it would no longer be supporting "Skins." Taco Bell
said it was withdrawing as sponsor, followed in the next two days by
five other corporations, including Subway, Foot Locker and L'Oreal.

"We advertise on a variety of MTV programs that reach our core
demographic of 18- to 34-year-olds, which included the premiere episode
of `Skins.' Upon further review, we've decided that the show is not a
fit for our brand and have moved our advertising to other MTV
programming," said Rob Poetsch, a spokesman for Taco Bell.

Many of the concerns came from the PTC, a conservative Los
Angeles-based watchdog group that monitors TV shows marketed to children
and teens. The group wants to see advertisers held accountable for their
choices, said PTC spokeswoman Melissa Henson.

"We were pleased with the quick response of many of the brands,"
Henson said.

Though the PTC did not call for a traditional boycott, the
organization often screens episodes of controversial shows for
advertisers to "show them what their sponsorship dollars are paying
for," she said.

The main issue with "Skins," Henson said, is that it glamorizes the
bad behavior of a few teens instead of realistically portraying the more
responsible actions of the majority of the demographic.

"It's possible to deal with the realistic issues facing teens in a
real way, and I don't think that was done here," Henson said, though she
was not able to name a current show doing a better job. "What they show
reduces teenage behavior to a narcissistic quest for sex and drugs, and
I think there's more to teens than that."

For his part, Elsley said many of the characters can be moral in a
way often overlooked by critics. For example, he said, in the first
episode of the U.K. version, dorky Sid sets out to lose his virginity to
the more experienced Cassie, but ultimately changes his mind when he
realizes he's not ready.

"I have lost count of the letters we have been sent by viewers who
tell us that they have been able to approach their parents or teachers
with their difficulties after watching the show," Elsley wrote on "It is something that we take a great deal of pride in and
which can unfortunately be eclipsed by some of the negative attention."

Aliza Appelbaum

Aliza Appelbaum writes for the Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.

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