'Stalker': PTC Gave a Two-Minute Warning to CBS 'Torture Porn' Drama

'Stalker': PTC Gave a Two-Minute Warning to CBS 'Torture Porn' Drama

CBS premiered the drama Stalker, which focuses on an LAPD unit that deals with crimes such as stalking, on Wednesday, Oct. 1, on the heels of a stern warning from the Parents Television Council (PTC) about its opening sequence. 

The PTC bolstered its point by citing a review of the show at the entertainment Website The Wrap, entitled “CBS Drama Does Not Hate Women, It Loves Torture.”

Specifically, the PTC was concerned about the first two minutes of the premiere, in which a masked man inflicts maximum pain and terror on his female victim–depicted in a horrifyingly graphic manner usually only seen on pay-cable TV–before killing her.

In a statement, PTC President Tim Winter said, “Tonight, CBS and 200 of its affiliated stations around the nation will use the public airwaves ostensibly for ‘torture porn.’ How does that serve the public interest, as mandated by every broadcast license issued to CBS stations by the FCC? It doesn’t.”

Seeming to be of the same mind as the PTC in terms of the show’s opening segment, The Wrap review said, “the attack is so realistic and gruesome that it feels like the show’s writer and executive producer, Kevin Williamso, is reveling in the brutality.”

Later on, writer Mekeisha Madden Toby states (without explaining why) that Williamson “doesn’t appear to hate women”–while admitting that some call Stalker “misogynistic”–but writes, “this show gives the impression that he simply loves seeing people, particularly women, victimized.”

The PTC objected that Stalker, which stars Maggie Q and Dylan McDermott, has a TV-14 rating (meaning that it’s appropriate for ages 14 and up), rather than TV-MA (Mature Adults). The group was also concerned–especially in light of the current debate over domestic abuse–about the violence against women in the show, and in a number of other crime dramas.

Women (followed by children of both sexes) are frequent targets of crime-drama killers, especially ritual serial killers, and a large percentage of the female victims are also attractive and scantily clad. This was seen most recently in the Friday, Sept 26, episode of CBS’ Hawaii Five-O, in which an armed drone mowed down scads of bikini-clad young women (along with, in the interests of equality, one supposes, a bunch of young men in swim trunks).

This sort of thing happens so frequently on crime shows that, if TV logic applied in the real world, wearing baggy jeans and a bulky sweater would render a woman nearly impervious to attack.

Although its forensic-science CSI franchise and FBI-profiler drama Criminal Minds also feature gruesome murders, CBS is hardly alone in this. For example, NBC’s serial-killer melodrama Hannibal (which caused a similar furor when it came out in April 2013), and FX’s fantasy anthology American Horror Story and biker drama Sons of Anarchy, have made a kind of cottage industry of finding imaginative and increasingly gruesome ways to murder people, especially, but not exclusively, women.

But this week’s flap wasn’t the first time that executive producer Kevin Williamson’s (The Following, Scream, Dawson’s Creek) show about the LAPD Threat Assessment Unit caused an issue. This past summer, long before the show premiered, Williamson clashed with TV critics over Stalker.

On July 17, at a press conference for the show during the summer edition of the biannual Television Critics Association (TCA) Press Tour in Beverly Hills, California, a reporter asked Williamson about a statement he made about Stalker’s opening sequence, “which you said was included specifically to get picked up.”

Williamson replied, “I say that with a little bit of a joking wink, but I did want to flash the opening, and we went big.”

The reporter then asked Williamson about balancing an honest depiction of stalking realities with the desire to entertain. Williamson referred to his show as “scary,” “eerie,” “creepy” and also “fun, thrilling” and “informative.”

The reporter then challenged Williamson about why fans would want to spend time in the heads of people like stalkers, and asked, “Why is this interesting? Why is this fun and entertaining?”

Williamson replied, “Turn the channel.”

As reported by Buzzfeed, Williamson then got into a Twitter war, that day and the next, with a couple of other reporters who didn’t care for his show–and criticized it on Twitter during the TCA session–which eventually devolved into name-calling (“idiot,” “moron”) on Williamson’s part.

Williamson wound up backing off, tweeting, “I can’t even wage a twitter war. I’m a loser,” and “I like puppies and daffodils.”

Referring to the creator of Sons of Anarchy, known for his epic and profane online battles with critics and bloggers, another reporter tweeted, “Kurt Sutter looks over at Kevin Williamson’s timeline and mutters to himself, ‘Amateur.'”

Under pressure from no-holds-barred pay-cable and Netflix, broadcast networks and basic cable, rather than concentrating on creating shows that offer an alternative to the dark, sexually explicit fare found on these outlets, is edging to, and sometimes crossing, established lines of broadcast standards.

Some producers and executives seem to have concluded there’s no way to hold a drama audience except by even more shocking deaths, dismemberments, and destruction–as if the news wasn’t providing real examples of barbarism every day.

Also, while commentators and critics simultaneously decry and exploit the supposed flood of off-the-field violence and lawlessness in the NFL–in which players are generally no more likely, and in some cases, less likely, to be arrested for certain crimes than the general public–some producers of scripted drama are actively choosing to create and expertly depict heinous and brutal acts of violence, mostly against women, in the name of entertainment.

So, are Stalker and shows like it “torture porn”?

One definition of pornography in the Oxford dictionary is, “Television programs, magazines, books, etc., that are regarded as emphasizing the sensuous or sensational aspects of a nonsexual subject and stimulating a compulsive interest in their audience.”

Sounds dead on, but the audience still has to ask itself why, in a world where real beheadings can be seen on YouTube, sensational fake brutality is still so appealing–because if nobody was watching, nobody would produce it.

.