Sex On The Tube: Sitcoms Test Boundaries Of all the shows airing during prime time, sitcoms have the most sex talk, according to the Kaiser Foundation. David Crane, a co-creator of Friends, says it's like a badge of honor to come up with clever sex jokes.
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Sex On The Tube: Sitcoms Test Boundaries

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Sex On The Tube: Sitcoms Test Boundaries

Sex On The Tube: Sitcoms Test Boundaries

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris. Now, it's time to talk about sex on TV, specifically on sitcoms on the broadcast networks during the family hour between 8 and 9 p.m.

You might expect to find the most steamy talk on dramas like "Gossip Girl" or "90210," but a couple of new studies have pointed the finger at sitcoms as the hotbed of sex on television.

Now, clearly, there's going to be some racy language in this story, so heads up if you've got some kids in the car, but we assure you that it's been pre-approved according to network standards and practices as appropriate for anyone whose bedtime is 9 p.m. or later.

Here's NPR's Elizabeth Blair.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: In TV comedy lore, taboos are legendary. On "I Love Lucy," they couldn't say the word pregnant. Married couples slept in separate beds. Those days are gone. Let's do a little channel-flipping between 8 and 9 o'clock.

(Soundbite of television program, "The Big Bang Theory")

Mr. KUNAL NAYYAR (Actor): (As Rajesh Koothrappali): Three months at the North Pole with Sheldon, and I'm reborn as a well-hung billionaire with wings.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of television program, "Rules of Engagement")

Mr. DAVID SPADE (Actor): (As Russell) Sure, Tina, I'd love to see your unit, and then I'll return the favor.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of television program, "How I Met Your Mother")

Ms. FRANCES CONROY (Actor): (As Loretta Stinson) I wasn't always the best mother when I was younger.

Mr. JASON SEGEL (Actor): (As Marshall Eriksen) Oh, don't say that. I'm sure you were great.

Ms. CONROY: (As Loretta Stinson) Yeah, I was a bit of a whore.

Ms. ALYSON HANNIGAN (Actor): (As Lily Aldrin) Excuse me?

Ms. CONROY: (As Loretta Stinson) A whore, dear, a dirty whore.

Mr. ALLAN NEUWIRTH (Author, "They'll Never Put That On The Air"): People are saying things on television that they never used to say before.

BLAIR: Allan Neuwirth is a longtime TV writer and author of the book "They'll Never Put That On The Air."

Mr. NEUWIRTH: They want the viewers. They're losing viewers to cable, and anything they can do to grab people...

BLAIR: Of all the shows airing during primetime, sitcoms have the most sex talk. Turns out the Kaiser Foundation studies this stuff, and that's what they found. But the networks do still have people who review scripts for indecency or anything else that might cause them trouble with the FCC. It's called Standards and Practices. Carter Bays is co-creator of the CBS sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," which airs at 8:30 p.m.

Mr. CARTER BAYS (Co-creator, "How I Met Your Mother"): We have a lovely standards and practices woman, Suzie, who, every week we have the same conversation, it seems like, where we'll try to slip something by her, and she'll - there'll be some dirty-sounding term. She'll look it up on, and she'll bust us on it, and it won't fly.

BLAIR: But Suzie must be pretty lenient. "How I Met Your Mother" is about a group of friends in their early 30s, and you can always count on the character Barney for a steady stream of sex jokes.

(Soundbite of television program, "How I Met Your Mother")

Mr. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS (Actor): (As Barney Stinson) Give it a week, you'll get her back, and her front.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman (Actor): (As character) Forty-five.

Mr. HARRIS: (As Barney) Number of minutes it would take me to get you into a cab, out of your dress, and into my Jacuzzi.

Unidentified Woman: (As character) And the super big ball is…

Mr. HARRIS: (As Barney) What happens after we get out of the Jacuzzi. What up.

BLAIR: Sitcoms have always been riddled with innuendo and double entendres, but these days, it seems like writers have obliterated the boundaries in every timeslot. David Crane, one of the co-creators of "Friends," says it's like a badge of honor to come up with a clever sex joke. Take the one where Monica and Rachel teach Chandler how to please a woman.

Mr. DAVID CRANE (Co-creator, "Friends"): Monica draws a picture of a woman and assigns numbers to different parts of her body.

(Soundbite of television program, "Friends")

Ms. COURTENEY COX (Actor): (As Monica Geller) Now, everybody knows the basic erogenous zones. You've got one, two, three, four, five, six and seven.

Mr. MATTHEW PERRY (Actor): (As Chandler Bing) There are seven?

Mr. CRANE: And then, the scene is just Monica going: Start with one, then two, then three, then back to one and...

(Soundbite of television program, "Friends")

Ms. COX: (As Monica) Two, four, seven, five, seven, six, seven,

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRANE: And it was probably among the dirtiest things we've ever done, but it's just numbers.

BLAIR: And this was a show that was on TV at 8 o'clock.

Mr. CRANE: And the rules change. During the course of the 10 years that we did Friends, the boundaries shifted and then shifted back.

BLAIR: A good sitcom writer, says Carter Bays, should play with the rules and the language.

Mr. BAYS: The stuff that comes out of our writers' room is far worse than anything you see on the shows.

BLAIR: But to check himself, Carter Bays thinks about what his mom, an ordained minister, would think. He says she doesn't hesitate to give him feedback about the show.

Mr. BAYS: She'll never call me on something being too dirty or too explicit. It's more she'll call me on something not being funny, and that's much more embarrassing.

BLAIR: Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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