Originally published: January 20, 2011
Last updated: January 20, 2011 - 9:13pm
MTV executives have a new hit drama on their hands, featuring the sexual and drug-fueled exploits of misfit teenagers. They also have something else — a fear that coming episodes of the show may break the law.
In recent days, executives at the cable channel became concerned that some scenes from the provocative new show “Skins” may violate federal child pornography statutes. The executives ordered the producers to make changes to tone down some of the most explicit content. They are particularly concerned about the third episode of the series, which is to be broadcast Jan. 31. In an early version, a naked 17-year-old actor is shown from behind as he runs down a street. The actor, Jesse Carere, plays Chris, a high school student whose erection — assisted by erectile dysfunction pills — is a punch line throughout the episode. The planned changes indicate that MTV, which has been pushing the envelope for decades, may be concerned that it pushed too far this time. Child pornography is defined by the United States as any visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. In some cases, “a picture of a naked child may constitute illegal child pornography if it is sufficiently sexually suggestive,” according to the Justice Department’s legal guidance. Anyone younger than 18 is considered to be a minor. The youngest cast member on “Skins” is 15.
“Skins” is an import from Britain, a country that has historically displayed a higher tolerance for TV eroticism than the United States. The episodes for MTV, including the third one, which was shared with TV critics, are virtually identical to the source material. The remade episodes, like the ones in Britain, included simulated masturbation, implied sexual assault, and teenagers disrobing and getting into bed together.
With ads that feature groups of barely clothed teenagers, “Skins” is surely one of the most sexually charged programs that MTV has featured. Before it even had its premiere, the Parents Television Council, a TV watchdog group, labeled “Skins” the “most dangerous program that has ever been foisted on your children.” The group objected to the gratuitous scenes of drug and alcohol use, violence and sexual acts.