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The TV Parental Guidelines system is a television content rating system that was first proposed on December 19, 1996 by the United States Congress, the television industry and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and went into effect by January 1, 1997 on most major U.S. broadcast and cable networks in response to public concerns of increasingly explicit sexual content, graphic violence and strong profanity in television programs. It was established as a voluntary-participation system, with ratings to be determined by the individually participating broadcast and cable networks.
The ratings are generally applied to most television series, television films and edited broadcast or basic cable versions of theatrically-released films (although premium channels also assign ratings from the TV Parental Guidelines on broadcasts of some films that have been released theatrically or on home video, either if the film was not assigned a rating by the Motion Picture Association of America or if the channel airs the unrated version of the film). It was specifically designed to be used with the V-chip, which was mandated to be built into all television sets manufactured since 2000, but the guidelines themselves have no legal force, and are not used on sports or news programs or during commercial advertisements.
In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the United States Congress called upon the entertainment industry to establish, within one year, a voluntary television rating system to provide parents with advance information on material in television programming that might be unsuitable for their children. This rating system would work in conjunction with the V-chip, a device in television sets that enables parents to block programming they determine to be inappropriate.
On February 29, 1996, all segments of the entertainment industry, led by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), joined together and voluntarily pledged to create such a system. They agreed that the guidelines would be applied by broadcast and cable networks in order to handle the huge amount of programming that must be reviewed—some 2,000 hours a day. The guidelines would be applied episodically to all programming with the exception of news, sports and advertising.
On December 19, 1996, the industry announced the creation of the TV Parental Guidelines, a voluntary system of guidelines providing parents with information to help them make more informed choices about the television programs their children watch. The guidelines were modeled after the MPAA movie ratings. The television industry agreed to insert a ratings icon on-screen at the beginning of all rated programs, and to encode the guidelines for use with the V-chip. The industry also created a Monitoring Board, composed of TV industry experts, to ensure accuracy, uniformity and consistency of the guidelines and to consider any public questions about the guideline applied to a particular program.
In response to calls to provide additional content information in the ratings system, on August 1, 1997, the television industry, in conjunction with representatives of children’s and medical advocacy groups, announced a revised rating system. Under this revised system, television programming would continue to fall into one of the six ratings categories (TV-Y, TV-Y7, TV-G, TV-PG, TV-14 or TV-MA), but content descriptors of D (suggestive dialogue), L (coarse language), S (sexual content), V (violence) and FV (fantasy violence – exclusively for the TV-Y7 category) would be added to the ratings where appropriate.
Further, the proposal stated that the icons and associated content symbols would appear for 15 seconds at the beginning of all rated programming, and that the size of the icons would be increased. The revised guidelines were supported by leading family and child advocacy groups, as well as television broadcasters, cable systems and networks, and television production companies. Finally, the revised proposal called for five representatives of the advocacy community to be added to the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board. On March 12, 1998, the Federal Communications Commission found that the Industry Video Programming Rating System was acceptable, and adopted technical requirements for the V-chip.
This program is designed to be appropriate for all children.
Programs rated TV-Y are designed to be appropriate for children of all ages. The thematic elements portrayed in programs with this rating are specifically designed for a very young audience, including children from ages 2-6. According to the FCC, programs are "not expected to frighten younger children".
This program is designed for children age 7 and above.
Programs rated TV-Y7 are designed for children age 7 and older. The FCC implies that it "may be more appropriate for children who have acquired the developmental skills needed to distinguish between make-believe and reality." The thematic elements portrayed in programs with this rating may include 'comedic violence', or may be frightening or confusing for children under the age of 7.
Programs given the "FV" content descriptor exhibit more 'fantasy violence', and are generally more intense or combative than other programs rated TV-Y7.
Most parents would find this program suitable for all ages.
Programs rated TV-G are generally suitable for all ages. The FCC states that "this rating does not signify a program designed specifically for children, most parents may let younger children watch this program unattended." The thematic elements portrayed in programs with this rating contain little or no violence, no strong language, and little or no sexual dialogue or situations.
This program contains some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age.
Programs rated TV-14 may contain some material that parental guardians may find unsuitable for children under the age of 14. The FCC warns that "Parents are cautioned to exercise some care in monitoring this program and are cautioned against letting children under the age of 14 watch unattended."
This program is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17.
Programs rated TV-MA are usually designed to be viewed by adults. Some content may be unsuitable for children under 17. This rating was originally TV-M in early 1997 but was changed because of a trademark dispute and to remove confusion with the ESRB's "M for Mature" rating for video games. This rating is seldom used by broadcast networks or local television stations due to FCC restrictions on program content, although it is commonly applied to television programs featured on certain cable channels (especially premium services such as HBO and Showtime) for both mainstream and pornographic programs.
Some thematic elements, according to the FCC, "may call for parental guidance and/or the program may contain one or more of the following" sub-ratings, designated with an alphabetic letter:
Up to four content descriptors can be applied alongside an applied rating, depending on the kind of suggestive content featured in a program. The FV descriptor is an exception due to its sole use for TV-Y7 (children's programs), which can have no descriptor other than FV. As the rating increases pertaining to the age, the content matters generally get more intensive. These descriptors allow for 44 possible combinations for all the ratings total. The 'suggestive dialogue' descriptor is used for TV-PG and TV-14 rated programs only, although certain networks may choose the rate their TV-MA programs with the descriptor. The violence descriptor was used for TV-Y7 programs until the creation of the 'FV' descriptor in 1997.
For the first 15 seconds of every rated program lasting a half-hour or less, a large rating icon appears in the upper-left hand corner of the screen, the icon was much smaller in size until June 2005. For every rated program running an hour or longer, a rating appears in the upper-left hand corner of the TV screen at the beginning of each half hour. Starting in June 2005, many networks now display the ratings after every commercial break, in addition to the beginning of the program. Unless a network uses a 16:9 format for its presentation, generally all rating icons appear in the 4:3 safe area of the feed.
Originally, the Franklin Gothic font was used for the TV rating icons, but upon the October 1998 revision of the system to rename the "TV-M" rating to "TV-MA" and the addition of the content descriptors, Helvetica became used as the default typeface for the TV rating icons. Regularly, the Helvetica font is used for rating icons with either white type on a black background, or black type on a white background. The exact appearance of the ratings may vary between broadcasters, as some may re-style the icons to match a particular network's overall presentation style.