St. Petersburg physician Maura Buete arrived at her Tierra Verde home after a meeting Monday night and wasn't surprised to see the TV on Nickelodeon since she lets her four kids, ages 11 and under, watch SpongeBob Squarepants as a reward before bed. When the sponge went off, the network's new show, Glenn Martin, DDS, came on at 8 p.m.
Buete snapped to attention when she heard, "Makeup sex is the best," coming from the living room and she turned around to see her 11-year-old watching two cartoon characters in bed together, the female character unbuttoning her blouse, and the male lying on top of her.
"This was at 8:20 p.m.!" Buete said. After shutting off the TV, she checked out clips of the show online and found more problems with it, like a gag about a car's GPS navigator using a sexy voice and innuendos to direct the driver to "Moorehead, Minnesota," and "Climax, Florida."
"It would be one thing if it were on at 11 at night or was on a more adult network, but Nick targets kids," Buete said. For the first time in her life, she sent out angry letters to a network.
She's not the only one. The animated show about a traveling dentist and his dysfunctional family has the message boards on Nick.com filled with comments from furious parents. They're upset that the normally reliable family network is bringing adult swim-type programming into the kiddie pool.
And it's not just the raunchy humor. The violence has been called out as extreme, such as when a circus knife landed in a performer's eye, with blood pouring from the wound.
Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group that monitors media's impact on families, gave this show an "iffy at best" rating for young kids.
Its review notes:
"Parents need to know that, even though Nickelodeon is touting this animated series as 'a new twist on the classic family sitcom that tweens and their parents can both enjoy,' it's pretty iffy viewing for kids. For one thing, it's a little cheeky when it comes to sexual references (a scene shows a character watching porn while he's babysitting an infant, for example — although no sensitive body parts are shown)."
Though it premiered with mixed reviews in August, the show has been a ratings hit.
With a voice cast led by Kevin Nealon, Catherine O'Hara and Judy Greer, Glenn Martin ranked as Nick at Nite's No. 1 offering in the third quarter of 2009, averaging 2.1 million viewers per week, prompting the network to pick up a 20-episode second season.
The stop-motion series has a rich pedigree. It's the first television show produced by ex-Disney chief executive Michael Eisner's Tornante Animation. Eric Fogel (Celebrity Deathmatch) is the executive producer overseeing animation, while Sivert Glarum and Michael Jamin (King of the Hill) are exec producer-show runners.
David Bittler, a spokesman for Nickelodeon, said complaints about the show have been minimal and there are no plans to move it from the 8 p.m. time slot.
"The show is averaging almost 2 million viewers, so it is getting a fairly sizable audience," Bittler said. "It is a sitcom and part of the Nick at Night lineup, so it's not the common children's fare."
Nickelodeon is famous for its intense research and focus groups, so how could it not know parents of SpongeBob fans wouldn't feel duped by a show advertised during the day and airing in some markets as early as 7 p.m.?
"There's certainly no ploy for publicity. This is a funny show for the Nick at Nite audience … which is 18 to 49," Bittler said.
Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon, told the New York Times in July that the line between Nick at Nite and the younger Nickelodeon audience — which occupy the same channel but are rated and sold as separate entities — would "start to be a little blurrier," and the Nick at Nite programming was pushed back an hour to 8 p.m.
That blurry line is becoming all too clear to mom Buete. "They don't need to take it off the air, but can they push it back a little later at night or at least give us better warnings."
Sharon Kennedy Wynne can be reached at (727) 893-8595 or firstname.lastname@example.org.