MTV Feels the Heat Over New, Racy Teen Drama 'Skins'

RELATED: CEO of 'Skins' Production Group In U.S. Talking Expansion

Controversy is engulfing MTV's highly touted new show Skins, which drew 3.2 million viewers in its debut on Monday.

The show has been accused of possibly being child pornography, one advertiser --Taco Bell -- has pulled its ads from the show, and the Parents Television Council, which has hated the show from the beginning, is stepping up its efforts, calling for an advertiser boycott and a federal investigation.

MTV's Skins is a remake of a popular British series about a group of teens and their activities involving sex and drugs.

MTV's version, according to critics who saw both, is tamer than the British version, but was still given an TV-MA rating and airs only after 10 p.m. Nevertheless, it was the second most-viewed show on cable TV among teens aged 12 to 17, according to The Nielsen Co.

After the show aired, the PTC targeted Taco Bell for a boycott because it had two ads in the program. Taco Bell said today it was pulling its ads from the series, with a spokesman telling the Hollywood Reporter, "Upon further review, we've decided that the show is not a fit for our brand and have moved our advertising to other MTV programming."

MTV had no comment on Taco Bell's decision, but it drew praise from the PTC. "I think it's a great decision business wise for them," said Dan Isett, director of public policy. "Historically for us, Yum Brands has been a very problematic advertiser, but we're glad that they made a good decision in this case."

The group had no plans to call for boycotts of other advertisers on Skins, he said.

In response to a story in Thursday's New York Times that said that executives at MTV and its parent Viacom were concerned that scenes from the racy show might violate child pornography laws, the PTC sent a letter urging the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to investigate the program.

"Since many of the actors appearing in the show are below the age of 18, it is clear that Viacom has knowingly produced material that may well be in violation of any or all of the [several] federal statutes," the letter said.

"We urge you in the strongest possible terms to compel the Attorney General to mount an investigation by the Department of Justice into whether the production of Skins has violated federal law meant to protect minors from exploitation," the letter added.

The PTC's Isett noted that "under that statute, the material need not be broadcast in order to be actionable. Just possessing material like that is illegal."

He declined to say whether the group would want MTV executives and the show's producer jailed, or if getting the show off the air would suffice. First, he said, "there needs to be a determination about whether or not the law has been broken."

In a statement, MTV said that, "Skins is a show that addresses real-world issues confronting teens in a frank way. We review all of our shows and work with all of our producers on an ongoing basis to ensure our shows comply with laws and community standards."

The statement added, "We are confident that the episodes of Skins will not only comply with all applicable legal requirements, but also with our responsibilities to our viewers. We also have taken numerous steps to alert viewers to the strong subject matter so that they can choose for themselves whether it is appropriate."

The PTC has often objected to shows on MTV, but says this show might be the most objectionable one of all.

"It's one of the most graphic and we've called it dangerous shows that we've ever seen," Isett said. " Not just the content of the show, although that's frankly beyond the pale, but the way it's been marketed and been marketed to teenagers is really particularly disturbing."

Isett said he's hoping that MTV will make a good decision about the future of Skins.

"It is universally agreed that this show lowered the bar even for MTV. And anybody who's familiar with that content knows that that's really saying something, being the worst show ever on MTV," he said.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.