Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Scrubs – storyline involving a patient who had taken erectile dysfunction pills – allegedly in breach of children’s interests standard
Standard 9 (children’s interests) – storyline was handled in a discreet and inexplicit manner – acceptable within PGR programme – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An episode of Scrubs, a comedy programme following the lives of staff at a fictional hospital, was broadcast on TV2 at 8pm on Wednesday 21 May 2008. One of three storylines in the episode followed a doctor, Elliot, as she treated a man who had a persistent erection after taking erectile dysfunction pills.
 The storyline was introduced when Elliot addressed a patient in the waiting room, asking “what seems to be the problem?” The man said he had taken some pills and Elliot asked for clarification of the type of pills. He replied “man pills” and said that “the commercial says I should consult a physician if the condition persists for more than four hours”. Elliot looked confused and said, “If what persists?” To explain, the patient stood up and a side-on shot showed a cap hanging over his clothed groin area. Elliot then understood his problem and replied “let’s just say you took ‘uppers’”. Another doctor later in the episode referred to the pills as “Mr Happy pills”.
 Throughout the episode, the staff at the hospital joked about the patient’s condition. One doctor, laughing, exclaimed, “that man is a human sun dial!”, and Elliot told him off for “making fun of that man’s slinky-doo”. The doctors then suggested scheduling a procedure to relieve the man’s “woodiness”. The patient proceeded to tell them about meeting his fiancé’s grandmother who had given him a “waist hug” from her wheelchair, and how he had “pulled away from that encounter with all of Grandma Ellen’s breathing apparatus”.
 David Garmonsway made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme breached the children’s interests standard. He considered that the storyline involving “the problem of an unwanted erection that would not subside” was “absolutely not appropriate for children who are likely to be watching at this time considering it is before 8.30pm”.
 Standard 9 and guideline 9a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of the complaint. These provide:
Standard 9 Children’s Interests
During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.
Broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme or promo may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm – and avoid screening material which would disturb or alarm them.
 TVNZ noted that the episode was rated PGR, and that the PGR classification says:
Programmes containing material more suited for mature audiences but not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a parent or adult.
 Further, the episode was restricted to an 8pm time slot to ensure that it was not scheduled in younger audience viewing times, the broadcaster said.
 TVNZ argued that the introduction of the storyline in the waiting room scene was “done in a way that would go over the heads of child viewers”; the storyline was presented in a way that children would not necessarily have understood what it was about. It emphasised that “at no time was an erection visible on-screen, every shot of the character’s lower body showed a cap placed over his clothed groin area”. Verbal references in the programme to the patient’s condition were inexplicit and made in a humorous way that regular viewers of the series would have been familiar with, the broadcaster said, including the reference to the patient as a “human sundial”, the reference to his “slinky-doo”, a doctor speaking of his “woodiness”, and the reference to erectile dysfunction drugs as “happy pills”.
 The broadcaster maintained that sexual innuendo was commonly employed by this comedy series and that it was acceptable within a PGR programme. It did not consider that anything in the episode would have disturbed or alarmed child viewers. TVNZ concluded that it had sufficiently considered the interests of child viewers and declined to uphold the complaint.
 Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Garmonsway referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 Mr Garmonsway considered that TVNZ’s argument that the programme was restricted to an 8pm timeslot so that it was not broadcast in “younger audience time slots” was inconsistent with guideline 9a which says that children’s normally accepted viewing times run until 8.30pm.
 With regard to the broadcaster’s argument that children would “not necessarily” have understood the storyline in Scrubs, the complainant argued that by using the word “necessarily”, TVNZ had implied that some children would have understood. For those who did not, the references in the programme to the patient’s erection could have prompted children to ask someone to explain. Mr Garmonsway said that he had been forced to explain to his children “something that we would have preferred to leave for a later and more appropriate time”.
 The complainant took issue with TVNZ’s argument that the verbal references were inexplicit and humorous and would have been familiar to regular viewers. He argued that the fact they might be familiar did not make them acceptable. They were not appropriate for use in what was normally accepted as children’s viewing times, and again prompted children to ask for explanations, Mr Garmonsway said.
 The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
 Standard 9 requires broadcasters, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers. This includes being mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times, which are usually up to 8.30pm (guideline 9a). This episode of Scrubs was rated PGR and screened at 8pm. The PGR classification in Appendix 1 of the Free-to-Air code is defined as follows:
PGR – Parental Guidance Recommended
Programmes containing material more suited for mature audiences but not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a parent or an adult.
PGR programmes may be screened between 9am and 4pm, and after 7pm until 6am.
 The Authority notes that the storyline complained about by Mr Garmonsway, involving Elliot and a patient who had taken erectile dysfunction pills, was one of three storylines in the 21 May episode of Scrubs. The other two followed one couple experiencing marriage difficulties, and another couple in disagreement about how to raise their young son.
 In the Authority’s view, these were all suitable for a mature audience, who would have understood the underlying humour, and not necessarily unsuitable for children when supervised by an adult. The Authority agrees with TVNZ that the storyline involving Elliot was handled in a discreet and inexplicit manner which would likely have gone over the heads of younger child viewers. It considers that the humour was good-natured and inoffensive, and although the subject matter could be said to be inherently sexual, the jokes were oblique enough to make them suitable for a younger audience.
 The episode did not contain any material that was likely to disturb or alarm children, or anything that warranted an Adults Only classification or a screening time after the AO watershed at 8.30pm. Therefore, the Authority considers that Scrubs was classified appropriately and screened during the appropriate time-band.
 Accordingly, the Authority is satisfied that the broadcaster sufficiently considered the interests of child viewers in classifying Scrubs as PGR and screening it at 8pm. It declines to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
18 September 2008
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. David Garmonsway’s formal complaint – 21 May 2008
2. TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 18 June 2008
3. Mr Garmonsway’s referral to the Authority – 27 June 2008
4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 11 July 2008