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'Gossip Girl' threesome: do parents really have reason to worry?

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Tantalizing promos that tease a possible sexual threesome during the Nov. 9 episode of Gossip Girl may have ticked off the Parents Television Council but it seems unlikely the CW will give the advocacy group anything to complain about to the FCC. Though the CW wouldn’t comment on next week’s episode, those familiar with the network’s standards and practices procedures say the infamous Without a Trace teen orgy scene on CBS had a big impact on how the CW depicts sexual intercourse between teen characters, especially on Gossip Girl.

In 2006, the FCC fined 111 CBS affiliates a record $3.6 million for airing what it viewed was an indecent depiction of teenage sex in December 2004. The scene, which CBS said appeared in the final half-hour of primetime and offered a socially relevant storyline for parents, involved teenage boys and girls engaged in a bacchanal. Since then, the CW has attempted to refrain from showing any sexual act between two characters if they are not over the age 18. In simpler terms: there’s always lots of talk but zero visuals. So even if most of the lead characters on Gossip Girl are out of high school, it’s likely the show will play it safe. “They’ll infer stuff but not get real explicit,” according to an industry observer with key knowledge of the CW’s standards. “I’d be surprised if there’s anything real explicit in the Gossip Girl episode.”

As for advertisers, there’s always the chance that action taken by the Parents Television Council could prevent some companies from airing commercials during shows like Gossip Girl. But the broadcast networks — unlike most, if not all, of the cable nets — allow their clients to screen any episode that may be deemed inappropriate before they buy the commercial time. That’s what happened when Microsoft decided to pull its sponsorship of “Family Guy Presents: Seth and Alex’s Almost Live Comedy Show” that will air Nov. 8 on Fox; representatives of the company actually attended the show’s taping and saw what was in store. Even then, Microsoft’s decision seemed odd when Family Guy has a long and well-documented history of pushing the envelope (the show, no surprise, has been targeted by the Parents Television Council, as well). The special has since lured a new sponsor: Warner Bros’ upcoming movie Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr.