PASADENA, Calif. -- Where's George Carlin when we need him?
The late comedian, who famously crafted a monologue about the dirty words you can't utter on television, surely would have something smart-alecky to say about the TV critics media tour. At times, the event, which ends Sunday, has felt like a ponderous course in linguistics, with network executives and TV producers analyzing what language is acceptable in this day of free-falling standards.
ABC entertainment chief Paul Lee, for example, spent a good portion of his news conference responding to questions about why ABC was bold enough to allude to the B-word in the titles of two upcoming shows, but not quite bold enough to say it too loud. "Good Christian Bitches" thus became simply "GCB," and "Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23" became "Don't Trust the B
- in Apartment 23."
"In broadcast television, as it turns out, that isn't a word you want to use in the title," he told media members.
But apparently it's OK to use it in scripted dialogue, which more shows seem to be doing with stunning casualness.
And apparently it's OK to make references to a certain anatomical part, as well. "'Vagina' is not indecent," CBS President Nina Tassler said in response to accusations that the network's sitcoms deliver too many below-the-belt jokes.
Freshman sitcom "2 Broke Girls," in fact, thrives on them. However, co-creator Michael Patrick King is making no apologies. It's 2012, not 1994, he reminded critics during a combative panel session, and he's not about to hold back.
"I think everybody likes a naughty joke," he insisted.
But how far is too far? Where do you draw the line?
"That's the problem. No one really knows what is appropriate," said Chuck Lorre, an executive producer for three CBS comedies. "It's a moving target."
All of this talk, fittingly enough, comes at a time when the Supreme Court is deliberating over whether the government should even bother to regulate curse words on broadcast TV. To our robe-cloaked justices, we say good luck with that.
Meanwhile, on last week's "Modern Family," Cam and Mitchell's beloved toddler, Lily, dropped the F-bomb in an episode called "Little Bo Bleep." The word will be inaudible to the audience, of course, but not to her horrified parents, who are anxious to figure out just where their little potty-mouth picked it up.
It's a storyline that every parent can relate to, insists executive producer Steve Levitan, who said it took some fierce lobbying to get ABC to go along with it.
Carlin undoubtedly would be very amused.