Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communications Media

First Advisor

Zachary Stiegler, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Mary Beth Leidman, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

Nurhaya Muchtar, Ph.D.


Primetime television programming is distinctly pervasive, reaching millions of audience members in an instant; consequently, the offensive language broadcast therein -- outside of the safe harbor -- is often reason for governmental regulation and societal concern. Although the Federal Communications Commission's influence extends only to that aired by broadcast television networks, cable programming is not without its restraints, including advertiser and viewer pressures. This dissertation employs a content analysis to examine the frequency with which offensive language was aired and bleeped on two broadcast and two cable networks during primetime of the May 2013 sweeps period, focusing primarily on the differences between the numbers and popular linguistic categorizations of the terms aired on these two network types. Furthermore, this dissertation examines the language aired during each half-hour primetime timeslot to explore whether or not offensive language becomes more frequent and/or objectionable as the night progresses. Statistical analysis of the 224 hours of programming suggests that a significant difference exists between the number of offensive terms aired by broadcast networks and those aired by cable networks during primetime, and it draws a positive correlation between reality programming and bleeped offensive language. Furthermore, an examination of the popular linguistic categorizations of aired and bleeped offensive terms suggests that Carlin's seven dirty words once considered "too hot" for the airwaves have evolved to a list of five filthy words incessantly bleeped by broadcast and cable television stations, and the recommendation is made that, given contemporary high-profile scandals regarding its utterance, hate speech should be considered a form of offensive language.