USA Shit

Why are USA Network characters suddenly saying "Shit"?

Several shows that I watch on the USA Network have started their summer schedule and something interesting has stuck out at me:  Every show that I’ve watched thus far has employed the scatalogical curse “shit,” often numerous times and out of the mouths of the lead character.

Now, I’m not offended by this language—indeed, I regularly employ this and more verboten swear words—and the shows in question air after 9 pm Eastern. I just I don’t recall this happening previously.

Googling to see whether there has been some FCC ruling that suddenly allows this word to be used on basic cable, I found no evidence of such, although apparently there was some discussion of the issue a couple years back when Conan O’Brien left NBC for TBS.


FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Popular Culture,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. I am fairly certain that the FCC’s broadcast standards do not apply to cable networks, although they do tend to voluntarily abide by them to some extent because pissing off your audience generally isn’t good for ratings.

  2. From the FCC’s website;

    With respect to cable and satellite services, Congress has charged the Commission with enforcing the statutory prohibition against airing indecent programming “by means of radio communications.” The Commission has historically interpreted this restriction to apply to radio and television broadcasters, and has never extended it to cover cable operators. In addition, because cable and satellite services are subscription-based, viewers of these services have greater control over the programming content that comes into their homes, whereas broadcast content traditionally has been available to any member of the public with a radio or television.

  3. tps says:

    I watch “Longmire” on A&E and have noticed it as well.

  4. “Don’t trust the B in apartment whatever” said “pantie hamster.” I couldn’t believe that one.

  5. superdestroyer says:

    I noticed it two years ago on Justified on FX channel.

    I think it is a way to let everyone know that the show is aim at adults and not children.

  6. Buffalo Rude says:

    South Park has been used the word “shit” in episodes for years.

  7. @Buffalo Rude:

    I remember when The Simpsons was shocking, and Bart was a bad influence … simpler days.

  8. Herb says:

    Shit has been all over basic cable for years. F/X was a leading pioneer, I think, although I’m not so well-versed on cable history. I do remember that The Shield employed it often, as did The Riches.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    We have the language debate frequently in young adult lit. I kept one series PG – the occasional “hell” as well as “crap.” In my most recent series I just couldn’t stand it anymore and dropped the F-bomb. So far there’s been zero pushback and a school system in Utah (!) made a big buy for their libraries.

    I think the country is slowly growing up on this score.

  10. @michael reynolds:

    Well that and a disappearance of middle-class morality. Heh, I remember my dad saying “crud” as the word available to him, in family company.

  11. PJ says:

    Cursing on cable isn’t regulated. That is why Comedy Central didn’t get fined when The Daily Show failed to bleep Jon Stewart saying f**k.
    He did apologize the day after though .

    Personally, I don’t care about cursing.

  12. James Joyner says:

    @superdestroyer: @Herb: @michael reynolds: I’m not so much surprised that they’re getting away with the use of the word as that there was seemingly an editorial decision at USA Network for all of their evening shows to use the word multiple times. The first time struck me as odd; the seventh as some odd conscious decision.

    @john personna: @PJ: I recall getting chastised for saying “poot” to refer to passing gas. Today, it would be for not calling it a “fart.”

  13. Herb says:

    @James Joyner:

    “there was seemingly an editorial decision at USA Network “

    Sounds about right….

    I suppose it’s like the editorial decision at HBO that said, “Needs more boobs.”

  14. CSK says:

    I remember watching a theatrical movie shown on Channel 38 ( not cable) in Boston back in the 1980s, and hearing one of the characters utter the word “shit.” I was a bit startled that it hadn’t been blipped out of the dialogue when the movie was edited and reformatted for television. I can’t recall what those double-digit non-cable channels were called. VH something or other?

  15. ernieyeball says:

    @CSK: Over the air (not cable) TV channels in the USA were
    2-12 VHF (Very High Frequency) and 13-83 UHF (Ultra High Frequency). This is all pretty much obsolete today.

  16. ernieyeball says:

    …because cable and satellite services are subscription-based, viewers of these services have greater control over the programming content that comes into their homes,..

    That must mean mean that the OFF switch or the Channel Change button on their remote control is easier to push than those of the poor technology deprived backwater dwellers who only receive content over the air.

  17. @Buffalo Rude:

    South Park has been used the word “shit” in episodes for years.

    While South Park uses all manner of profanity, the word shit has actually only been used in one episode (Season 5, Episode 2). Prior to that episode, Comedy Central did not allow them to use that curse word, and the episode itself created an in-universe reason for none of the characters to say it, which the creator’s have kept for the rest of the show’s run as an inside joke for long time fans.

  18. Boyd says:

    I’m pretty sure this isn’t limited to the USA network. TNT and A&E, the only other cable channels I watch with any regularity, seem to follow the same practice.

  19. CSK says:

    Thanks, Ernie. Did VHF and UHF have laxer standards than the networks back then?

  20. ernieyeball says:

    @CSK: Don’t know for sure. Networks used channels in both frequency spectrums. A fun place to start research about the Government control of broadcast content is FCC vs. Pacifica Foundation. The George Carlin 7 Dirty Words case. This clip is an amusing introduction to the subject.
    Just don’t watch it between 7PM and 10 PM…

  21. Anderson says:

    “Panty hamster”?

  22. Lyndie says:

    I also noticed it, and found it disturbing, since “shit” was just randomly thrown into conversations. I wondered if perhaps USA had decided their shows would be more like Mad Men and Breaking Bad if they peppered the language. In the most recent episode of White Collar, Peter and Neal had a superfluous conversation where Neal said, “Fuck em all” about a cab’s horn! LOL. I am certainly not bothered by these words, but when they have been randomly thrown into a show, and they do not really fit into the script, like a directive has been given, it is as weird as when a character begins spouting the virtues of a car or soft drink that is paying for product placement.. it just does not belong. In all the instances wehre I heard characters randomly saying “shit”, it was awkward, almost as if a couple of things were refilmed just to include this language.