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'Sons of Anarchy's' School Shooting Draws Ire of Parents Television Council

The conservative watchdog group used the episode, which also featured rape scenes, as an opportunity to push for a la carte networks.

Sons of Anarchy Season 6 Boy on bench Screengrab - H 2013
"Sons of Anarchy"

The Parents Television Council is at it again.

The conservative watchdog group has taken issue with the season-six premiere of Kurt Sutter's FX biker drama Sons of Anarchy, calling the episode -- which featured a school shooting and rape scenes -- "horrifically violent and disturbing material."

The PTC, which most recently was up in arms about MTV's Video Music Awards -- including Miley Cyrus' racy performance -- used the episode as a platform to further its push for a la carte networks. The group called on its members to contact Congress to express the need for a "consumer cable choice" in response to the episode.

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The episode followed a young boy on his way to school, where he removed a semi-automatic gun from his backpack, walked inside and fired at his classmates. The scene inside was not shown. Instead the camera panned back from the outside of the Catholic school building to reveal the boy's notebook, filled with pages of disturbing images.

"What FX chose to show -- a scene of a young boy murdering innocent children in a school with a semi-automatic gun -- is enough of a reason for consumers to have the choice not to underwrite such horrifically violent and disturbing material," PTC president Tim Winter said. "Think about the parents who have been personally affected by real-life school shootings -- even they were forced to contribute to FX on their cable bills. This is an outrage, and the time for consumers to have real choice has come."

"Changing the channel is simply not enough -- that’s a lazy excuse from the cable industry’s own talking points that does not address the real problem," he continued. "Consumers are forced to subsidize cable networks like FX just to get access to networks they do watch. It’s clear to see that the cable industry model of forcing consumers to buy bundles of networks is broken.

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The episode also featured the rape of two characters -- including one portrayed by series creator Sutter -- as well as the death of a man who was drowned in a bathtub of urine, all of which were cited in the PTC's call to action.

“We urge Congress to take seriously the Television Consumer Freedom Act, which will allow consumers the ability to choose and pay for only the cable networks they want, and the Video CHOICE Act, which would pave the way for a choice solution. It’s time for consumers to have a real voice in what they want to pay for on their cable bills," Winter wrote.

“I thought about it a lot," Sutter told The Hollywood Reporter of featuring the school shooting scene. "There’s a part of me that really didn’t want to do it because I’m opening myself up to being viewed as just doing it to be sensational. But I also felt that I’m not going to not do it because I’m afraid of blowback."

“We didn’t do it for shock,” he added of the scene. “It will be the catalyst that I believe takes us into the last act of our tragedy here."

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The episode came nine months after the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newton, Conn. The Newton school superintendent also sent an email to parents and staff members ahead of the season premiere with a warning that the episode would feature the shooting. "While you don't see the visual impact of this, you will hear the shots and cries from the victims," John Reed wrote.

Despite the PTC's ire, the episode hit a series high among total viewers and bested all of broadcast and cable among the key adults 18-49 demographic.

Sons of Anarchy marks the latest TV offering to come under fire from the PTC. In addition to MTV's annual VMAs, the group has also taken issue with Seth MacFarlane for his Oscar hosting duties, AMC's The Walking Dead and ABC's now-canceled Apartment 23, among others.

E-mail: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit