While you’re engrossed in your favorite TV show on Netflix or Amazon Prime, have you ever noticed “TV-MA” popping up in the top left corner of the screen?
If you’re not familiar with it, you might be thinking – what does TV MA mean?
And why does it show up before my TV shows start?
In this article, we’ll break down the meaning of “TV-MA” and the rating system meant to assist parents in determining which TV shows are suitable for their kids.
What does TV MA mean?
“TV MA” signals that a show is intended solely for mature audiences. It’s crafted for adult viewers and might not be appropriate for kids under 17 because it could include strong language, explicit sexual content, or intense violence.
TV MA is part of the TV Parental Guidelines (also known as TV ratings) which were developed to provide parents with insight into the content and age-suitability of various TV shows.
What are the TV Parental Guidelines?
Back in the 90s, there were rising public concerns about the escalating levels of profanity, sexuality, and violence on television.
In response, in 1996, then U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act into law. This law encouraged the entertainment industry to develop a voluntary TV ratings system.
The goal was to arm parents with essential details about TV content that might or might not be kid-friendly.
By the close of 1996, the TV industry and U.S. Congress rolled out the TV Parental Guidelines. And by 1997, these ratings came into effect.
These TV Parental Guidelines include six distinct ratings:
These TV programs are suitable for all kids, crafted with themes and elements designed for a very young audience.
These TV shows are designed for children aged 7 and older. They’re a better fit for kids who can differentiate between real-life and make-believe.
The themes and elements of these programs might include a touch of fantasy or comedic violence.
This rating indicates a TV program that’s appropriate for all ages. Although not specifically made for children, parents can comfortably let their kids watch these shows with minimal supervision.
The content usually has minimal or no violence, scarce to zero sexual dialogue or situations, and no strong language.
These TV shows might not be quite right for younger children. Parents are advised to provide some guidance while their kids watch these shows.
The content might feature suggestive dialogue, mild sexual themes, and some violence.
TV programs under this rating might not be suitable for children aged 14 and under. It’s strongly recommended that parents supervise their kids when they’re watching these shows.
Expect strong language, intensely suggestive dialogue, explicit sexual themes, and intense violence.
TV shows with a TV-MA rating are intended strictly for adults. They might not be appropriate for children aged 17 and under.
These shows tend to include crude language, explicit sexual content, and graphic violence.
What are the different content descriptors?
Wondering about those extra letters that sometimes show up under TV ratings?
These letters, known as content descriptors or content labels, were added in 1997 when they revised the TV rating system.
They’re there to provide parents with a more detailed breakdown of a TV show’s content.
With these descriptions, parents can get an idea if a program includes:
- suggestive dialogue
- crude language
- sexual situations
- fantasy violence (for children’s TV programs)
Here are the different content descriptors:
D – Suggestive Dialogue
A program tagged with a “D” contains sexual references or insinuations. You’ll typically find this associated with TV-PG and TV-14 ratings.
L – Coarse or Crude Language
An “L” points to the presence of coarse or crude language in a TV show. This might include profanity, racial slurs, vulgar slang, and more.
S – Sexual Situations
A program with an “S” descriptor includes sexual situations or content. This can range from scenes featuring nudity to those depicting sex. It’s typically used with TV-PG, TV-14, and TV-MA ratings.
V – Violence
When you see a “V”, this denotes that the TV show includes violent scenes. Portrayals of drug use are also usually grouped under this descriptor. You’ll often find it with TV-PG, TV-14, and TV-MA ratings.
FV – Fantasy Violence
An “FV” stands for fantasy violence in children’s programming. It’s used exclusively with the TV-Y7 rating.
Are all TV programs rated?
The TV Parental Guidelines cover most TV shows.
However, some types of programming like sports and news are not subject to TV ratings. The same goes for home shopping and religious programs.
When it comes to made-for-TV movies, the TV Parental Guidelines are used for rating. Theatrical movies that are aired on TV usually go through editing or cuts by cable or broadcast networks first, and after that process, they’re given a TV rating.
What are some of the most popular TV-MA shows?
TV-MA might just be the most varied of all TV ratings.
There’s a vast array of shows that fall under this umbrella, ranging from medical drama Grey’s Anatomy to fantasy epic Game of Thrones.
Take, for instance, the sports comedy Ted Lasso. While it’s often upbeat and champions positive themes, it also touches on mature subjects such as sex and infidelity. Plus, a few episodes include some rather strong or crude language.
Here’s a list of some of the most popular TV shows with a TV-MA rating:
- The Walking Dead
- House of the Dragon
- Rick and Morty
- Game of Thrones
- Grey’s Anatomy
- Ted Lasso
- Peaky Blinders
- The Sopranos
- It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
- The Simpsons
- Breaking Bad
- Arrested Development
What’s the difference between TV-MA and Rated R?
The main distinction between TV-MA and Rated R is what they apply to – TV-MA is for TV shows, while Rated R is for movies.
Additionally, their ranks in their respective rating systems differ. TV-MA is the strictest rating a TV show can get, whereas Rated R isn’t the most restrictive movie rating, that would be NC-17.
TV-MA denotes a TV show is made for adults and might not be suitable for kids below 17.
A Rated R movie, on the contrary, allows viewers under 17 given they’re accompanied by a parent or adult guardian. NC-17 means no one under 17 can be admitted.
So, TV-MA content could potentially be classified under both Rated R and NC-17.
This could explain why, sometimes, a TV-MA-rated show might come off as more graphic or intense than a Rated R movie.
How to prevent children from watching TV-MA shows
To keep your children from watching TV-MA shows, you will need to activate Parental Controls on your TV.
The way to set up Parental Controls varies across different TV brands.
Let’s say you own a Samsung TV. Here’s how you can turn on Parental Controls:
- Go to Settings > Broadcasting > Program Rating Lock Settings
- Enter your PIN (the default is “0000”)
- Turn Program Rating Lock on
- Select TV Rating
- Select TV-MA to lock it and block programs
If you have an LG TV, you can turn Parental Controls on by:
- Press your remote’s Settings button
- Go to All Settings > Safety
- Toggle the Safety button on
- Enter your password (the default is “0000”)
- Select TV Ratings Lock and block TV-MA programs
Here are the links to the Parental Control guide of other popular TV brands:
However, merely setting up Parental Controls on your TV might not cut it.
Given today’s landscape of smart TVs and streaming devices, kids can download various apps where they might come across TV-MA rated content.
Also, if they’ve got smartphones or tablets, those devices can serve as a gateway to shows not suitable for their age.
The good news is, most TVs and smartphones offer the option of locking the entire app store or restricting the download of certain apps. This way, they’ll need a password to access these platforms.
When you see “TV-MA”, it indicates a show is strictly for mature audiences. It’s designed for adults and might not be fit for kids under 17.
Shows with a TV-MA rating may feature strong language, explicit sexual content, or graphic violence.
The range of TV-MA rated shows is diverse and includes popular names like Grey’s Anatomy, Game of Thrones, and Ted Lasso.
A TV-MA program and a Rated R movie might contain similar adult content, but sometimes, TV-MA shows can be more graphic or intense.
To ensure your kids don’t end up watching TV-MA shows, activate Parental Controls on your TV, the app store, and access-restricted streaming apps.